Barbecue with the pros: Island chefs share their barbecuing secrets

Barbecue with the pros: Island chefs share their barbecuing secrets

— Alison Shaw

The barbecue season is upon us once again, and Islanders need look no further than local farms and fish markets, and even our own backyards, for ingredients to throw on the grill. We asked local chefs for their tips and takes on what food to grill, where to find it, and preparation how-to’s in order to make the most of the Island’s bountiful harvest.

Max Eagan of Isola

Max Eagan, chief executive chef for the restaurant portion at the new Isola in Edgartown (located in the former Lattanzi’s spot), is an avid fisherman and likes to cook his catch over an open flame. “I keep a small charcoal grill in my Jeep for most of the summer,” he tells us. “You never know when the time comes for a beach lunch, especially as a fisherman.” He prefers charcoal over gas because, “It really makes you connect with the food. You’re cooking more, tending to the coals, controlling heat, and you can always throw some wood chips on there to get a real nice smoky flavor.”

Scup is his first choice for local catch on the grill. They’re easy to catch, prep, season, and can be barbecued whole. “Today,” he says, “I did basil, garlic, crushed red pepper, smoked sea salt, and olive oil.”

Other seafoods found on Max’s grill include clams and scallops. For clams, he recommends, “Dig them, rinse them, and put them on the grill until they pop open. Dip into melted butter and enjoy. Nothing is simpler, more rewarding, and delicious.”

He also provides a tip for grilling scallops without them sticking to the grill. Blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling water, then immerse in ice water. Pat them dry, and season with salt and pepper. Cook on an oiled grate.

Max takes advantage of other Island bounty. He likes local peaches on the grill “…especially if there is some prosciutto laying around to accompany it.” And he likes to split a chicken from The Good Farm and toss that on the fire. “Jefferson Munroe really raises his birds well,” he says. “Nothing beats a local bird. The taste is superior.”

In short, Max is all about locally produced and caught food. “Our Island provides us with tons of beautiful and free foods,” he says. “To not take advantage of them would be a shame.”

Pete Smyth of Slice of Life

When Pete Smyth is not overseeing the menu at Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs, he’s a dedicated family man. Barbecuing enhances that. “I often go to Morning Glory Farm and The Net Result to get stuff when I have time off,” he says. “I usually look for something to grill. I think it tastes better and I can be outside with my kids while I’m doing it.”

And what does he buy to feed a wife and two daughters? “If you’re talking savory, it’s lobster or any local shellfish.” He’ll also opt for chicken or swordfish with a simple marinade made with equal parts of soy sauce and maple syrup seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper.

Like many of the Island chefs, he prefers charcoal or wood for grilling because of its effect on the flavor of the food. “But,” he admits, “usually due to time, I use gas.”

He recommends having the grill hot and clean. Instead of seasoning the grate by swabbing with an oiled towel, he oils the bristles on his cleaning brush.

And, like a true doting dad, he treats the kids to ice cream. “We are blessed to have so many purveyors of the fine treat,” he says.

Justin Melnick of The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn

After the chaos of cooking at The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn in Edgartown, Justin Melnick likes to take it easy. “Grilling outdoors in the summer should always be fun,” he says. “The food will always taste better on a great day with friends and family.

“Keep it simple,” he continues. “There are lots of great summer vegetables, meats, and fish out there. Find the best ingredients, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and don’t overcook them.

He especially enjoys local sea bass grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and served simply with grilled heirloom tomatoes and a cucumber and mixed green salad. For the Island’s fresh local corn, he always grills it in the husk, whether on the barbecue at home or at his work at The Terrace. And he raves about the tomatoes and corn grown on the Island. “You can’t go wrong in the summer,” he says.

He also recommends a simple recipe for the grill – littleneck clams, rinsed and purged, and placed directly on the grill on medium heat until they open. Melt some butter with lemon and herbs, toss together in a bowl (shells and all) and enjoy.

Justin prefers grilling in the comfort of his own backyard, with a cocktail or two for encouragement. The gas grill is his choice “only because I have used it my whole life,” he says. “It’s easier to control the temperature and ready when I need it to be.”

Ron “Puppy” Cavallo of Soigne

The chef usually referred to as “Puppy” is part-owner and cook for Soigne, the market with up-scale carry-out meals on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. He considers grilling such an integral part of cooking that he’s had a built-in barbecue installed off his home kitchen. And while he prefers gas for convenience, he admits that many dishes need the enhancement of charcoal. “Jerk chicken, for instance,” he cites. “It needs the slow smoke.”

He maintains, however, that you don’t need a built-in grill for the best barbecuing and perhaps the great outdoors can be a better choice in the summer. “Grill everything outside,” he suggests. “All meats, fish, veggies, and potatoes. No mess or added heat to the kitchen.”

For ingredients, Puppy enjoys the bounty of the Island, especially fresh local corn, lobster, and freshly caught striped bass. He likes to steam the corn, then blacken it on the grill. He cuts off the kernels for a fresh grilled corn and feta salad. He enjoys the bass stuffed with just-picked garden herbs and grilled whole. And for prep, it’s a time-saver for him to do the preliminary work in his kitchen at Soigne and finish the entrée on the grill at home.

A simple recipe that he recommends is “Wine Bottle or Beer Can Chicken.” Here’s how he makes it:

Rub your chicken with your favorite spice. His favorite for this is hot smoked paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, and cayenne pepper. Empty half the beer or wine into a shallow pan and put two or three garlic cloves in the bottle or can. Set the bottle or can through the cavity of the chicken, standing it upright in the shallow pan. Make sure the chicken doesn’t tip over, place it in the grill, close the lid, and cook to perfection. The liquid remaining in the bottle or can with the garlic helps to flavor the cavity of the chicken.

Of course, it’s best made with locally raised chickens.

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