Pro Tips: A Guide to Tricky Grilling
It all started as a love for classic Southern food and grew into a catering business, then the Soul House and now the Downtown Dive. Sweet P's Barbeque in Knoxville, Tennessee is a cornerstone of the southern soul food scene. The restaurant's owner, Chris Ford, agreed to share some of the tricks of the trade.
Meet Chris Ford
Expert smoker and griller, Chris Ford runs one of the South's most notorious barbeque joints alongside his cousin, Jonathan Ford in Knoxville, Tennessee. Although he wasn't willing to share some family secrets that are the key to Sweet P's fame – He did show us everything you need to know to pull off a backyard barbeque – especially those dishes that can be tough to grill to tender perfection.
Chris prefers to use charcoal grills made from ceramic because of their ability to hold in moisture and add flavor. His Big Green Egg also has a temperature gauge which is helpful for cooking more precisely.
Fire It Up
Chris recommends always using a charcoal chimney to prepare. Natural lump charcoal is a good choice for the best smoky flavors. Charcoal briquettes can work too, but don't offer as much flavor.
Prepare the charcoal by using tinder to light a fire inside the chimney over a non-flammable surface like gravel or concrete. Add in the charcoal and let it burn until it turns gray.
Dump the charcoal into the grill and close the lid to get things heating up. If you choose to ditch the charcoal altogether, a gas grill won't offer the same smoky flavors, but can still get the job done.
When it comes to chicken – temperature is everything. Chris preps the grill by raising the temperature to a very hot 400 to 425 degrees. If your grill doesn't have a temperature gauge, you can tell it's ready when the coals are white. Brush the grate with oil to prevent sticking.
Chris prepped bone-in chicken halves by coating them with Sweet P's famous dry seasoning called Soul Rub (the exact ingredients are a family secret) then it goes onto the grill skin down. Allow the chicken to get a nice sear before flipping. The chicken should have a nice crisp after about 7 minutes on each side. Next, reduce to the grill temperature to about 350 by closing the dampers, and let it cook for 10 more minutes per side. Use a meat thermometer in the thickest area to make sure the chicken has reached an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees, and it's ready to serve.
Grilling the perfect steak means knowing when it's ready. Keep your crowd happy with this handy trick that never fails: Use the pointer finger to feel the muscle on your hand below your thumb. You can use it as a gauge to measure how done a steak is. An open hand is rare. When pointer and thumb are touching, that's medium rare... and so on. Pinky and thumb equal well done. Your friends will be impressed when their steak is cooked perfectly to their preference.
Grilling Fruit and Veggies
For grilling veggie side dishes, reduce the grill's temperature to around 300 to 350 degrees and you'll need to replace the grate with a vegetable tray to keep small pieces from falling through. Brush the tray with oil before you begin to prevent sticking.
Chris seasons his zucchini slices with chili powder and salt. It's best to avoid cutting the slices too thinly to prevent them from cooking too quickly. Cook each side for 1 to 2 minutes, until they're slightly browned. Remove from the grill before they become too soft and serve.
Tomato and Mushroom Skewers
Season with salt and pepper and rotate frequently. You'll know when the tomatoes are ready once they start to blister.
Cut watermelon slices at least an inch and a half thick. Chris seasons them with sugar, salt, lime zest and red pepper flake. Place the seasoned slices on the vegetable tray and grill for one to two minutes on each side. Slice limes into wedges to serve as a garnish.
No matter what you grill or how you grill it, it's all about getting in that backyard relaxation time with friends and family.