Grilling tips from the pros: III Forks, Southern Cut chefs share their secrets

(Published May 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The weather is warm and the coals are hot.

But what to grill? And how?

Grilling doesn’t need to be complicated, but it takes some planning.

Shane Timmons, the executive chef from Southern Cut Barbecue in Streeterville, said the best cooks are prepared cooks.

“Always be prepared and always have a destination for everything,” Timmons said. “When it comes off the grill, it will go off the grill and go onto this plate with these tongs. I always keep tongs and plates that handle raw and cooked meat separate. … The more organized you are, the quicker and better your grilling will be. It’s the same thing with any restaurant, they call it mise en place, which means everything in its place.”

Timmons said especially if cooks are grilling vegetables, they need to have one cutting board for raw meat, one  for cooked meat and another for vegetables. All of these need to be set out ahead of time to avoid confusion, contamination and possible illness.

Timmons said depending on what is being grilled, cooks should come prepared.

“Obviously when you are grilling steak you want a nice hot grill. No matter what you’re using, it has to be hot enough to give it a quick sear,” he said. “You don’t want the temperature to be too low or it will end up chewy. I like to pull it out of the refrigerator an hour or so before I grill it to get to room temperature.”

Timmons said he likes to season steaks with salt, pepper and some garlic and onion powder, though he said steak seasoning is mostly up to personal preference. While cooks are waiting for the steaks to get to room temperature, he recommends working on the sides, like baked potatoes.

Cruz Almanza, the grill chef at III Forks in New Eastside, said he doesn’t generally season a steak until after it’s off the grill, and a good cut doesn’t need seasoning.

“If you pair a nice cutlet with a side of mash potatoes, you don’t need anything else,” he said. “But if you want to put a crown on the steak, we offer king’s butter so that puts a little extra on it.”

King’s butter is foie gras, truffles with a touch of honey, but outside of III Forks, Cruz said he doesn’t use it.

“At home I just grill a nice cut of meat,” he said.

Marinating, too, requires forethought. Timmons said it’s best to marinate overnight, though at a minimum, cooks should marinate chicken and shrimp for four hours. He recommends wiping off any oil used in the marinate before grilling the meat, otherwise the open flame will ignite the oil and burn the mean unevenly.

Besides meat, vegetables go well on the grill and work great as sides. Corn is a standard go-to, but other vegetables can be grilled with good result, Cruz reports.

“There’s something I love about grilling onions,” he said. “I grew up in central Mexico and if we’re doing a carne asada or barbecue at home we have hot grilled onions.”

Cruz recommends cooking them in a very hot cast iron skillet with beer or even whiskey to flambé them until  they’re caramelized, maybe adding a pinch of brown sugar and salt or Worcestershire sauce.

He also recommends grilling peppers.

“I love the grilled serrano peppers and banana peppers grilled are fantastic,” he said. “It’s not a big thing until you taste it, and sometimes we stuff them with cheese too. Some grilled banana peppers with some chihuahua cheese, that’s a great pairing with your steak.”

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