Posted by JT McCubbin
Living in the upper, mid-southeast region of the lower, south eastern Midwest has its advantages. In Kentucky, we experience a great combination of all four seasons. Wonderfully long autumns and springs, and typically our extremes are short-lived. We get heat waves in July and August, but nothing like the summers of Texas and Florida, and when we get snow, it is enough for the kids to sled down the hill for a day and then it will usually melt within a day or so as the temperatures rise above 40 F. But when the Superbowl is over and the only remnants of the firewood stack are pieces of bark and bug dust, winter becomes agonizingly protracted and its wearisome grip quickly closes in.
Now, I am one who believes the natural ebb and flow of the seasons should be respected. It is the chill of winter which gives us the appreciation of the first warm days of spring. It is the blistering heat and humidity of July that provides the joy of donning our jeans and sweatshirts in autumn and stoking the bonfire for hotdogs and marshmallows. The heat and humidity of July is juxtaposed by the exquisite taste of home garden tomatoes, which is due precisely because we did not compromise and settle for store bought pinkish-white tomatoes in December.
So, fast-forwarding a little piece of summer into the bleak frigid cold of March’s desperate weeks might sound blasphemous, and we don’t take it lightly, but there are times when a lift to the spirit is necessary in order to loosen the stranglehold of cold bitterness around our souls.
One simple, yet effective means of brightening these dark days is to bring the pop and sizzle of meat on the grill indoors with our cast iron grill pan or griddle. Our collection includes a round grill pan and a two burner, two-sided griddle. Each has its own advantages and a drawback or two. The round pan isn’t large enough to cook for all four members of our family at one time, and the surface of the griddle side will suffer the direct flame of the gas grill when flipped to use the grill. However, the sharp ridges accomplished with cast iron far out-class the paltry bumps the aluminum pans attempt to pass-off as grill ridges. Do we really expect those pseudo-ridges to provide the grill lines necessary to bring the taste of summer to our mouths? This is where the cast iron grill pans cook like no other. So we have the grill, next comes the fare.
The hamburger is one of the most quintessential summer grilling foods. Yes, simple in its approach, we can complicate this summer sizzler to accommodate most any occasion. For our first foray into seasonal repositioning we will keep it fairly simple. We’ll dress the hamburgers with either cheddar or Maytag Blue cheese, and dress it up with lettuce, mayo, and stone ground mustard, but under no circumstances will there be a winter green house tomato.
An early frustration in our grill pan experience was having the food stick to the grill ridges when trying to turn the food. This frustration was overcome through having properly oiled ridges, technique, and patience; the most important being patience. Using a basting brush aids in the application and maintenance of oiling the ridges, and is the practice I typically follow. However, the oil can quickly drain away from the ridges. Alternately, apply a thin layer of oil to the meat in addition to the grill.
The next three steps are critical and valuable to grill pan success. First, the grill should be fully heated from medium-high to high prior to placing the hamburger on the grill. Lower heat settings will cause more of a boiled or stewed effect on the meat as moisture slowly leaves the surface. Second, while it may sound counter-intuitive, place the hamburger on the grill and press it down firmly onto the ridges, fully embedding the ridges into the surface. This not only helps the meat to release but provides the perfect grill lines for that grilling experience and flavor. Finally, by exercising a little patience, employing the “flip it once” approach, the hamburger will self-release as the process of charring begins between the contact points of the meat and ridges.
The grilling experience is complete with some thick-cut home fries (potato skins on please) and baked beans. So, while the freezing rain continues to bend the trees until the tips touch the ground, and the eaves groan under the weight of accumulating snow, we reach forward into spring, fire up the grill, and respectfully grasp a little portion of warming sun and bring it back to our table.
Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or you can contact JT directily at email@example.com.