Girl Meets Grill

By Fabiana Santana

girl-grillWomen have been dominating the kitchen for years, but the grill has long been man’s territory. Inexperience shouldn’t be the reason you let the last days of summer go by without throwing a shrimp on the barbie, or cooking up some burgers for the kids.

Forget the usual visual at backyard BBQ: a handful of men gathered around the grill, poking and prodding proudly at their meat while hoards of hungry guests salivate over the smell coming from the grill. But just how many men does it take to man a grill? The answer: none. In reality, it doesn’t take all those men to supervise the task at hand. One single woman can handle the meat, and with a little help from the grill master Bobby Flay, the result will be a mouth-watering feast fit for any appetite.

If anyone knows grilling, it’s Flay. The Food Network’s Iron Chef owns Mesa Grill in New York, the Bahamas and Las Vegas, as well as New York’s Bar American and Bobby Flay Steak, and recently opened several Bobby’s Burger Palace restaurants around the country. Flay has written three grilling focused cookbooks and is the star of “Boy Meets Grill” and “Grill It with Bobby Flay” on the Food Network. With that resume, it’s no wonder single women take a tip from Flay when flaming up the grill.

According to Flay, the best burgers are beef. In order to form them properly for on-the-grill cooking, start by making an indent in the center with your thumb. “This will insure it plumps nicely” when cooking. He also suggests flipping the burger just once you start cooking it.

“To form a good crust, set the patty on the grill and leave it alone for several minutes.” And forget the poking or prodding- that will just release the meat’s juices and that equals lost flavor. But grilling is not just about burgers. So here are some more helpful tips to make your cookout a success.

To Close or Not To Close

Whether or not to close the grill when cooking is a constant summer time debate. Truly, the choice is yours. Closing the grill once the meat has seared nicely will result in more even, tender cooking, so for thick cut steaks and plump chicken, it is probably a good idea. Burgers, hot dogs and thinner cuts of steak don’t require longer cooking times and actually do better with an open grill top. A low and slow flame is ideal for closed top cooking, a higher one for open top cooking.

Get Saucy

If you are using a marinade or sauce on your meat, wait until the last few minutes (before taking the meat off the grill) to add the sauce. Adding the sauce too early will just result in it cooking or burning away. Brush BBQ sauce onto your meat liberally once it has cooked through, let it sit for an additional few minutes so that the sauce can heat up and adhere and then remove the sauced up meat.

Veg Out

Grilled veggies have a more intense flavor than traditionally cooked versions. Coat veggies like thick cut sweet potatoes, asparagus, and zucchini with a liberal amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Have a sheet of aluminum foil handy. Add the vegetables to the grill and once they have earned their grill marks, turn them over. Then when side two is charred, line the veggies up on the foil, and place the foil on the grill. Close the lid or add a top sheet of foil and check for doneness after five minutes. Essentially, you are now steaming the vegetables to finish the cooking process. This will ensure they stay crisp and retain their flavor rather than cook away to nothing over the intense heat. This process is ideal for cooking delicate fish, as well. Corn on the cob can be cooked this way, or better yet, remove silks, but not husks from the corn and cover them back up. Soak in water so that the husks are wet and then apply to the grill. Turn every so often so that the entire cob is cooked – about 10 minutes – and serve.

So, how do you know when your food is done? Just touch it, says Bobby.

“I prefer the touch test, which is really easy and makes total sense. As meat cooks, it becomes firmer and firmer to the touch. Rare meat feels spongy, medium meat feels springy, and well-done feels taut.” This test can work for pork, chicken, and fish, too. But if the touch test isn’t your thing, an instant read thermometer will work just as easily. Most come with temperature charts making it easy to choose your level of doneness.

The most important ingredient of the day, though, is you.

“Make sure you have a nice array of foods, but don’t turn the cooking into a burden. Grilling is a relaxed way of entertaining. Enjoy it!” Visit for more grilling tips from the master.

Mesa Grill BBQ Sauce

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 cups canned plum tomatoes and juices, pureed
1 cup water
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup molasses
3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
3 tablespoons pasilla chile powder
2-4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, pureed (depending on how spicy you like it)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Add the onions and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and water bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for an additional 30-40 minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.
2. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree until smooth, season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool at room temperature. Sauce will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator stored in a tightly sealed container.

BBQ Chicken Quesadilla with Grilled Tomato Salsa & Buttermilk Dressing
Serves: 8

4 chicken thighs, bone in (about 1 pound), skin removed
3 cups Mesa BBQ sauce, divided, or your favorite bbq sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper
24 6 inch flour tortillas
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups cup shredded white cheddar cheese
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons ancho chile powder

1. Preheat grill Place in a medium baking dish. Pour 2 cups of the barbecue sauce over chicken and let marinate for 2 hours in the refrigerator. Remove from marinade, season with salt and pepper to taste and grill for 7-8 minutes on both sides or until tender and cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate and let cool.
2. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove chicken from the bone and shred into pieces. Toss with the reserved 1 cup of bbq sauce. Place 8 tortilla on a flat surface and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of each of the cheeses and onion slices. Top with some of chicken. Stack another tortilla on top and repeat. Top with the remaining 8 tortillas. Brush the top of the tortillas with oil and sprinkle with the chili powder. Grill the quesadillas oil-side down for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Turn over and continue grilling until golden brown and the cheese has melted.

Grilled Tomato Salsa
8 grilled plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Buttermilk Dressing
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup buttermilk
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve:
Place 1 quesadilla on each plate and cut into quarters. Top with a dollop of salsa and drizzle with the buttermilk dressing.

Cactus Pear Margarita
Yields: 1
2 ounces white tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
** 1 ounce cactus pear syrup
½ ounce fresh lime juice
Ice cubes
Lime wedge
Coarse salt, optional

1. Combine tequila, Cointreau, cactus pear juice, lime juice and ice cubes in a cocktail shaker and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass with or without salt rim, garnish with lime wedge.

You can also serve over ice in a rocks glass or you can blend with ice in a blender for a frozen cactus pear margarita.

** Cactus Pear Syrup (also known as Prickly Pear Syrup) can be found online at

More Food & Wine features from Escapes:
Modern Drama: Cocktails and Cheese are the New Trend
In the Kitchen: Italian Cooking with Lidia Bastianich
In the Kitchen: Cooking with Iron Chef Cat Cora