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Carnivores, start your engines

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With Memorial Day on the horizon, it’s time to get your grilling muscles in shape
The grill master employs high, direct heat, great for smaller, naturally tender cuts of meat. Barbecuing utilizes low and slow indirect heat and smoke. 123RF.com
Get a nice crust on a ribeye steak by letting it rest uncovered in the refrigerator for two days. A sprinkle of chili powder adds a subtle smoky note. Photo by Jim Flint
Use an instant-read thermometer like this digital Thermopen and always get the doneness you prefer. This ribeye was pulled at 134 degrees, just a bit over medium rare by the time it had rested. Photo by Jim Flint
Brined chicken thighs come off the grill juicy and crispy, served here with buttery pan-fried Brussels sprouts. Photo by Jim Flint

For the diehards, grilling season is 365 days a year — come rain, snow, sleet or dark of night.

For the rest of us who haven’t yet ventured out this season, Memorial Day weekend provides the perfect excuse to fire up the grill.

You can cook up some tasty veggies on the grill, too, but today’s recipes are meat-centric: thick steaks, seared to juicy perfection; tender, spicy ribs; the perfect burger; juicy, crispy chicken; and some surf to go with the turf.

To be sure, grilling and barbecuing are two different processes. The grill master employs high, direct heat, great for smaller, naturally tender cuts of meat. Barbecuing utilizes low and slow indirect heat — and smoke — especially effective for cuts of meat whose proteins and connective tissues wouldn’t have time to break down during a shorter cook time.

A caveat: don’t guess about doneness. Always use an instant-read thermometer, like the digital Thermapen.

Smoky, Tender Ribeye Steaks

Have your butcher cut the steaks 1.5 inches thick, which will make it easier to control the doneness. They’ll weigh about a pound each, so figure two people per steak.

Trimmed 1.5-inch ribeye steaks

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Chili powder

Up to 48 hours ahead of time — or the night before you grill them — liberally salt and pepper both sides of the steaks, followed by a light sprinkle of chili powder on both sides. Place uncovered on a wire rack over a platter or sheet pan in the refrigerator.

Yes, salt will pull moisture out of the steaks at first, but over time it is reabsorbed. The little bit of chili powder will impart a subtle smokiness to the grilled meat without overpowering it.

Forty minutes before you grill the steaks, remove from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Steaks will be dry, perfect for a good crust Pat dry any residual moisture with a paper towel.

Heat a gas grill with all burners on high for 10 minutes, then turn the burner on one side down to medium to make two cooking zones. (Prepare a charcoal grill so half is hot and one half is warm.)

Place steaks on the hot side, close the lid, and sear for 2 minutes. Flip the steaks, close the lid, and sear the other side for 2 minutes.

Flip the steaks again and move to the lower heat side. Continue flipping every 2 minutes (trust me) for 4-6 minutes for medium rare, closing the lid between each flip. The extra flipping produces more even cooking and a nicer crust.

Check the internal temperature of the steak at each flip after the initial sears. Insert the probe of your instant-read thermometer through the side of the steak to check doneness.

Be ready to pull the steaks when the internal temp reaches the following: 120 degrees for rare, 130 degrees for medium rare, and 140 degrees for medium. The temps will rise 4-5 degrees after steaks are removed from the heat. You can adjust the “pull” temperature up or down 3-5 degrees to achieve your preferred doneness.

When finished, let steaks rest for 10 minutes, then cut thick slices against the grain and serve.

Baby Back Ribs, Caribbean style

You can’t go wrong barbecuing ribs low and slow for hours. But for really tasty ribs that don’t take all day, try a little trick I learned in the Caribbean: simmer the ribs in seasoned water first, then finish on the grill.

2 pounds of ribs

Seasonings for the simmer: 6 mashed cloves of garlic, 2 bay leaves, a handful of black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon salt, and a half cup of rice vinegar

Salt and pepper

1 12-ounce bottle of beer

2 cups barbecue sauce

My favorite ribs for the grill are baby back or spareribs. If the butcher hasn’t done it already, remove the membrane on the back of the ribs for a tastier, more tender result. Use a table knife to pry up an edge of the membrane and pull away, using a paper towel for a better grip.

Fill a large pot with 2.5 quarts water. Add the garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns, salt and rice vinegar. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer the liquid for 15 minutes to infuse the seasonings.

After you’ve simmered the seasonings, place the ribs into the pot, cutting into sections if needed to fit. Bring back to a simmer, turn heat to low, and cook for an hour.

Important: Do not boil the ribs or the meat will be tough. Adjust the stove-top temperature to a low simmer only.

The simmering prep can be done the day before if you wish. Let the ribs cool and refrigerate until grilling time.

Place 2 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce into a sauce pan, open a bottle of beer, pour half into the sauce, and drink the rest. Stir mixture and heat to just below a simmer on stove.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat, about 450 degrees. Pat ribs dry with a paper towel, salt and pepper them, and grill over direct heat for about 10 minutes, turning every 2 minutes, basting with the barbecue sauce the final 4 minutes. Offer remaining sauce at the table.

