The secret to grilling? The oven.
The grill can be difficult to master. Grilled chicken legs, for example, sounds straightforward enough, but cooking them evenly without burning the skin into a mess of char takes attention and time. And while I love grilling out for a party, I don’t like fooling around with meat thermometers, waiting for food to be done. The secret: fire up the oven inside to set yourself up for culinary success outside.
My mom was famous for her smoked turkey. On the table at every party was a large platter of turkey, the edges of each slice kissed with a pink ring of smoke. Early in the morning or the evening before, she’d smoke the turkey in an offset smoker with hickory or apple wood over low heat with heavy smoke for about two hours. Then, the turkey would go into a roasting pan to finish cooking at a mellow 325 degrees. After the turkey rested, it was sliced and served with breads, spreads and a great big platter of sliced tomatoes.
The smoker-to-oven method allowed for the perfect degree of smokiness, and it eliminated the need to fuss with smoker temperatures and worry about cooking a whole turkey safely without drying it out. This is also how I make pulled pork, and it works well with pork loin and chicken. I like to season the meat well before arranging it on a tray and letting it sit for a bit in the fridge. Cut chicken gets smoked for about an hour, pork loin or whole chicken for about one and a half hours, and larger items like pork butt or turkey get two or more hours in the smoker before transferring to the oven to finish cooking.
The process can also be reversed, with the meat starting off in the oven before making its way out to the barbie. I’ve discovered it works beautifully to arrange seasoned or marinated cut up chicken or pork loin (blot it dry on a paper towel) on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until fully cooked (about 35-40 minutes, longer for pork loin depending on its size). Ribs cook beautifully in the oven as well (reduce the oven temp to 300 degrees), wrapped in foil or parchment and baked until tender, about 2-3 hours. Once cooked, the meat can head straight out to the grill to get a little nice char, or you can cool it down and refrigerate it, ready to throw on the grill the following day. Make sure to save the pan juices to baste the meat with as it finishes on the grill.
It is important to cool the meat quickly and thoroughly after baking. After the meat has cooled slightly on the counter, arrange it in zip top bags or in storage containers. (Don’t pack a huge amount into one container – it’s better to use several smaller containers so the meat can cool quickly). If you have space in the freezer, it’s ideal to put it in there first for about an hour to let it get really cold before transferring to the fridge. This can be done one to three days before you plan to grill, making it a perfect solution for easy entertaining or simply weekday meal prep.
My friend Kemia raises delicious lamb and also happens to be a wonderful cook. She shared her recipe for homemade gyros, basically a richly seasoned meatloaf that is baked and chilled before being sliced, then grilled. Wrapped in a warm pita and topped with succulent tomatoes and crisp cucumbers, it’s a perfect preparation for summer.
2 pounds ground lamb (you could also use beef or pork)
½ pound bacon, diced
1 onion, roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1-2 tablespoons each chopped fresh dill, mint, and parsley
Zest of two lemons
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Mix all the ingredients together and process in a food processor in batches until it almost resembles a paste. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil and form the mixture into a long, thin meatloaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees. Remove from the oven and let cool. The meatloaf can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for several weeks, wrapped well in plastic or foil.
When ready to serve, slice the chilled meatloaf. Kemia sears her gyro slices in a skillet with a little olive oil on the stove, but I’ve taken to grilling them outside. Cook on a medium-high grill for a minute of two on each side until the edges are golden and crisp. Serve with warm pita, taztzki sauce, chopped tomatoes, kalamata olives and the best feta cheese you can find.
2 cups Greek-style yogurt
1 cucumber, seeds removed and grated or chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon each chopped parsley, mint and dill
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all the ingredients together and chill until ready to serve.