Mix it up on the grill

Gary Maxey presents his Pig Candy Dessert Kabobs prepared for an Illinois barbecue festival’s “Anything Goes” category.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad by Glenda Brown is a great accompaniment to summer grilled food.

As Father’s Day approaches this weekend, the grilling season is fully hitting its stride. The charcoal lovers have had a couple of months of warm weather and truth be told, gas grillers have been known to sweep the snow off the grill and char a few steaks in the middle of a blizzard.

Either way, basic steaks and burgers are already a little ho-hum and the summer is only just beginning. It’s time to mix it up a little bit. First step is a grill basket. If you don’t already have one, get one. And since it’s Father’s Day, get one for Dad too. He doesn’t need another ugly necktie. What he needs is a grill basket.

Kohl’s has a nonstick one from Bobby Flay for $15.99 and Cuisinart sells one on their web store for less than $20 that has a lid and a long handle so that it’s really easy to turn delicate fish fillets without them falling apart and feeding the charcoal.

A good grill basket can totally eliminate the feeding of the charcoal. Fish and vegetables are the two most popular uses but the uses are endless once you get started. If you have some misbegotten notion that a grill basket is cheating, you are wrong but here’s how you fix it. Nonstick your grill. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s better than nothing. After your clean grill is good and hot, use a synthetic brush to brush olive oil onto the cooking surface. Let the oil dry and repeat. Keep doing it until you’re too bored to do it any more and then do it once or twice more. Make a game of it. Open a beer and brush olive oil on the grill between each sip. By the time the beer is gone, your grill will be as nonstick as it’s going to get.

Corn cooked on the grill is about as glorious as summer gets. Use the recipe that follows for basil butter to make this summer staple even better. Try shucking the corn by pulling back the shucks but not pulling them off and grilling with the corn shuck handle still attached for a great presentation.

Sticky balsamic ribs (recipe follows) totally ignore the low and slow rule to fabulous effect. For something really out of the box, try salt-crusted beef tenderloin cooked in a cloth. This traditional Columbian technique combines two great cooking methods, salt-crusting and grilling in the coals. A beef tenderloin is completely covered in salt, wrapped in a damp cloth and placed in the bottom of the grill with the coals. When the package is fished out and the charred cloth and salt crust removed, you’re left with perfectly seasoned, delicious juicy piece of beef.

The hardest part is picking out a cloth to use. Just sacrifice an old dish cloth and try this. But wait until the grill and coals are hot before salting and rolling up the meat or it will get too salty.

Last but not least are fruits and desserts. Glenda Brown’s Strawberry pretzel salad is a great and unusual accompaniment for grilled food. Gary Maxey has submitted some dessert kebabs made from a recipe he developed for the “Anything Goes” category in an Illinois barbecue festival. Bacon, brown sugar, grilled fruit, sour cream, maple syrup and brandy sound like an over the top combination that will make your Father’s Day barbecue truly memorable.

Pig Candy Dessert Kebab

Gary Maxey — Prepared for an Anything Goes Category at an Illinois BBQ Festival.

Thick cut bacon

brown sugar


maple syrup

fresh pineapple


sour cream


Thick cut bacon coated with brown sugar and a little cayenne, grilled on a vegetable sheet and basted with maple syrup. Grilled Pineapple Wedge with a little brown sugar. Topped with a Strawberry, dipped in Sour Cream and sprinkled with sugar. Dipping sauce (a competition requirement) was heated brandy and maple syrup.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Glenda Williams Brown

2 cups crushed pretzels

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) melted margarine

3 tbsp. plus 3/4 cup sugar

8 oz. cream cheese

8 oz. container Cool-Whip

2- 3 oz. pkg. strawberry jello

2 cups boiling water

2 small cartons fresh strawberries

1 small can crushed pineapple

Preheat oven to 400°F. For crust, mix the pretzels, margarine and 3 tbsp. sugar. Press the mixture into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake for 7 minutes and set aside to cool. Beat together the cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar. Fold in Cool Whip and spread over the cooled crust. Refrigerate until well chilled. Dissolve the Jello in the boiling water; cool slightly. Add the strawberries and pineapple and pour over the cream cheese mixture. Refrigerate.

