Grilling season is once again upon us, and most of us want to make every moment of grill time count in its short season.
The trouble is, our busy lives often won't cooperate. Weekdays mean long days of work, child chauffeuring and various other activities, and cherished weekend days fill up just as quickly. When dinnertime rolls around, we're exhausted and may think we don't have time to grill anything more complex than hot dogs and burgers or steaks.
We have a strategy that will help you make the most of your grill this summer: Plan your grilling based on the time you have to devote to it.
Do you have 24 hours' advance notice to barbecue a big cut? Marinate a pork shoulder (or the smaller upper piece of the shoulder sometimes labeled a "Boston butt") for 12 hours, then cook low-and-slow for six to eight hours over charcoal for tender and savory pulled pork (you can also do this in the oven or slow cooker, if you must). Plan ahead, and you'll have leftover pulled pork for sandwiches, tacos, burritos, stir-fries, fried rice, or to top salads. Our rendition uses a rub and an injected marinade for additional flavor.
If you have four hours free, a fine dish of molasses-and-mustard-glazed beef ribs can carry your dinner. The sharp-and-sweet glaze cuts the fatty richness of the ribs a bit, but doesn't argue with their big beefy flavor. Go ahead and cook some extra (figure two ribs per person for dinner) and, the next day, strip the meat from the bones, chop it coarsely and add to ramen, noodle bowls or pasta sauce.
Cutting it close on meal prep? Spatchcocked Cornish game hens with lime, cilantro and garlic will rescue you. No marinade necessary with these beauties, and the spatchcocking makes the little birds cook in just 20 minutes. Figure one whole bird to a customer, and use any leftovers in a light, bright chicken salad, its smoky flavors complemented by a peppery mayonnaise dressing.
Finally, if life's gotten away from you and you only have 30 minutes for meal prep, think cedar-planked salmon with dill and lemon zest. Put the cedar planks to soak while you ready the grill and make the dill-lemon zest topping, then grill the salmon for just 10 to 15 minutes. Leftovers, cold, are superb with mayonnaise thinned with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and some capers.
Ready to eat?
Robin Mather is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of "The Feast Nearby," a collection of essays and recipes from a year of eating locally on a budget.
Pulled pork shoulder
Prep: 40 minutes
Marinate: 12-14 hours
Cook: 6 hours
Makes: 12 to 16 servings
If you have a heavy-duty stand mixer, the paddle blade will shred the tender-cooked pork in moments. Much easier than shredding by hand. If your shoulder was bone-in, remove the bone first, of course.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup salt
1 tablespoon each: garlic powder, onion powder
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon each: ground ginger, black pepper, dry mustard
1 cup apple or pineapple juice
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup each: honey, melted butter
1 pork shoulder (8 to 9 pounds), bone in or bone out
1 Prepare the rub: Combine all ingredients; set aside.
2 Prepare the marinade: Combine all ingredients. Using an injector, shoot the marinade into the pork shoulder in various places, both deeply and shallowly. If your roast is bone-in, avoid injecting marinade next to the bone. Use all the marinade.
3 Rub the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub mixture, massaging it in well. Place the shoulder in a large zip-close bag or on a rimmed dish and cover. Refrigerate, 12 to 14 hours.
4 At cooking time, prepare the grill for indirect cooking (or place the shoulder in a slow cooker or in a baking dish). Put the shoulder on the grill (or in slow cooker or oven) at 300 degrees for 6 to 8 hours, or until the meat is tender and falling apart.
5 Remove the pork shoulder from the grill; let stand, 10 to 15 minutes. Shred using a mixer or two forks, removing bones before shredding. Dress shredded pork with barbecue sauce, if desired, and serve in sandwich buns, with coleslaw, if you like. (See recipe, or use your own favorite.)
Prep: 15 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
Developed in the Tribune test kitchen by chef Mark Graham.
1/2 head red cabbage, shredded, about 3 cups
1/2 head white cabbage, shredded, about 3 cups
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped, about 3/4 cup
4 shallots, very thinly sliced
Zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon gochujang paste
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Toss cabbage, cilantro, shallots, orange zest, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl.
