Summer’s finally here, and with it, a million and one ways to prepare dinner. Consider the following tips for when to grill, when to bake, when to sauté, and beyond.
For many people, summer means liberation. The freedom to run outside, play outside, work outside, and of course, cook outside. After many months of slaving over a hot stove, it’s always nice to step outdoors, fire up the grill and get that nice sear going.
Not to mention, we’re all sick of the heavy soups, stews, casseroles and slow cooker comfort food. Summer is the perfect time to switch up your typical weeknight routine and add some variety. Spicing up supper doesn’t mean following a radical recipe. In fact, it can be as simple as grilling chicken versus baking it or searing your zucchini instead of frying it. (Shameless plug: check out our Summer Ingredients article if you haven’t already!).
That said, smart cooks are careful to make the RIGHT choice as opposed to the impulsive one. While the barbecue always seems to make things taste amazing, certain proteins hold up much better when prepared over the stove or in the oven.
Without further adieu, let’s break down some scrumptious methods for cooking your favorite main dishes this summer. To grill or not to grill? We’ve got the definitive answers.
When to Grill Chicken
Chicken is safe for kids, easy for adults. It's popular and since it’s such a staple on the average American dinner table, its presence remains strong all summer long. But BBQ pitmasters beware: cooking regular old chicken breasts on the grill is NOT for the faint of heart. Breasts are difficult enough to get right in the oven (and that’s with the advantage of precise temperature control).
If you have your heart set on the grill, we recommend choosing darker cuts of chicken. Let’s face it—they still taste delicious, and while not as healthy, can still be prepared with few calories added. This spice-rubbed grilled chicken recipe from the Pioneer Woman is great. Simple, succulent—the perfect complement to a fresh salad or cob of corn. Best of all, once you preheat the grill and rub down your cuts, dinner is ready in a matter of minutes.
Now, if the kids ask for chicken fingers, or if you’re craving a tender, juicy breast for a pasta dish or sandwich, stay indoors. Using your stovetop cookware or oven is the preferred method when it comes to executing a chicken breast!
When to Grill Steak
We’ll be honest. When a barbecue grill is available, it seems sacrilegious to even consider cooking a steak anywhere else. But many home chefs maintain there are tons of factors that contribute to their decision of whether to grill, pan fry, broil or bake.
Let’s start with the outdoor grill. The reason it’s generally preferable is due to the high temperatures you can reach while outside. Unless you’re willing to fill your kitchen with a billowing cloud of smelly smoke, it’s nearly impossible to achieve the crusty char of a grill.
Next time you’re barbecuing, take a look at Bobby Flay’s perfectly grilled steak recipe. The ingredient list is nothing short of shocking: salt, pepper and oil. No fancy herbs? No sophisticated sauces? Nope. Just the mouthwatering sear of a smoky outdoor grill. It’s all about the heat and timing.
So, when would it be better to cook on the stove? Weather considerations aside, some people prefer the taste imparted by a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet or the sear of a stainless pan. You can also use a broil pan or your oven-safe Made In cookware to finish off the steak in the oven.
When to Grill Shrimp
Oh crustaceans, crustaceans. This one’s a toss up—the Sophie’s Choice of foodies everywhere. Would you give up a scrumptious plate of sautéed shrimp scampi for a smoky kebob of grilled shrimp? Both are practically perfect, so let’s lay down the subtle differences.
When preparing shrimp on the grill, it’s pretty straightforward. Barbecued shrimp offer a fabulous crust that cracks in your mouth, bringing forth a sweet, salty avalanche of yummy flavor. Placing them on a kebob also helps to lock in the moisture, so you get to enjoy that elusive balance of crispy bite and juicy finish. Serious Eats explains it well in their grilled shrimp with garlic and lemon recipe.
But what about your lonely stovetop? Don’t forget that there are plenty of summer-friendly shrimp recipes fit for your sauté pan. If you’re looking to infuse unique flavor in your favorite ethnic fare (like Italian or Spanish), it’s imperative to use your cooktop. Consider Martha Stewart’s sautéed shrimp recipe, which features a tasty white wine, garlic and red pepper sauce prepared in a large skillet.
Would summer be the same without fish? Whether it’s fresh off the boat or farm-raised from the freezer, the season calls for salmon. It’s lean, clean and oh-so-versatile to prepare. Salmon pairs nicely with any sauce and every side dish. Still—don’t forget how sticky this fish can get when coming into contact with a hot surface.
Many BBQ enthusiasts get ‘scared’ to flip the salmon, resulting in filets being overcooked and devoid of moisture. So, what’s the best method to solve the problem—grill, bake, or pan sear? Of course, the answer is never simple.
Long story short, choose your method based not on moisture, but on flavor. For a juicy interior, it’s all about watching the salmon closely and ensuring you don’t overcook it. In fact, we don’t recommend flipping the fish at all. Simply lay on the grill skin side down, and cook with the top covered for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
Spicy Southern Chicken has an awesome recipe for honey BBQ salmon. The funny part? The instructions call for pan-searing and finishing the fish in the oven (the perfect task for an oven-safe nonstick fry pan). There’s no barbecue involved at all. But if the sun’s out, why not adapt the recipe for preparation outdoors?
So many staples, so little time. We hope you enjoyed our tips for choosing to grill or cook during the summer months. Happy feasting!