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Food & Drink

Grilling with the pros: Seasoning and heat are two key elements to master

Photo: Michael Atwood, License: N/A

Michael Atwood

Mike Connor of Cinco de Guyos competes in the 2012 "Meat Me in Bulverde" State Championship BBQ Cook-Off.

When it comes to grilling, there are really only two things to master: seasoning and heat. That's what San Antonio pit masters say are the key ingredients to the ultimate summer pastime of cooking goodies outdoors. "Seasoning is the number one thing you can't ever slack on," said Alex Fillo, chef de cuisine at the Hyatt Regency San Antonio. "If you're properly seasoning, it puts you miles ahead of everyone else. That can be as simple as adding enough salt and pepper, to using more complex rubs that give depth of flavor," he said.

The other trick is to not over-flip when grilling. First, oil the meat or vegetables lightly so it won't stick, but not so much that it will drip and cause flares that can cause charring. Then go for the fence marks that not only make the food presentable, but also are signs of caramelization.
"Everyone of my staff that I've had in my career, I've had to teach them that they're going to touch the food on the grill only four times," said Fillo. Once the fence marks are achieved, meat can go into the smoker to stay moist, or into a 350-degree oven to finish off, an especially good way to serve a large group from one grill.

Mike Connor, part of the award-winning Cinco de Guyos barbecue competition team, has spent a lot of time thinking about how to cook the perfect chicken outdoors. In fact, the group formed because "we were tired of going to rubber-chicken dinners," said Connor.

There are ways to avoid that rubbery mess and still keep the chicken moist. Connor's technique is to brine the chicken for six to 12 hours in cold water with a cup of salt, half cup of sugar, bay leaves, and two to three tablespoons of poultry seasoning for every gallon of water. This will allow the chicken to cook for up to an hour and a half and still stay juicy while picking up more smoky flavors from the grill.

"Season under the skin, then pin the skin back in place with toothpicks to keep the juices intact," said Connor. "When it comes time to hit the flames, move the chicken to the cool side of the grill when flare-ups start, and then rotate it back over the hot coals several times." The reward for your efforts is a smokey-savory delight. •

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