2 Whisk together mayonnaise, gochujang paste, orange juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl until smooth. Just before serving, toss the cabbage with mayonnaise mixture until evenly coated. Serve at once.
Beef ribs with molasses-mustard glaze
Prep: 20 minutes minutes
Stand: 1 hour
Cook: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
Use either beef back ribs or short ribs for this dish. If you use short ribs, the cooking time will be approximately halved. You'll know the ribs are done if the meat has begun to pull from the bone. Figure about 1 pound of ribs per person. We prefer to cut the ribs apart before grilling.
6 pounds beef back ribs or short ribs
2 tablespoons each: sweet paprika, chili powder
1 tablespoon each: garlic powder, onion powder
1/2 teaspoon each: salt, brown sugar
1/4 cup each: unsulphured molasses, Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons each: cider vinegar, bourbon, optional
1 Remove ribs from refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking. Combine rub ingredients; apply to ribs liberally, massaging it in well. Cover the ribs; let stand at room temperature, 1 hour.
2 At cooking time, prepare grill for indirect cooking (or heat oven to 300 degrees). Arrange the ribs on the grill so they are not over the coals or gas flame (or place the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet). Cook, covered, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, turning twice during cooking time.
3 Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: Combine all ingredients. Divide between 2 containers. Use one container to baste ribs, the other to pass at table or refrigerate for future use.
4 When the ribs are tender and the meat has begun to pull from the bones, uncover ribs and brush them with glaze. Cook for 10 minutes, uncovered; turn and brush with glaze again. Cook an additional 10 minutes, then serve. Pass remaining glaze at table if desired.
Spatchcocked Cornish game hens with lime, garlic and cilantro
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Skewering the little birds helps them keep their shape on the grill, but you can skip that step if you're short on time.
4 Cornish game hens
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, grated or pureed
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 Spatchcock the game hens by turning them breast side down and using a sharp pair of kitchen scissors to cut on either side of the backbone. Remove backbone; reserve for use in stock or discard. Turn the birds over; flatten them by pressing on the breast bone with the heel of your hand. If you wish to skewer the birds, run the birds through with two skewers, one from one thigh through the opposite breast to the wing, the other skewer crossing X-wise to do the remaining side. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside at room temperature while you prepare the composed butter and the grill.
2 While the grill heats, prepare the composed butter: Combine butter, lime zest and juice, cilantro, garlic and salt. Using waxed paper, shape the composed butter into a roll. Place in the freezer while you grill the hens.
3 Place the hens skin side up over direct heat. Cover; cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the birds over; cook until golden brown and a thermometer in the thickest part of the breast registers 145 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 minutes . Move the birds to cooler parts of the grill if they start to burn. Remove from grill, placing birds on a platter. Put 2 pats of composed butter on each bird to melt while they rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Planked salmon with dill and lemon
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 10-15 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
Cedar planks are widely available and usually can be reused at least once. Use them smooth-side up; despite a lot of advice on the internet, there's no need to oil them. Soaking the planks helps them release their oils in an aromatic steam as the fish cooks.
1 cedar plank, 15 inches long
1 large bunch fresh dill
1/4 cup olive oil
1 side of salmon (about 2 pounds), pin bones removed
1 Put the cedar plank in water to soak while you prepare the grill. Make sure it's fully submerged.
2 Mince half the dill. Zest the lemon, then squeeze its juice into a small bowl. Add chopped dill, olive oil and salt to taste; stir to blend. Set aside.
3 At cooking time, place the plank on the grill rough side up for about 3 minutes to heat the smooth side. Turn the board over, and lay the side of salmon skin side down on the plank over direct heat. Season with salt; lay remaining dill atop salmon. Cover the grill.
4 Cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the salmon reads 120 degrees (for wild salmon) or 125 degrees (for farmed salmon). Remove plank to a platter. Discard dill from atop salmon. Brush salmon with dill-lemon mixture, reserving some to pass at the table, if desired. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes before serving.