I got into grilling several years ago and found out that I was pretty good at it. Nothing makes me happier than cooking a dinner for a bunch of friends – a good old-fashioned cookout. We had one a few years back, an absolute feast, for some of my closest friends and it was incredible…so I figured I’d share everything. We had Cajun Tilapia, Steak and Grilled Chicken along with my special potatoes, grilled asparagus and grilled pineapple. All of which would make any health conscious recipe book (except the potatoes maybe). I’m just giving the recipes first, I’ll give the order of which to cook, when, after the recipes. The beauty of these recipes is how simple they are, and they’re all fabulous.
The Cajun Tilapia was the easiest:
Tilapia Filets and Cajun Seasoning (Emiril’s Bayou Blast). Sprinkle the seasoning over the thawed filets. You don’t want to coat them, but you want all of the real estate covered. If you have frozen fish, thaw it by running them, in a plastic bag, under cold running water – if you use warm you’ll turn your fish into mush and it won’t grill well. Grill for two minutes a side on medium to high heat with the grill lid open. Flip them with a spatula. Place the fish on a cookie sheet and place in the oven at 215 degrees F.
Grilled Chicken, one of my wife’s favorites:
I use boneless chicken breasts. Sprinkle on McCormick’s Montreal Chicken Seasoning, but be careful not to over-season them, and slap them on the grill. Unlike the Tilapia, too much seasoning will overpower the chicken – go for a middle ground here – you don’t want to coat the chicken, but you need to get some flavor in there. Before you pull the chicken off, top it with some Mexican Blend cheese and let it melt, then a scoop of Garden Fresh Salsa. Jack’s Special Medium is our favorite. Place on a cookie sheet or plate and place in the oven.
Technical Note on Grilling Chicken:
Chicken is tough to get right on the grill. Cook it too hard and you’ll be gnawing on dry rubber. Too light and the result will be a lot of upset bellies. Start out with the grill on high heat. Place the chicken on the grill and cook with the lid down for four minutes. With thongs (not a fork!!!), turn the chicken 90 degrees on the grill and turn the heat down to medium. Close the lid. After two minutes flip the chicken (you’ll have nice grill marks if you’ve done it right and the chicken will be browning slightly on that side). Turn the heat down to low and close the lid. After five minutes, take a look at the side you just cooked – the coloring should look just like the top, a little brown around the edges, nice dark grill marks… If it doesn’t, you’ve got white chunks of congealed fat, it’s not done yet…close the lid and give it a couple of more minutes. The trick with chicken and getting it right relies on three factors. Time, hot spots on the grill and flame. You don’t want the flame licking at the chicken, but you want it on the hot spots. When timing this for the first attempt, if you’re new to, or not very good at, grilling it is wise to cut a piece open to make sure you’ve cooked it all the way through. Start by wearing a watch and keeping time meticulously. Follow the times above and cut the least cooked piece open – if the meat isn’t all white all the way through, it’s not done, you need to add two minutes to the bottom side at low heat. If it’s white, but not juicy (when you cut the chicken you should see the juices run out), knock a minute off the first side and a minute off the second side next time. If you get the timing right, you will become a legend with your friends and family. Getting chicken to cook all the way through and stay juicy is not easy unless you watch your times. Before long, you’ll be able to identify when it’s done by how it looks on the outside. Grills vary by brand how hot they get and where, get to know your grill.
Cooking a steak is a lot like cooking chicken, but doesn’t take quite as long, depending on the cut. You’re going for medium, no more… I know, I know, I used to only eat it well done too but that was because I didn’t know any better. For a thinner cut (3/4″ to 1″) figure four minutes a side – high on the first side, medium/low on the second. For a thicker cut 1-1/2″ +, figure five to six. The cheese and salsa topping works great on lower grade steaks too (my kids love it). When they’re done, place them on a plate or cookie sheet and place in the oven at 215.
