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The City Journals

Outdoor cooking brings neighbors and friends together

Jul 01, 2021 02:34PM ● By Karmel Harper

From green vegetables to dessert, entire meals are possible on a grill. (Photo by Chad Solis.)

By Karmel Harper | [email protected]

Along with the scents of fresh cut grass and sunscreen, the aroma of sizzling meat mingling with flavorful herbs and spices in a backdrop of sweet smoke is a token and very welcome summer fragrance that delights your olfactory systems and causes friends, family and neighbors to gather. 

Outdoor cooking has been around since humans inhabited the earth, but with the emergence of high-tech and smart grills, your meals today can be far beyond burgers and hot dogs.                         

Chad Solis of Herriman is vice president of Digital Product Experience at Traeger. Solis cooks outside three to four times a week. Some of his favorite dishes include bacon-wrapped Malibu chicken, bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers, wood-fired cinnamon rolls, tri-tip, brisket, seared prime steak and pulled pork. 

“We do everything on our Traeger,” Solis said. “Coffee-rubbed bacon and candy bacon are easily the items we bake most. They are next-level good. But my favorite would have to be the Wagyu beef tenderloin with gremolata. It is blow-your-mind good.”

With the wide variety of grills and price ranges in the market, it can be challenging to select one that fits your needs and lifestyle. 

“For basic grilling, what creates a range in offerings is centered on a few basic principles,” Solis said.

1.     How many people are you are typically cooking for? This translates to size or square inches of cooking space.   

2.     What type of cooking do you want to do or aspire to do? (grill, smoke, braise, roast, bake, broil)

3.     What type of heat do you want/need?  (indirect or direct)

4.     What kind of technology do you require/desire? (smart cooking, control via app)  

5.     What kind of fuel do you have accessible? (wood/pellet, propane, natural gas, charcoal)

6.     How much time and work do you want to put in during each cook? 

7.     Most importantly, what flavor profile do you want to bring to your table?


Additionally, other features to consider include having a rotisserie, searing station, side burner or cabinets. 

            As jumping into outdoor cooking can be intimidating, Solis said: “The best place for a beginner is anywhere. Just start. Probably not for a party but maybe for your family—a safe place where you can make mistakes. Don't be shy, grab an app like Yumly, Tasty or my preference, the Traeger App, for outdoor cooking recipes that will have a complexity range from Master of Hot Dogs to Hall of Flame. Learn the different cooking techniques like grill, smoke, broil, roast, bake and broil, and the differences of the outcomes so you can understand what you and your family like.” 

In terms of difficulty, Solis said that white meats such as poultry and pork are more forgiving, while red meats and fish are less forgiving. 

Another tip Solis recommends is getting a meat probe, which he said is essential to become a good outdoor chef. 

“Learn your cuts of meat and quality grades and never buy select,” Solis said. “Also learn the tricks that can turn choice-grade meat into prime grade flavor with a few little hacks like kosher salt, which is frequently used in the prep stages of fun cuts of meat like turkey, pork shoulder and brisket. Learn techniques like searing, crunching and others to dial in the flavor profile and style of cook you prefer. Get an app to challenge your range and try new things, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. Make it fun.” 

Solis said that in general, grilling isn’t too difficult and that people get intimidated mostly by the occasion they choose to do large cooks like Christmas or Thanksgiving. 

“Some cuts take a lot of prep work,” he said. “Like brisket for example, as you have to meticulously trim the fat and create as even of a layer as possible for the ideal cook. Then it also takes 12 to 24 hours to cook correctly. For great outdoor cooked meals, you need to plan ahead, brine your protein and leave plenty of time to cook the menu at the right pace and temperature. So honestly, it's less about difficulty and more about time commitment.” 

Common mistakes include rushing, not having enough time and patience to achieve optimal flavor and not having the right tools like tongs, bear claws and a meat probe.

Grilling is about community, family, and friends. 

“Our Traeger naturally creates a community amongst neighbors and becomes the front-porch topic of conversation with recipe sharing and shared meals,” Solis said. 

Will Behunin of Herriman is director of Digital Platforms at Traeger and Solis’ neighbor. He said: “Nothing brings the neighborhood and people in general together quite like a good meal. Grilling outdoors with family and friends is among my favorite memories.”