Attending a cooking competition is always a lot of fun. It’s inspiring to see the dishes that the contestants have come up with, and watching them in action under pressure is fascinating. When the event has great a great emcee, it’s even better. Macy’s Great American Grilling Guru Sizzling Showdown did not disappoint with Steve Dolinsky, host of The Hungry Hound and celebrity chef judge Michelle Bernstein.
Contestants competed in regional competitions around the country on June 7 for the chance to head to New York for the finals on June 28 where the winner will receive tickets for the trip for four to the 2015 Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks in New York City. In its second year, the competition has some amazing recipes. In Chicago, we were treated to Grilled Chicken Adobo with Charred Corn Salad from Julie Beckwith of Crete, IL; Kentucky Beer Cheese Burgers from Vern Ramnes of Lexington, KY; and Pesto Citrus Prosciutto Grilled Shrimp with Mandarin Orange Grilled Red Pepper and Red Onion Quinoa and Fruit Salad from Sonya Nelson Goergen of Moorhead, MN.
It was a hoot to watch them in action, with the Chef Michelle Steve Delinsky asking them questions and providing observations. I loved that the contestants were able to provide their plates recipe to the judges as soon as they finished rather than having a grand tasting at the end. It gave us more to watch, and I’m sure the contestants were glad that their food was being tasted fresh and hot. I did feel for the last contestant who finished well within the time frame but had to feel extra pressure when both her competitors were long finished.
There were grilling experts on the stage, and one of my favorite parts was the advice that they handed out during the competition. It’s things we can all use to make ourselves better when we’re cooking outside, so of course I had to collect my favorites.
Top 5 Grilling Tips
#5 Always toast your bun. When you’re grilling a burger (or chicken sandwich for that matter), there’s nothing worse than a soggy bun. A hot, nicely toasted bun with a bit of a crunch really makes the burger.
#4 Flip your meat as soon as it releases from the grill. If you flip too early, the meat will stick to your grill, and you’ll lose the juices that had been trapped inside by your gorgeous sear. If you want too long and flip long after your meat releases, it’ll be overcooked and dry.
#3 Only flip your meat once. On a note related to #4, don’t be a serial flipper. You don’t get a well-cooked piece of meat when you keep flipping it. Cook it completely on one side then cook the other. If you keep flipping, you’ll either overcook it and end up with dry meat, or you’ll keep pulling off parts of the meat that are stuck to the grill because it hasn’t cooked enough.
#2 Cook your meat slightly underdone. This came from Chef Michelle, and she was talking about chicken ,but it holds true for any meat. If you take it off the grill just a hair underdone (5 to 10 degrees), the residual heat will continue cooking your meat to the perfect temperature. That’s part of why you let it rest for a few minutes before digging in – and also so the juices can redistribute so that you don’t lose them all when you cut into your meat.
And the number one piece of advice I heard on Saturday?
#1 Buy good quality ground beef, and you only need to add salt and pepper to make a great burger. The trend is to buy low fat ground beef, but you lose all the flavor when you do that. Good quality meat has a lot of taste to it that you don’t have to hide with spices and rubs and additives. Get great ground beef, season the outside just a little bit with salt and pepper, and then let your burger and its toppings do the talking. And since that advice came from Verne Ramnes who made the Kentucky Cheeseburger, you know you can believe it!
So in the end, who went on to the Sizzling Showdown finals to be held later this month? Even though Chef Michelle was a little concerned by the large number of ingredients in the recipe and was afraid it would be overdone, she chose Sonya’s Pesto Citrus Prosciutto Grilled Shrimp with Mandarin Orange Grilled Red Pepper and Red Onion Quinoa and Fruit Salad. Congratulations, Sonya!
As for me, I can’t wait to fire up my grill again. And to discover this Kentucky beer cheese that Verne was raving about. It sounds fascinating… and right up my alley. What are you grilling next?