Grill big or grill at home

A burger flipped on a charcoal grill during a recent barbecue.
Chelsea Independent/Post Independent

May this warning be fair to all Colorado pigskin fanatics eager to see newly acquired Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson lob missiles at star receiver Courtland Sutton during Monday Night Football: Bring the heat or just leave the charcoal in the bag.

This weekend marks the official start of the 2022-23 National Football League season. On Thursday, of course, the Buffalo Bills faced the defending Super Bowl champions, the Los Angeles Rams. Sunday is filled with great season openers and, yes, the Broncos travel to Washington State to face Wilson’s former alma mater, the Seattle Seahawks, at 6:15 p.m. Monday.

As our fearsome and famous athletes compete to find out who is the king of the grill, we mortals get entangled in kitchen ovens and patio barbecues.

Creating luscious, heartburn-inducing dishes is just as synonymous with professional football as the chrome shine of the hallowed Vince Lombardi trophy. I myself think it’s a day wasted of indulgence if there isn’t at least one gigantic sauce stain found on my favorite jersey after Monday.

In preparation for this particular weekend, I caught up with Travis Owen, executive chef and owner of Riviera Supper Club, a native of Glenwood Springs and Scratch Kitchen. As a man who not only prepares appetizing meat for a living, but keeps a whole set of kitchen appliances in his home, I trust his instincts and skill.

Owen is by no means a sports enthusiast. In fact, he admits to falling asleep whenever the game is on. But it’s been sizzling meat for about 40 years now.

“I have two smokers at home. I have a grill,” he says. “I play with it all.”

Owen was kind enough to reveal some of his personal creations perfect for any home game day gathering.

“Every time you’re outside grilling,” Owen said, “it’s kind of an almost primitive caveman thing that’s going on.”

  1. Propane Gas Charcoal

Definitely, according to Owen, go for the charcoal grills.

“You’re going to make this kind of charcoal, this kind of smoke in there, you can throw wood chips in there,” he said. “There is a lot more adaptability than with gas. The nice thing about gas is that you can kind of control your temperature up and down. But I think you’re missing a lot of flavor that’s there with your charcoal.

  1. I can’t stand the heat, go back to the other side

That’s the key: set up zones in your grill, Owen said. Say you have your Weber Grill circle in front of you, keep the bottom half open and the other half occupied by the hot coals.

The hot coals are on the direct heat side, giving the piece of meat a nice sear. Once both sides are seared over direct heat, move the meat to where there is no charcoal – this is your indirect heat.

“This will let it go ahead and cook all the way through, so you’re not burning the outside over direct heat to get the middle to where you want it,” Owen said.

You’re probably looking for three or four minutes on each side, with the steak temperature ranging from 140 to 145 degrees for the perfect result, Owen said.

Also make sure the grill is very hot before placing the meat on it.

“It’s called the Maillard reaction, when the meat starts to brown,” Owen said. “If you have too low a heat, your meat will just turn gray. It’ll get hotter, but it won’t develop that char or crust you’re looking for.

For your best grill marks, do about 1.5 minutes per side. But, contrary to popular belief, you can turn the meat as many times as you like because “it doesn’t really matter,” Owen said.

  1. When life gives you fish, use lemons

“If you cook fish, clean your grill with lemons. Really, any kind of citrus will work,” Owen said. “The citric acid in it really helps break it down.”

Owen said that after the lemons, apply palm oil — or any type of oil with a high smoke point — to the grill. This will prevent your fish meat from sticking in general.

Larger cuts like swordfish are perfect for spreading on your grill untampered and on their own. For smaller fish like halibut, however, cut slices of citrus fruit — limes, lemons, or oranges depending on your flavor profile — and toss them on the grill first, then place your fish on top and close the lid, Owen said.

“What this does is it caramelizes the juice in the citrus fruits you use that will infuse into your fish,” he said. “That way you get that smoky flavor and you don’t tear delicate fish.”

  1. Where’s the beef?

Back then, French butchers brought home cuts that no one else wanted. Since these cuts weren’t as tender as the others, these pressed meat slicers were forced to whip up a cream and peppercorn sauce to add flavor to the beef.

That’s how traditional beef dishes like pepper steak came to the table, Owen said.

But all over the Roaring Fork Valley, a person can find top quality cuts. That’s why if you decide to dip your steak in marinades, you’re disrespecting your cut of meat, you’re disrespecting your guests, your grocer, your cow, and the rancher who raised the cattle.

“Just use salt and pepper. That’s all you need,” Owen said. “Because you don’t want something with a marinade or sauce or that’s going to cover that nice piece of beef you have.”

Boom goes dynamite

Here’s to you guys. Follow these simple rules and you’ll probably have a great time. For Owen, the good times aren’t just in what comes off the grill. Everything revolves around the business.

“At least once a summer I like to get everyone together and close the restaurant, because we’re our own little family here,” he said. “I have everyone at home and we have a nice big deck and just above Sayre Park so we’re right against the mountain.”

“It’s great to have everyone outside and relaxing in the garden. We took the dogs out. We have the grills and all that jazz and it’s a good time.

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