Confessions of a Serial Griller

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Cookbook author, Matt Moore, explores the best methods and techniques for smoky perfection with some of best grill masters in the South

Photography by Andrea Behrends and Helene Dujardin

Matt Moore, author of “South’s Best Butts” and “A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen,” begins his newest book with a confession.

“I’m a Serial Griller. It’s a messy job – but I take pride in my work. Truth be told, I’m not the only one who finds pleasure in standing among the smoke and the flames to pursue one’s craft. You see, for us Serial Grillers – no matter the season, the occasion, the meal, or the course – you can catch us all toiling over fire.”

He got it honest, he goes on to explain. With one grandfather a cattleman in Mississippi and the other a butcher in the family store in Valdosta, Ga., it was no wonder it passed down to him through his parents who now spend their days grilling at their home on Lake Oconee.

Matt Moore recalls late nights at The Grill in downtown Athens during his college days at UGA. He shares the history of The Grill and its signature flat top-griddled burger in his newest book, ‘Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection.’

Throughout his travels as an entrepreneur, adventurer, musician, and chef, Moore met fellow serial grillers from all walks of life.

“No matter gender, race, or religion – Serial Grillers are all united by a passion for great taste,” he writes.

He introduces them to readers in his recently published “Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection,” a broad collection of recipes curated from his tour across America. He tells their stories, shares their signature recipes, and learns tips from some of best grill masters in the South and beyond.

Moore also offers his own tried-and-true grilling recipes for every part of the meal, from starters and salads, skewers and handhelds, to big plates and desserts. Part instruction manual and part story-telling, “Serial Griller” explores the best methods and techniques for diverse cuisines among the smoke-filled places where you can find the best grillers toiling over fire.

www. MattMoore.com

FLANK STEAK VIGNERON WITH BLACK GARLIC BOARD SAUCE

1 (2-pound) flank steak

1 teaspoon kosher salt

5 large fresh sage leaves

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, stripped from the stems

2 black garlic or regular garlic cloves, minced

1/2 fresh red jalapeno chile, stemmed and seeded

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 At least 1 hour in advance of cooking, season both sides of the steak evenly with salt, then return the steak to the refrigerator.

2 In the base of a charcoal grill, pile cut dried grapevines on top of twisted newspaper. The vines should completely fill the base and sit just above the top of the grill, so don’t pile them too high. Light the newspaper and allow the vines to burn until they turn gray (the fire will be very hot, 750º to 800º). Alternatively, for charcoal, open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 500º or more. Coat the top grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to high [500º or more].)

3 While waiting for the vines to burn down, chop the sage, thyme, black garlic, and jalapeno together on a cutting board until minced. Season with the pepper and add the olive oil to create a sauce.

4 Add the steak to the open grill and cook, flipping every 60 to 90 seconds, until an internal temperature of 130º, 5 to 7 minutes total cooking time.

5 Remove the steak from the grill and place on the cutting board, topping the sauce. Slice the steak thinly against the grain, allowing the meat juices to combine with the sauce. Portion the steak, adding more residual sauce as necessary, onto serving dishes, spoon board sauce over each portion, and serve immediately.

GRILLED CORN WITH DILL BUTTAH AND FETA

½  cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus ½ tablespoon fresh juice (from 1 lemon)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 ears fresh yellow corn, shucked

1 ounce feta cheese, crumbled (about 1/4 cup)

1 Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 450º to 500ºF. (If using a gas grill, preheat to high [450º to 500ºF].)

2 Stir together the butter, dill, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well combined.

3 Place the corn on the oiled grates. Grill, uncovered and turning often, until charred on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter. Brush each corn ear with 1 ½ tablespoons of the dill butter and sprinkle with ½  tablespoon of the feta. Garnish with additional dill.

SKEWERED OKRA

Okra, a classic Southern ingredient that’s often fried—or found hidden in gumbos or pots of purple hull peas—is one of my favorite vegetables. I often make it the star of the show, instead of serving as a backup singer. Be sure to source fresh, young okra: The pods should be tender and not woody.

1 pound fresh okra

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

1/4 teaspoon flaky sea salt

1 Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 450º to 500º. Coat the top grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to high [450º to 500º].)

2 Toss together the okra, soy sauce, honey, oil, and garlic powder in a bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Remove the okra from the marinade; reserve 3 tablespoons of the marinade and discard the rest.

3 Thread five okra pods onto two parallel skewers so that each skewer pierces the pods 1/2 inch from each end. Repeat with the remaining okra, skewering about five okra onto every two parallel skewers. Place on the oiled grates. Grill, uncovered, until slightly charred, 4 to 6 minutes, flipping the skewers once halfway through cook time. Transfer to a serving platter. Drizzle with the reserved marinade and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and salt.

PORK GYROS

Most Americans think of beef or lamb when it comes to gyros, but an authentic Greek gyro is traditionally filled with pork. I ate my fill of these during my travels in Greece, usually holding one in my hand, tzatziki dripping down my arm, while navigating the local narrow streets on a motorcycle. To re-create the Greek classic, I like to use pork tenderloin to ensure the meat is super tender. You can also use this marinade for chicken, beef, or lamb, if that’s more your speed.

