By Michelle Reese

Cooking outside is always a popular summer tradition. I mean, does it even feel like summer until you’ve fired up the grill? This year, due to COVID-19, you’ll probably be doing it more than ever. For one thing, dining at restaurants comes with all new restrictions that we haven’t had to deal with in the past. In addition, many people are limiting their time with friends and family to outdoor gatherings. Throwing some food on the barbie is a convenient way to cook for your crew while enjoying the summer weather, but do you really know the differences between grilling, smoking and barbecuing? And what are the best ways to get great flavor without spending all your time manning the grill?

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We talked to Chef Michael Kanter from The Cook & His Books in Doylestown and asked him to share some of his expertise on the subject. Chef Michael has an impressive resume, which includes cooking under Chef Georges Perrier, first as an unpaid apprentice and then later as Sous Chef. He also worked at The Philadelphia Four Seasons, Susanna Food, Restaurant Daniel in NYC, The Blue Angel, Dilworthtown Inn, Alme de Cuba, and Morimoto. And he even used to own a smoking business in Point Pleasant. In recent years, he’s been sharing his culinary and restaurant experience by teaching entertaining and educational cooking classes. And during these unique times of businesses adapting to respond to a pandemic, he created Broth Thyme – where he’s selling homemade broths, soups and sandwiches for pickup or delivery.

I started my conversation with Chef Michael by asking about the difference between each cooking method. Overall, it’s about heat levels and cooking time. Grilling is typically done over higher heat and for a shorter amount of time. Barbecuing means low and slow, and smoking (while also low and slow) introduces smoke to the process. According to Chef Michael, “Grilling is fast and convenient, but it’s really just adding grill marks. Smoking is the way you really get flavor into it.” But if you’re going to grill (like many of us do!), he suggests you buy natural hardwood briquettes. They’re a great option for getting as much of that authentic flavor as possible without smoking. And when it comes to gas grilling, well that’s really all about the convenience. You can fully monitor the temperature, it takes the least culinary expertise, you don’t get the kitchen messy, and you get to be outside while you do it.

When it comes to cooking tips, Chef Michael says that you shouldn’t over complicate things. When you’re at the grill, make sure you have a slotted spatula and good 8” tongs. Nothing fancy, just functional and practical. And when it comes to food prep, he stated, “I’m not a big marinator and you don’t want to over brine because it changes the texture.” So what does he suggest? SEASONING. He’s big on rubs and says that there’s nothing wrong with seasoning right before you cook.

“People are notorious under seasoners. You don’t need to be scared of salt.
Salt and pepper are key.”

His other favorites include fresh thyme (hence the name of his new venture!), rosemary, a little garlic, and olive oil. He also loves avocado oil.

And of course, quality ingredients are important. “I like to be able to taste the food I’m eating,” Chef Michael commented. So naturally, I asked about where he shops. For fish, he recommended Heller’s Seafood Market at Bristol Road and 611 in Warrington. “They’re great for asking questions.” For meats, Haring Brothers butcher shop in Doylestown or Wegmans. And he claims that Bell & Evans is the best brand of chicken you can get.

Chef Michael offered these tips for your backyard BBQ. “It’s all about preparation. If you’re going to grill, go out in the morning and get the grill hot. Rub oil on the grill. Get your grill marks on your food. Then take it off, cover it. And then throw it back in the oven later.” In this scenario, only the burgers are cooked to order. Everything else can be cooked to medium rare, then finished in the oven at 400 degrees for about 3-5 minutes. He continued on to describe a scene we’re probably all familiar with. The “Grill Master” standing around the grill, drinking beers with his buddies while he cooks.

“No one needs to sit there and watch you grill. Enjoy your time with your guests!”

Flavorful food and quality time with your friends and family. Those are things to savor this summer.

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