Fire is a mighty ingredient all on its own, adding an alluring smokiness to meat, seafood, cheese and vegetables. So skip the marinade: Grill your ingredients with only oil and salt, and over unrelenting direct heat for a crisp char. Then season them hot off the grill.
This style of cooking takes little time and less planning — and can simplify and shake up dinnertime. For a good time grilling, heed these tips:
• Prep your ingredients, and get the grill super hot. Choose something slender and sturdy (like asparagus or scallions) or lean and marbled (like skirt steak or shrimp) that can cook in less than 20 minutes. As the grill heats up, pat your ingredients dry with paper towels, then let them air-dry until you’re ready to cook. You want the grill hot, but only on one side, so that there’s a cool zone where you can move ingredients if you need to pause and regroup. This is called two-zone grilling. Make sure to clean the grates with a grill brush, then lightly grease the ingredients and the hot grates to prevent sticking and encourage browning.
• Follow the flames more than the recipes. Fire is a wild thing. Each time at the grill will be a little different, so use your senses for the best results. Grill ingredients over direct heat until the bottoms release naturally from the grate, then flip and cook until the outsides are golden and speckled with char and the insides are cooked through. (Check doneness with a meat thermometer or slice and peek in the thickest part.) If your food could use more color, move it to a hotter area. If it flares up, move it to the safe, cool zone.
• Once everything’s hot off the grill, season enthusiastically. Use acidic, salty, fresh or spicy seasonings that stand up to smokiness — and distract if the cooking went awry. Rest ingredients in a bold sauce so that no meat juices are wasted (and so that anything overcooked will still seem moist). Add crunch with a dressed salad, potato chips, nuts, seeds, coconut flakes or breadcrumbs, which will also conceal a less-than-crackly crust. Create a big-flavored glaze by coating your food with butter and a condiment, like giardiniera, horseradish or hot sauce. Butter can fix most problems — in grilling and in life.
Grilled chicken with parsley-olive sauce
• 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 3/4 cup parsley leaves and stems, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 ounces or half a bunch)
• 1 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and torn into various-size pieces
• 1/4 cup Castelvetrano olive brine
• 1 fresh chile, such as Fresno or jalapeño, thinly sliced
• 1 lemon
• Kosher salt and black pepper
Prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone cooking over medium-high heat by pouring the coals onto one half of the grill. For a gas grill, heat all of the burners to high, then turn off one of the end burners before cooking.
While the grill’s heating, pat the chicken dry. If the breasts are uneven in their thickness, pound until even with a heavy skillet or meat mallet. Set aside to air-dry.
In a rimmed dish or wide, shallow bowl, stir together 1/2 cup olive oil, parsley, olives, olive brine and chile. Using the small holes on a box grater, grate 2 teaspoons zest from the lemon.
Add to the bowl, squeeze in half the lemon (about 1 1/2 tablespoons juice), and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges for serving.
When you’re ready to grill, season the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt, then lightly coat with olive oil. Take the chicken, sauce, tongs and a tightly folded paper towel soaked in olive oil to the grill.
Clean the grates well with a grill brush, then oil the grates with the paper towel.
Grill the chicken until well browned on one side and it easily releases from the grates, 4-6 minutes.
(If flare-ups occur, move the chicken to an area of the grill where there are no flames underneath. For a gas grill, close the lid between flips, listening and keeping an eye out for flare-ups.)
Flip and cook until the breasts register 155 degrees in the thickest part and the thighs register 165 degrees, 2-3 minutes for breasts and 4-5 minutes for thighs.
Transfer the chicken to the sauce and turn to coat. Let rest for at least 5 minutes and up to 30.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Serves 4.
You can dry-brine the chicken in advance, which seasons the meat and locks in its juices. Pat the chicken dry, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and refrigerate uncovered overnight. Let come to room temperature before cooking.
Medium-high is 375-450 degrees. You should be able to hold your hand 4-5 inches above the grates for 4-5 seconds. High is above 450 degrees. You should be able to hold your hand 4-5 inches above the grates for 2-3 seconds.