The story of the holy trilogy of grilling (or Grilling Trilogy™ for short) is a simple one. Years ago, I developed this technique to use in my grill trainings for chefs and food writers. I wanted the food to taste good, but I didn’t want to spend all day rubbing, marinating or saucing. So, I decided to focus on teaching the techniques of grilling without the flourishes (of other flavors). I am a firm believer that a little bit of oil is essential to great grilled food (more on that later) so I added olive oil. I still wanted the food to taste good and knew that salt was essential to the taste and caramelization process, so I added salt. Finally, I added pepper to add some seasoning without a lot of fuss. That was the genesis of the holy trilogy of grilling.
What I discovered was that provided you buy the best quality raw ingredients (a given), and use the grilling trilogy principles, everything that you grill will be guest-ready and delicious. Remember, in most cases—in life and cooking—less is more and the grilling trilogy is the epitome of that! I promise, if you employ the grilling trilogy, your grilled food will make you the reigning Queen of your Grilling Kingdom!
Don’t worry about the oil and don’t eliminate it. It is truly essential and you don’t need to use very much. Coat all the outside surfaces with a thin layer of olive or vegetable oil. I prefer olive oil for everything, but you can use any kind of oil except butter because it burns easily. And remember, grilling is intrinsically low-fat and healthy because you aren’t frying or sautéing in oil or butter. If you don’t oil the food, it will dry out and become tasteless.
Think about oil this way: when you go to the beach (white as a ghost) with the goal of a deep dark St. Tropez tan, you must use suntan oil. If you don’t, you will burn and dry out. Likewise, your raw food needs oil to caramelize, sear roast and turn golden brown on the outside without drying out on the inside. Now, you get it, Right!?
Likewise, salt is very important. It is a natural mineral, and used in moderation, I think it is the most important ingredient (besides the food itself) for great taste. There are a few things to keep in mind when cooking with salt. Season food with salt just before it goes on the grill, otherwise it will draw the juices to the surface of the meat. We want the juices to stay inside the meat so it is tender and juicy when we serve it. And, start with a little and add to taste, there is a fine line between just right and too much—it’s much easier to add than take away.
Notes on Salt: I love salt and all the different kinds of salt that are available to us today. Use Kosher or sea salt for the grilling trilogy and everyday cooking. Splurge and buy Fleur de Sel (flower of salt—hand-raked once a year in France) for your table. The natural shape of the Fleur de sel salt crystals add a mild distinctive flavor and texture to salads, meat and vegetable dishes. But don’t stop there, try the Pink salt from Hawaii, Black salt from India, Grey salt from Brittany and any other salt you can find. E-mail me with your favorite salts or if you find an interesting one that I might not have tried.
And last, but not least, pepper. Pepper is best freshly ground from a pepper mill or spice grinder every time you use it. The flavor that we get from pepper is propelled by the oils in the peppercorns, these oils dry up very quickly which is why already ground pepper has much less taste than freshly ground pepper.
Pepper Tip: Before putting the peppercorns in your pepper mill, put them in a dry sauté pan, stir occasionally and heat gently just until a wisp of smoke is present and you can smell the pepper. Remove and let cool before grinding. This is how you roast a spice to bring out the maximum flavor in the spice. You can do this with all whole spices before grinding them and they will all taste fresher and deeper in flavor. This is the same basic idea behind coffee roasting, and it’s up to you to decide how dark you like your spices—or coffee for that matter.