Grilled Corn

8ears of corn, shucked

Olive oil


Basil Butter

2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup basil, loosely packed

1 tbsp. sea salt

Preheat grill to medium hot. Roll corn in a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. When grill is hot, add corn and close the lid. Rotate the corn a few times, until some of the kernels are blistered and the rest a bright and shiny yellow. This shouldn’t take longer than 8 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, or the corn will be dry. Meanwhile, add the butter, basil, and salt to a food processor and let it rip. You may need to scrape down the sides once or twice. When the basil is finely chopped and the butter has a light green tint, it’s done. When the corn comes off the grill, slather it with the basil butter. Sprinkle with a little more salt if desired. Eat immediately. Note: basil butter can be made ahead and extra basil butter will keep for about a week or two in the fridge. You can roll it into a log with plastic wrap and slice it off as you need it. It’s wonderful on toast.

Salt-Crusted Beef Tenderloin Grilled in Cloth (Lomo al Trapo)

1 center cut piece of beef tenderloin, meticulously trimmed of all fat and silver skin (about 6 inches long and weighing 12 to 16 ounces)

2 cups salt

1 tbsp. dried oregano

Special equipment: 1 piece of clean cotton cloth, approximately 16 inches square, dipped in cold water and wrung out slightly

Twine (optional)

Arrange the cotton cloth on a work surface on the diagonal (like a diamond), so that one corner points down toward you. Spread the salt out on top of the cloth to form a layer 1/4 inch thick that extends to within 1 inch of the edge of the cloth. Sprinkle the oregano evenly over the salt. Place the beef tenderloin on top of the salt at the far end of the cloth. It should run parallel to the center axis (and to your shoulders). Roll the cloth and salt around the tenderloin, starting in the far corner. The idea is to make a compact roll. Now take the points of cloth at each end of the resulting cylinder and tie them together on top of the tenderloin. Alternately, secure the roll with twine.The idea is to form a tight cylindrical packet. You should do this right before your charcoal or gas grill are ready. Charcoal grill method: Light the coals in a chimney starter and rake them out into an even layer at the bottom of the grill. You will not need a grill grate. Lay the wrapped tenderloin right on the coals, knot side up. Grill for exactly 9 minutes. Using long handled tongs, gently turn the tenderloin package over and grill for exactly 8 minutes. Do not be alarmed if the cloth burns; it’s meant to. In fact, the whole shebang should look about as appetizing as a fire-charred log. Gas grill method: Preheat your grill as hot as it will go. There is no need to oil the grill grate. Arrange the cloth-wrapped tenderloin on the grate, knot side up. Grill until the bottom is charred black, about 9 minutes. (The grill should be covered.) Using long-handled tongs, urn the package over and grill until the other side is jet black, about 8 minutes. Use an instant-read thermometer to test the tenderloin for doneness, inserting through the cloth and the salt into the center of the meat. When cooked to rare, the internal temperature will be about 125 degrees F; to medium-rare, 140 to 145 degrees F. Transfer the charred tenderloin to a metal platter or rimmed sheet pan and let rest for 2 minutes. Lift the tenderloin with tongs and tap it hard with the back of a large, heavy chef’s knife. The burnt shell should crack and come off. Using a pastry brush, brush any excess salt off the tenderloin. Transfer the tenderloin to a clean platter, cut it into 2 to 4 pieces and serve at once.

Sticky Balsamic Ribs

Serves 8

For the ribs:

8 large garlic cloves

1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. kosher salt (divided)

2 tbsp. finely chopped rosemary

2 tbsp. packed dark brown sugar

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1 tsp. cayenne

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

8 pounds baby back pork ribs

1 cup water

For the glaze:

2 cups hot water

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

Mince and mash garlic to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt. Stir together with rosemary, brown sugar, vinegar, cayenne, remaining tablespoon salt, and pepper. Rub evenly all over ribs and transfer to roasting pans, meaty side up. Marinate, chilled, 8 to 24 hours. Alternately, marinate in a zippered bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. Preheat oven to 425°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Pour 1/2 cup water into each roasting pan and tightly cover pans with foil. Roast ribs, switching position of pans halfway through, until meat is very tender, about 1 3/4 hours. Remove pans from oven and transfer ribs to a platter. Add 1 cup hot water to each roasting pan and scrape up brown bits. Skim off and discard fat, then transfer liquid to a 10-inch skillet. Add vinegar and brown sugar and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil until thick and syrupy and reduced to about 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas). Brush some of glaze onto both sides of racks of ribs. Grill, turning occasionally, until ribs are hot and grill marks appear, about 6 minutes. Brush ribs with more glaze and serve remaining glaze on the side.