5 essential grilling tips from Aaron Franklin, Alton Brown, Bryant Terry and more top chefs

Learn to love old beef, don't forget the vegetables — oh, and try the bone marrow, too

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published September 3, 2022 5:30PM (EDT)

A man cooking food on BBQ (Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions)
A man cooking food on BBQ (Getty Images/Hinterhaus Productions)

While a lot of people, myself included, are pleased that "spooky season" is just around the corner, it's still grilling season for a little while longer. Thankfully, over the course of Salon Food's history, we've had a lot of experts — ranging from Alton Brown of "Good Eats" fame to Aaron Franklin of the eponymous Franklin Barbecue — share their advice for how to level up your grilling game at home. 

Here are 5 essential tips to make sure what's left of grilling season is the best that it can be:

Looking to update your grill? Consider this brand 

Brown and Franklin both recommended a particular brand of grill during their respective appearances on "Salon Talks."


"I've become a really, really big fan of a company out of Arkansas called PK Grills," Brown said. "It's this oblong aluminum box, and I'm just crazy about them. They have more cooking space, usually, than some of the round grills, and they're not very expensive at all." 


Franklin concurred: "They're made out of aluminum, so they don't rust, which is super cool.


"Conducts heat really well," he continued. "They're made domestically, so you can just call the company and like, 'Hey, I need some grates. I need a replacement leg,' or whatever. They'll ship it out. It's super great."

Try underloved cuts of meat 

Everyone is feeling the impact of inflation — especially when it comes to how much we're spending on groceries. One way to cut costs, especially when cooking out, is to turn your attention to cuts of meat that don't always get a lot of love. Brown recommended a few substitutions. 


"Number one, I don't like chicken breasts," he said. "I go straight for the thighs. I think that the thigh and the leg quarter is the best thing to put on a grill, and you can usually buy them in big packs because most people want to buy breasts." 


He also recommended reaching for skirt steak. 


"I cook skirt steak directly on the coals," he said. "I don't even use a grill grate. I marinate it, I get a good bed of coals going, I blow off the ash and I plop that stuff right down on the coals." 


Oh, and try grilling bone marrow, which you can buy at most butcher shops. According to Brown, it's "better than a lot of sex." 

Learn to love old beef, too

Salon contributor Maggie Hennessy spoke with the beef experts at Butter Beef Meat Co. in Perry, N.Y., about vaca vieja, which has long been touted as "the next big thing in meat." 


"By virtue of its age, mature beef is a completely different eating experience — more intensely meaty, almost gamey — with flavorful, butter-yellow fat from its more varied diet and a toothsome texture owing to more years plodding across the earth," Hennessy wrote. 


It also happens to be more sustainable. 


Read Hennessy's reporting on the trend and consider buying some "old beef" online (a practice also recommended by Brown).

Ask your butcher what they recommend 

Franklin told Salon that he prefers the "butcher's cut" of steak, pieces of meat that aren't traditionally prized by American consumers.


"Typically, they're cheaper," he said. "A bavette is probably one of my favorite steaks, just texturally. Here, it's called a flap steak or flat meat here in the States. In France, it's a bavette. Or like hanger steaks are really great, little flat irons and stuff like that, but that kind of goes in with, you talk to your butcher. Know your butcher." 


Per Franklin, they're always trying to come up with new cuts, too. 


"Because you've got so many muscles in an animal, it just depends on if you find a seam and you kinda cut through it and find certain things," he said. 

Don't forget the vegetables 

When it comes to barbecue, Bryant Terry, the author of six cookbooks including 2020's "Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes," said he preferred to avoid the whole "'delete meat and add tofu' kind of ethos."


"For example, I do this barbecue tempeh," he said. "It was in my book, 'Vegan Soul Kitchen.' People love it! Even the ardent meat eaters have been like, 'You know, this isn't ribs, but it's, it's OK! It's pretty good.' I think creativity is key to me. I have a recipe for barbecue carrots. People love it! I do these barbecue carrots in 'Vegetable Kingdom,' and then I pair them with white beans and some Memphis coleslaw. Everything just coalesced really beautifully — and it's just vegetables."


Jason Hawk, a chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, also gave Salon a shortlist of vegetables that he recommends grilling before the season is over, including carrots, cauliflower and potatoes (yes, potatoes!).


"Grilling, in general, I'm typically looking for something more like firmer flesh, vegetables that are going to stand up to grilling," Hawk said. "You don't want anything too moist or too soft. That's going to fall apart on a grill."

Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. Salon has affiliate partnerships, so we may get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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