Summer grilling ideas from Asheville chefs and shops

A CUT ABOVE: Less common cuts of meat available from local butchers, such as merlot and Denver steaks or secreto pork, can be great for grilling. Pictured is Dave Kane from Foothills Meats. Photo courtesy of Foothills Meats

Sure, you could just throw some hot dogs, burgers and brats on the grill this Fourth of July. But why not freshen up the menu with some new tricks? We went to a few Asheville experts for suggestions on how to spice up your summer grill game.

The main event

One approach is to experiment with some of the lesser-known cuts of meat available at local butcher shops. Foothills Meats owner Casey McKissick suggests Denver steak, which is cut from the beef chuck and is known for its rich flavor. He also recommends merlot steak, which has a “velvety texture and deep red color that comes from its location on the beef animal’s shin. It’s surprisingly tender and wonderfully flavored.”

The Chop Shop Butchery’s head butcher, PJ Jackson, says pork secreto is, as its name implies, a hidden gem and a unique alternative to the ubiquitous chops and tenderloin. Jackson’s secreto cut is the outside loin flap, although other butchers may take theirs from different parts of the pig. Jackson describes it as a “very limited cut, a favorite griller in Spain. Quick sear, just salt — perfection! [It’s a] wonderful way to enjoy pastured pork.”

Lamb loin chops are another good bet. “They’re equivalent to a porterhouse or T-bone, a better value than rib chops, have more flavor and are gorgeous on a plate,” he says.

Both Jackson and McKissick also recommend cap steaks — either sirloin (also known as coulotte) or a ribeye. “Caps have characteristics all their own — mostly in texture — and when sliced across the grain, deliver an awesome flavor and eating experience that can’t be found from the grocery store or traditional steakhouse,” McKissick explains.

The secret’s in the sauce

It can also be fun to try different techniques for flavoring meats. McKissick says demi-glace, a rich sauce made from reduced meat stock, is something that can add a savory boost to both meats and sides. It can be made at home, and Foothills sells its demi-glace in grab-and-go containers. “We constantly have a 40-gallon kettle of beef demi cooking at all times,” he says. “It forms the gravy for our poutine dish and accompanies every steak we serve.”

He also shares a house secret: “Use aromatics — simple herbs and heat.”

His favorite for beef is fresh thyme. First, he soaks the thyme in a pan of warm water with crushed garlic cloves. Then he sears the steak on the grill over high heat directly over the flame, then transfers it to a hot pan that’s been warmed on the grill’s top shelf. The next step is to throw the soaked herbs into the pan with the steak, rubbing them on the steak’s surface thoroughly. Remove them just before they begin to burn.

Use a meat thermometer, he advises, and remove the steak from the grill when it’s 5 degrees below your preferred temperature. He adds that it’s best to always rest a steak before cutting.

Vegging out

But vegetarians, never fear: “Marinated Brussels sprouts and asparagus spears are fantastic on the grill. Get one of those racks with a fine mesh for keeping veggies safe,” says McKissick, who is also in the process of developing vegetarian linked sausages, which will be available at Foothills’ West Asheville and Black Mountain butcher bar locations.

And watermelon actually makes a great grill item, too. “Just a quick sear allows the heat to activate a new depth of flavor while retaining its crunch,” he says.

Parker Schultz, head chef at the Laughing Seed Café, says grilled romaine becomes a special side dish when made into a slaw with crumbled blue cheese and red onion (see recipe). And broccoli is another veggie that works well on the grill — olive oil, salt and pepper are the only seasonings required. “They grill quick and take a charred flavor on nicely,” he says.

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