The Perfect Hamburger

It’s easy, really. There are just two things to remember:

  • Don’t overwork the meat or it will be tough. Gently form a third-pound of meat into a ball, cover with piece of foil or plastic wrap, and flatten with the bottom of a pot to 3/4 of an inch thick.
  • Forget about mixing in chopped onion, bread crumbs or anything else. We’re not making meatloaf here.

Buy 80-20 lean-to-fat ground beef or have your butcher grind your preferred cuts into an 80-20 mix. After you have pressed out the patties, make a depression in the center of each with your thumb to prevent the burgers from bulging on the grill.

Grill patties over direct medium-high heat with the lid closed to medium doneness (160 degrees) for 9-11 minutes, turning once. Don’t press on the patties.

If you’re making cheeseburgers, top with a slice of cheese for the last minute of grilling time. Butter the buns and brown them on the grill, cut-side down.

Add your favorite condiments and bite into a juicy, tender, perfectly grilled burger.

Juicy ‘n’ Crispy Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are very difficult to mess up. They’re very forgiving when a distracted chef leaves them on the grill too long. This recipe employs a brine that adds flavor and juiciness.

1 gallon warm water

1/2 cup salt

4 smashed cloves of garlic

4 bone-in chicken thighs

Freshly ground pepper

Paprika

Onion powder

Add the garlic and salt to the warm water and stir until the salt dissolves. Trim excess skin off thighs and immerse them in the brine. Let sit at room temperature for an hour.

Preheat one side of the grill to medium high heat, about 450 degrees, leaving the burner off on the other side. Remove thighs from brine and pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, paprika and onion powder. You probably won’t need more salt, but you can add flaky sea salt to taste after grilling.

Place thighs on direct heat, skin side down, close lid, and cook for about 8 minutes, checking after 6 minutes to avoid burning. Turn thighs over and move to the side with no direct heat. Cook for an additional 30 minutes (35 minutes for larger thighs) with the lid closed, turning once. Make sure grill temp remains at about 450.

When chicken thighs reach an internal temp of 175 degrees, remove from grill and let rest for five minutes before serving.

Bacon-Wrapped Sea Scallops

Want an impressive surf and turf combo? These easy-to-prepare bacon-wrapped scallops are great with steak. They also are excellent party hors d’oeuvres.

Bacon strips

Large dry sea scallops

Salt and pepper

Skewers

Melted butter (optional)

Buy large “dry” scallops They caramelize beautifully because they haven’t been treated with phosphates. These natural scallops have a slightly tan or “vanilla” color.

Figure 2-3 scallops per person for a surf and turf meal, or 5-6 each for a scallops-only entree.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place bacon strips (one per scallop) on the parchment and bake until just beginning to get golden around the edges, 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

If frozen, thaw scallops in the refrigerator overnight. Before seasoning, pat scallops dry with paper towel, brush tops and bottoms lightly with oil, and season with salt.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Or, if you’re grilling steak, reduce the grill temp to medium high after removing steaks and cook the scallops while the steaks are resting.

Wrap each scallop tightly around the perimeter with a piece of bacon and secure by pushing onto a skewer. If using wooden skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes before using. Do not crowd scallops on the skewer.

Place scallops on an open grill and cook, turning frequently until just cooked through, about 7 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. The crispy bacon adds a buttery, smoky flavor to the scallops and helps keep them moist.

Option: Before grinding fresh pepper over them, brush cooked scallops with melted butter or lemon butter.

Quick and Easy Grilled Salmon

You can cook salmon on the grill much the same way you do in an oven. It takes 10-12 minutes and there’s no need to flip it. The difference is the delicious smoky flavor you get on the grill.

Look for salmon that has a bright, not dull, color. It should smell like an ocean breeze, not fishy.

Marinating or cooking with honey- or brown sugar-based glazes are popular. But simply seasoning with salt and pepper lets the fresh-caught taste of the flaky fish shine.

Whole salmon fillet

Olive Oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Fresh dill or parsley, lemon wedges for garnish

For easy handling, use a sheet pan to prepare the salmon. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil onto the pan, place the salmon fillet flesh side down and gently twirl it to coat with oil. Turn over the fillet and do the same to coat the skin side.

Grill with the skin on. It helps keep the fish from sticking and acts as a buffer that helps prevent overcooking the flesh.

Preheat grill to medium (350-450 degrees). Season salmon with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and top with lemon slices.

Place on grill, skin side down, and cook covered for 10-12 minutes until center is no longer raw but moist. Do not flip. Check at 10 minutes for doneness.

Serve on a platter, garnished with fresh dill or chopped parsley and lemon wedges for squeezing. Individual portions can be cut and lifted easily from the skin with a small spatula.

Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.