PORK

1/2 cup plain whole-milk

Greek yogurt

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 ½  tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon paprika

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground

black pepper

1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin, cut into ½-inch cubes

TZATZIKI

3/4 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

1/4 cup finely chopped seeded cucumber (from 1 small [7-ounce] cucumber)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

FOR SERVING

6 (8-inch) pita rounds, halved crosswise

3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce (from 1 [8-ounce] package)

2 cups chopped seeded tomato (from 2 medium [6-ounce] tomatoes)

1 Marinate the pork: Whisk together the yogurt, vinegar, oregano, garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the pork and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

2 Meanwhile, prepare the tzatziki: Stir together all the ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, or up to a few days.

3 Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 400º to 450º. Coat the top grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high [400º to 450º].)

4 Remove the pork from marinade; discard the marinade. Thread the pork evenly onto 12 (6-inch) skewers. Place the skewers on the oiled grates. Grill, covered and turning occasionally, until the pork is charred and a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of the pork registers 145º, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.

5 Wrap the pita halves in damp paper towels. Microwave on HIGH until softened, 30 to 45 seconds. Fill the pita halves evenly with the pork, lettuce, and tomatoes. Drizzle with the tzatziki.

GRILLED SALMON WITH CREAMY CUCUMBER RELISH

Its richness and meaty texture make salmon one of the easier varieties of fish to grill. The trick is to simply let the fillets be after placing them on the grates. Allow time and temperature to do the work for you and you won’t need to worry about the fish sticking. Instead you’ll have uniform crispy skin and moist and tender fish. A cool, creamy, crunchy cucumber relish flavored with dill is a natural with grilled salmon.

4 (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

1/4 cup whole buttermilk

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill

1 small garlic clove, grated (1/2 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon fresh juice (from 1 lemon)

1 cup chopped seeded peeled cucumber (from 1 [8-ounce] cucumber)

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion (from 1 [3-ounce] onion)

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 Brush the salmon with the olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the pepper and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.

2 Meanwhile, stir together the yogurt, buttermilk, dill, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

3 Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter halfway filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill, and then push to one side of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 400º to 450º. Coat the top grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high [400º to 450º] on one side.)

4 Place the salmon, skin-side down, on the oiled grates directly over the side with the coals (or the lit side of a gas grill). Grill, covered, until grill marks appear, about 4 minutes. Carefully turn each fillet over with a fish spatula and move to the oiled grates over the side without the coals (or the unlit side of a gas grill). Grill, covered, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and let rest for 5 minutes.

5 While the fish rests, add the cucumber and onion to the yogurt-dill mixture and stir to combine. Place a salmon fillet on each of four plates and spoon 1/2 cup cucumber relish on top of each. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

BACON AND SWISS BURGERS

Cooking on a flat surface allows the beef patty to cook in its own juices. The best way to emulate this process at home is to cook the burgers in a cast-iron skillet, resting the skillet right on top of the grill grates and “squishing” them using two large flat spatulas. One would never do such on a regular grill, as the juices would be lost to the fire, but this technique works perfectly on the flat surface, as the juices surround the burger throughout the cooking process, delivering unrivaled flavor and texture.

2 pounds 80/20 lean ground beef

12 strips bacon, cooked crisp

2 cups shredded Swiss-American cheese blend, or whatever you prefer

6 sesame seed buns

For garnish: mayonnaise, green leaf lettuce, tomato slices, dill pickle chips

1 Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 350º to 400º. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high [350º to 400º].)

2 Meanwhile, loosely form the beef into six ⅓-pound patties.

3 Place a large, seasoned cast-iron skillet on the grill grate over direct heat and preheat the pan for 1 minute. Add three of the patties to the skillet and smash each once with a spatula. Cook undisturbed, uncovered, for 3. minutes to develop a sear. Flip the patties, smash again, and then slide the spatula underneath each to free it from the surface. Cook the patties for an additional 3. minutes, or until cooked to desired preference.

4 Evenly distribute the bacon and cheese blend among the patties, cover the grill, and cook just until the cheese has melted. Remove the patties. Repeat for the second batch.

5 Working in batches again, add the buns to the hot skillet, cut-sides down, and toast in the pan drippings until lightly browned, about 1 minute.

6 Evenly spread mayonnaise on the cut sides of each toasted bun, add the patties, and top with the garnishes. Serve.

GRILLED CHOCOLATE POUND CAKE

Let me tell you, friends, there’s pound cake and then there’s chocolate pound cake. It’s hard to beat the ease of this recipe when the craving for dessert hits. Grilling slices of pound cake toasts the edges and adds tenderness to the center as it warms. A big ole dollop of cream and raspberries pushes this sweet ending into overdrive.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

½ cup sour cream

¾ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus more for garnish

2 cups fresh raspberries

1 Preheat the oven to 325º. Grease and flour a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2 Beat ¾ cup of the butter in the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add the granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just incorporated after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, and beating on low speed after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan.

3 Bake in the preheated oven until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from the loaf pan and cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour.

4 Open the bottom and top vents of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with gray ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 350º to 400º. Coat the top grill grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium [350º to 400º].)

5 Cut the cooled cake into twelve slices. Spread the remaining butter evenly on both sides of the slices. Place the slices on the oiled grates. Grill, uncovered, until grill marks appear, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from the grill.

6 Whisk together the cream and powdered sugar in a bowl until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Place two cake slices on each of six serving plates. Top evenly with the whipped cream and the raspberries. Garnish with powdered sugar.

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