Ask the Experts: What to Eat and Drink at Your Next Summer Cookout
Fire up your grills—cookout season is upon us. Chefs and sommeliers across the country reminisce about their favorite cookout memories and traditions, and serve up some inspiration for what to eat and drink at your next one.
Robert Ramsey, chef instructor, Institute of Culinary Education, New York
Favorite Thing to Throw on the Grill: The answer is just about anything. When we are talking about meat, just make sure to pick a more tender cut. Ribeyes, New York strips, flank, skirt, and hanger are all delicious on the grill. Same goes for pork: tenderloin and chops are great. For chicken, for the best balance of flavor and tenderness, I always go for thighs. For fish, you will have best luck with whole fish, or meatier fish steaks like tuna, mackerel, swordfish, mahi-mahi, or salmon.
But really, get creative with the grill. If you’ve never tried a grilled donut with strawberries and vanilla ice cream, you’re missing out!
Drink of Choice: To me, nothing beats an ice cold beer on a hot summer day. If I’m cooking up brats, I’ll reach for a German-style lager. Steak calls for a toasty brown ale or porter. For seafood, I like to serve gose, a super trendy sour-style wheat beer, perfect for buttery lobster. Finally, my favorite all-purpose, backyard beer is a refreshing pilsner—Peak Organic Fresh Cut is a great one to try.
Favorite Summer Cookout Tradition or Memory: When it comes to backyard cookout traditions, the best one is whatever yours is! I started my own with friends and neighbors in Brooklyn. Every year on the Fourth of July, we have an Independence Day BBQ (the kind that involves a smoker!) in the backyard. Last year the menu was duck-themed, where smoked duck nachos and duck-fat refried beans were some of the highlights.
Coly Den Haan, sommelier and owner, Vinovore, Los Angeles
Favorite Thing to Throw on the Grill: I am super into grilling veggies. I will throw it all on the grill. Romaine hearts drizzled with a creamy dressing right off the heat. Marinated cabbage quarters, stuffed mushrooms, and street-style corn are a few of my favorites. I have also been loving white and purple yams. I bake them first for about 15 minutes to get them just a little tender, cut them into inch-thick rounds, drizzle them with olive oil, then throw them on the high-heat grill for some nice, caramelized char. Top with some homemade chimichurri and it’s crazy good.
Drink of Choice: Rosé is a safe bet, especially if you’re grilling vegetables, fish, or chicken. If you want to step outside the norm a bit but stay in the same general rosé vicinity, try an orange wine! Right now I’m loving J. Brix’s Nomine Amoris orange wine—totally murky, funky, and fresh with hints of salted watermelon. What says barbecue more than watermelon?
Favorite Summer Cookout Tradition or Memory: I personally love the art of a good potluck! It’s a really great way to get a lot of variety on the table and to try your friends’ and family’s culinary flare. I generally encourage my guests to bring apps and sides while I take care of the heavy grill lifting.
Brandon Kida, chef, Hinoki & the Bird, Los Angeles
Favorite Thing to Throw on the Grill: Yakitori or any other meat on a stick.
Drink of Choice: At the moment, I’m really into chilled orange wine. The aggressiveness can stand up to the grilled flavor and the acidity will help cleanse the palate.
I pair with the weather just as much as I pair with the food. The weather is going to dictate people’s moods and in turn their drink of choice, so think heavy, deep-fruited Cab on a cool autumn day, as opposed to on a 90-degree and humid day.
Favorite Summer Cookout Tradition or Memory: Watermelon rind throwing contest.
Jeremy Allen, general manager and bartender, MiniBar Hollywood, Los Angeles
Favorite Thing to Throw on the Grill: Rappahannock River Oysters with a dish of melted butter with lemon is one of my favorites.
Drink of Choice: Summer BBQ pairings couldn’t be easier: Assorted cans of beer in a cooler full of ice and you’re in business! I also like to have a bottle of tequila and a case of Mexican beer on hand (and limes definitely won’t hurt!). In terms of general drink pairings, I recommend clear or pale liquors or chilled wine. Also, you can add mint or basil and any booze to fresh, tart lemonade for an awesome pitcher to beat the heat.
Favorite Summer Cookout Tradition or Memory: St. Paul, Minnesota is a little bit different from other cities in that it’s got that small-town feel when compared to the bigger, badder twin, Minneapolis. One summer, I lived in an apartment building that was rented by friends and musicians, and we basically knew everyone on the block. We would barbecue every Monday and essentially throw a massive block party. We would bring out our own traffic cones and set up a charcoal grill in the middle of the street.
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