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The Guy Behind the Grill 

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If you've got a backyard grill at home, now's the time to haul it out. Cooking outdoors is a great way to spice up summer meals; it's also an opportunity to get the guys in your life involved in feeding the family.

Last year, NPR reported that men are more than twice as likely as women to be the primary griller in a household. In a 2010 story on the grilling gender divide, Forbes writer Meghan Casserly offered her theories on why men prefer cooking on an open flame.

Among them: danger. "Grilling is exciting," she wrote. "You've got lighter fluid, a match, a breeze and a miniature pitchfork to stab things with."

The gender bias holds true in my life. I've changed a flat tire more often (twice) than I've grilled a steak. And, though I'll happily eat anything my husband grills, he's no Bobby Flay. So I went searching for a local dad to give me a few grilling tips. I found Max Holzman on the playground of my kids' school.

With his beard, tattooed forearms and Harley Davidson ring, Holzman fit the grill master part. He also graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and went on to cook in restaurants in the Berkshires and New York City. He's currently a stay-at-home dad who serves as executive chef for his Chittenden County family, which includes his wife, who works full time, and their two kids, both under 10.

He offered this tip for getting kids to eat: Put food on a stick. You don't even have to cook the food on a stick, just as long as it ends up on one. "You're probably adding 50 percent to your consumption if it has a stick in it," he advised.

Holzman grills year-round on a Weber Genesis gas grill. He told me he prefers a cast-iron cooking rack because it conducts heat evenly and sears well. Searing "is the key to cooking any sort of meat, so the juices stay inside," he said.  

Then he pulled out his phone and scrolled to a photo of a recent grilled meal he cooked up: salmon resting atop a timbale of sticky rice next to asparagus spears perched like shingles on lightly charred corn. "I still do plate presentation at every meal," he explained.

According to Holzman, the keys to successful grilling include fresh ingredients, sharp knives, cleanliness and organization. Have a plan to take you from the supermarket — or your local farmers market — to the table. Then, oil the grill rack so food releases easily. And be sure to preheat. High heat produces a nice crust, he said.

Time to marinate? Twelve to 24 hours is ideal, but even 10 minutes to an hour adds flavor, he said. For steak, try rosemary leaves and garlic in olive oil. Also: Flank steak and steak tips tend to be less expensive, but just as flavorful, as other cuts.

For pork, Holzman recommended a dry rub — kosher salt, black pepper, cumin, smoked paprika and a bit of cayenne. "I tend to experiment," he said. Rub it on and grill immediately so the rub stays dry and forms a crust. For chicken, try lemon and garlic or lemon, soy and garlic. Let it sit — or not. "I go for sort of the quick marinades," Holzman said, or no marinade at all so that the meat itself is the dominant flavor.   

Fired up yet?

Smoky Soy-Lacquered Salmon

Grilling doesn't have to be complicated. Max Holzman can get this salmon prepped and on the table in about 45 minutes:

What you need:

  • Salmon, four 4-6 oz. servings, as fresh as you can get (skin is optional)
  • Wood chips for smoking. Use lighter wood for delicate flavors; mesquite or apple works well.
  • Smoker box

Soy glaze preparation

  • 2 cups soy sauce
  • 1 cup mirin (Japanese rice wine)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • zest from half a lemon
  1. Place all glaze ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until reduced by half.
  2. Glaze is done when the consistency is syrupy and it fully coats the back of a spoon.
  3. Keep extra glaze, unrefrigerated, in a jar.

Setting up to smoke

  1. Start grill on high heat or light charcoal.
  2. Oil cooking surface with silicone brush or a folded paper towel dipped in oil (held with tongs).
  3. Place about 2 cups wood chips in smoker box. Run chips under water to moisten. (No need to soak for 20 minutes.)
  4. Place smoker box on grill and lower heat to medium. Close lid of grill. If using charcoal, wait until all charcoal is completely gray.
  5. Allow smoke to build inside grill. When smoke is coming out of the lid, you are ready to start cooking. (Approx. 10-12 min.)

Cooking the salmon

  1. Place salmon on oiled grill surface, skin side down — next to the smoker box — and close the lid.
  2. After two to four minutes, flip the salmon and brush glaze on the partially cooked side. Spoon on the glaze and use a separate brush to baste so that you don't contaminate the glaze for later use.
  3. Flip the salmon every two to four minutes and brush it with glaze after each flip, so that a lacquer crust forms on all sides. Continue to flip and brush until the salmon is cooked as desired. Close the grill lid between flips.
  4. Watch the fish carefully so that it doesn't blacken. The sugar in the glaze will burn easily.
  5. Remove from grill and serve. You can always finish the salmon in the oven so that it doesn't overcook or dry out on the grill. Enjoy!

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