- Asparagus, a pound serves four
- Pressed garlic (at least two large pieces per pound, I use three)
- 1 Cup Olive Oil
If you are not generally an asparagus fan, it’s because you haven’t had this… Put your olive oil and pressed garlic in a cup and let sit for a half hour. Wash your asparagus off, shake the extra water off and break the bottoms off according to the normal custom. Place the asparagus on a cookie sheet and brush on the olive oil and garlic onto your asparagus. You want to go a little heavy on the garlic because some will fall off in the grilling process and it tastes really good grilled. Place the asparagus on the grill, perpendicular to the grate (so they don’t fall through). Cook till they start showing a little brown/black (I like ’em black though they’re good browned). Place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle with lemon juice and place in the oven at 215. The fake lemon juice in a bottle will do, but there is no substitute for real lemons.
Slice a pineapple up and place the pieces on a grill – it’s that easy. You’re going for grill marks and just a little brown around the edges. When you’re done, serve dinner and when the oven is empty, place the pineapple in the oven to keep it warm (still at 215)
Now this is a lot of work, there’s no doubt about it, but the oven will save you because it keeps everything hot without drying it out – just don’t go over 215.
Here’s the order: Potatoes, Asparagus, Fish, Chicken, Steak and Pineapple.
Cook the potatoes, Asparagus and Fish on their own. Put the chicken on the grill and get it going, two minutes later put on the steak and they should be done at the same time. Then cook the pineapple and you’re done. If you have a wonderful wife handy, see if she’ll whip up a salad while you’re on the grill.
Total prep time is about 45 minutes. Total cook time is 45 minutes to an hour. Sitting down to that feast is priceless.
Retiring from a drunkard’s life at 22 was quite possibly the brightest thing I’ve ever done. I won’t bother getting into the whole “mommy sat me on the toilet seat sideways” sob story (she didn’t really, I just think it sounds funny and accurately portrays my belief in excuses), suffice it to say, at 22 years old I was told by a physician that I had the liver of a 60-year-old drunk and that if I didn’t stop, I’d die – very early. He gave me eight years, max. And I had that discussion when I was 21 – I drank heavily for another full year.
So here I am, healthy as an ox. Now, in the group that I run in, it’s a common saying that if you sober up a horse thief, you’re still left with a horse thief. Believing that, I changed everything in my life after I made the decision to plug the jug. The people I hung out with, the way I thought, acted and believed, everything changed. For me that was the only way.
There is one great lesson I got early on and reading this blog post got me to thinking I should write about it here. I have a crazy thought pop into my head from out of nowhere from time to time. We’ll stick with drinking because it’s easy and should be pretty non-controversial as an example: It’s a hot summer’s day, I just got done cutting the grass, I’m hot and sweaty and this thought pops into my head: Man, a beer would taste pretty damn good right about now. Now, most normal people would saunter into the house, open the fridge, drink a beer and move on to the next task. I’m not that guy. I’d end up slobbering on the living room floor after drinking a case, blubbering about how nobody respects me. Shortly thereafter I’d urinate in my pants and pass out on the floor (to this day, I know this down to my baby toes). So, the question is how does one move on from that hopeless state?
I learned to accept that, from time to time, there will be a thought that pops into my head that is exactly the opposite of the right thing to do next. In fact, it happened quite regularly after I first quit. I can’t control that first thought from popping into my head, but I sure can control the second. So take the instance above – hot and sweaty, grass cut, man a beer would taste good – my second thought, after years of practice, goes right to the end result. Me, slobbering drunk whining about respect, then passed out…eventually dead of cirrhosis. Taking that end into account, that beer doesn’t sound so good so I have a glass of water instead.
There’s a little more to this though. How many out there have little arguments in your head? It’s typically depicted with a devil and an angel on your shoulder, trying to convince you that each is right and that the other is an idiot. I didn’t have an angel and a devil, I had a whole stinking committee and I can tell you now, that committee knew karate! I was absolutely powerless over that argument going on in my head and it always followed a similar pattern, or path. So here’s the long version: