Easy Eats: Fire it Up

Quick, nutritious meals cooked on the grill give busy families the luxury of eating together at dinnertime.

We all know how important it is for the family to eat dinner together. Studies have shown that it helps kids perform better at school, strengthens bonds between parents and children, and improves family health through nutritious food.

But with jam-packed schedules—from Scout meetings to homework—dinner often gets short shrift. One solution, particularly in these warm-weather months: a quick, family-friendly dinner cooked on the grill.

To help you get started, here are some grilling tips to keep in mind:

  •  Always begin with a clean grill. If the grates weren’t cleaned after the previous meal, heat the grill, and then scrub off any stuck-on residue with a stiff, wire-bristled brush.
  • Lightly oil grates to prevent sticking. Do this right before cooking so oil doesn’t burn off during preheating. Add oil to a kitchen cloth, then use long-handled tongs to rub cloth on grates.
  • Avoid flare-ups. When removing meat from marinade, let excess liquid drip off into the pan so it doesn’t drip onto hot coals.
  • Remember food safety. Place cooked meat on a clean platter; never put cooked food in the same dish that held raw food. If you plan to baste with a sauce during cooking, set aside some sauce beforehand for serving. Never serve sauce that has come in contact with a basting brush.
  • Select the right tools. Use tongs to turn food or remove it from the grill. Forks pierce the meat, causing flavorful juices to leak out and meat to become dry. The Barbecue Bible author Steven Raichlen recommends using 14- to 16-inch-long, spring-loaded tongs.

GRILLED GLAZED SALMON

It doesn’t get any easier than this: a quick glaze from a couple of pantry standards and no more than 10 minutes on a hot grill. Serve with rice and sautéed snow peas.

4 salmon steaks (8 ounce)
3 tablespoons honey-mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Mix together the honey-mustard and soy sauce. Transfer 1 tablespoon of glaze to a small bowl and add rice vinegar. You’ll drizzle this on the salmon before serving. Brush half of the remaining glaze on each of the salmon steaks.

Preheat grill to medium-high. Oil the grate so salmon doesn’t stick.

Place salmon steaks, glazed side down, on the grill and cook until the glaze is slightly charred, about 4 minutes. Brush the rest of the glaze on top of the salmon steaks and turn them over. Cook for about 5 more minutes, or until fish is opaque in the center. Remove from the grill to a serving platter. Drizzle with the reserved glaze and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

GARLICKY GRILLED CHICKEN BREASTS

These marinated chicken breasts are grilled for just a few minutes on each side so they stay moist and tender. Serve with roasted new red potatoes—they can roast while the chicken is marinating—and steamed asparagus. Adapted from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast (Clarkson Potter, 2007).

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 ½ pounds chicken cutlets (about 6)

In a large baking dish, combine oil, garlic, vinegar, thyme, salt, and pepper. Add the chicken and turn to coat with marinade. Let marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes, or refrigerated for up to 30 minutes.

While chicken is marinating in refrigerator, you could roast 1 ½ pounds of halved new red potatoes in a heavy-duty foil packet on the grill or in the oven for 25 minutes, turning once. Leave potatoes in the foil so they stay warm while chicken cooks.

To cook chicken, heat grill to medium-high. Oil the grate so chicken doesn’t stick. Lift chicken from marinade and grill until browned and cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Remove from grill and cover with foil to keep warm, while you toss potatoes with some butter, salt, and pepper.

Serve chicken family style on a platter with sides of potatoes and steamed (or cooked in a microwave) asparagus tossed in vinaigrette.

SPICE-RUBBED FLANK STEAK WITH BELL-PEPPER RELISH

This dinner is big on flavor, short on time. While the steak grills, diced bell pepper and sweet onion are cooked with cloves and apple-cider vinegar to create a flavorful relish for the meat. Everything’s done in less than 20 minutes.

This recipe makes a generous amount of relish; you can use some of the leftover on hot dogs or grilled pork chops the next night. Adapted from food columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick.

½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon salt, or more as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch sugar
1 ½ to 2 pounds flank steak
1 to 2 teaspoons mild olive or vegetable oil
1 medium red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1 small sweet onion, cut into ¼-inch dice (about ½ cup)
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 ½ tablespoons apple-cider vinegar, or to taste

Combine the chili powder, salt, pepper, and sugar. Rub the spice mixture over the flank steak. At this point, the steak can be refrigerated for up to 12 hours before cooking.

When ready to cook, prepare the grill. If using a gas grill, heat it to medium-high. If you’re using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them evenly under the cooking area for direct heat. Oil the grate.

Grill the steak for about 12 minutes (medium-rare), turning once to ensure even browning, or until the desired degree of doneness.

While the steak is cooking, place enough oil in an 8- to 10-inch sauté pan or skillet to coat the bottom; heat over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion, stirring, and reduce the heat to medium.

Add the cloves and a pinch of salt and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring, until the vegetables have softened.

Remove pan from heat and add vinegar. Return the pan to the heat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the vinegar to reduce and the flavors to blend. Taste and add vinegar as necessary. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes before cutting into thin slices on the diagonal. Serve with the relish spooned over the slices.

Serves 4.

Candy Sagon is a former food writer at The Washington Post.

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