Hear from Grilling Expert Tim Love, Guest Judge on Chopped Grill Masters
During this season of Chopped Grill Masters, Tuesdays at 10|9c, two new guests join the panel of regular judges at the chopping block: Tim Love and Amy Mills. Food Network fans will recognize Tim from his appearances on Iron Chef America. But this famed chef and restaurateur is known for Texas barbecue, and he's bringing that expertise to Grill Masters, judging two of the tournament's preliminary rounds. FN Dish caught up with Tim on the set of the show to talk about the importance of a hot grill, how he found his calling and what he hopes to see in the competition.
FN Dish: Can you talk about the importance of heat when grilling?
TL: Yeah, the thing about grilling is that it’s so simple, yet very complicated. But the mistake that people make the most is not getting the grill hot enough in order to achieve the maximum flavor, the maximum opportunity for a crust or a sear. All of those things are all based on heat, and generally the fact is that most of us Americans are very impatient and we don't want to wait long enough for the grill to get hot. And with gas grills, the fire can get hot, but the grill still needs time to get hot — the actual grill. And so I think if you can start by actually having the patience to let the grill get totally hot, [you'll] have a lot more success.
What are some of your favorite things to grill, whether it’s barbecuing or just grilling steaks?
TL: I love grilling beef; it's almost kind of made for the grill. You know, generally [I like] a fatty exterior on the cut of meat so that it caramelizes really well [for] a super-rich, crusty flavor. But I also like to grill a lot of wild game because it’s a little bit more difficult to cook, but it cooks quicker. ... The flavor that the grill imparts is unmatched to anything else. You can’t put it in a pan and try to mask it. The only way you can get a good grilled flavor is on the grill, which is exciting to me.
Who got you interested in grilling in the first place? Is there something you learned from them that you still do to this day?
TL: When it comes to grilling, my brothers. My brothers grilled all the time when I was a kid, and my brothers are much older than I am, so by the time I was 6, they were out on their own. And I’d go to their apartments and they’d always grill out all the time. Or at work, my brother, he used to have a couple car lots and they’d always grill every day, and so like watching him and understanding how the fire works and stuff like that was really important to me. And so I think also with grilling food, understanding the fire itself and the types of wood that you use and what kind of temperature it creates, understanding all of that first really changes the way you think about the food when it goes on top of it.
For the home cook who may not have that expert understanding, can you talk about grilling versus barbecuing? Can you sum that up in a simple way?
TL: Yeah, you know, in Texas we kind of do this a lot and because people talk about, you know, cooking things on the barbecue, which that’s not really the case. I mean, barbecue is low and slow, and grilling is very high heat and searing. That’s the general rule, but it gets convoluted because people get invited over for a barbecue and they grill out. But where I come from, if you say "barbecue," it damn well better cook longer than 20 minutes.
For someone who'd like to barbecue at home but doesn’t have a smoker, is there a hack or a technique that you could recommend for getting that flavor without the professional equipment?
TL: Yeah, now you can do it on a gas grill. It's easy. ... Turn off one burner on one side and then put foil — something to shield/block it — turn the other side on, and regulate the temperature once you shut the lid and then generally you can put a pot ... on top of the grill with soaking chips, and eventually it will burn and turn into smoke. And you can regulate the temperature and certainly make good smoked pork shoulder on a gas grill. It just takes a couple times of practice to understand it, but you certainly can do it. I’ve done it all the time.
In this competition, what sort of things are you looking for from the grillers? What do you hope or expect to see from them?
TL: So for me in the competition, I want to taste the fact that they are grilling the food. That’s the most-important thing to me. If I don’t taste some food char on things and some real depth of flavor from the grill, I think really you’re in the wrong competition. Even though you can make a great plate of food, which is certainly compelling, but it is a grilling competition, so I want to see people who are grilling. That’s really important to me.
What do you think is the biggest mistake that any of them could make with a dish?
TL: So grilling, it’s really, you think of three things when you’re grilling: fat, acid and salt. And acid, generally, being almost the most-important one because it’s really the finisher and it takes all these, you know, flavors of the grill, all the fats that have been grilling, and it allows it to brighten up. And so the subtraction or nonaddition of a good acid, really is going to make the plate fall off and kind of fall flat. And to me, in order to be successful in a grilling competition, you need to have a really delicate hand with the acid. I think that’s going to play the whole part in how certain dishes come together.
What kind of grilled dish would you like to see in the dessert round? Something that maybe most people wouldn’t consider grilling?
TL: You know, I’ve pretty much done everything possible on the grill, I feel like. But people grill a lot of fruits, which is always nice. You've got to think of something that’s going to take the fruit and enhance the sweetness of it as opposed to dumbing it down. So smoking fruits doesn’t do so well, but certainly grilling them on a hot grill — there’s nothing better than a grilled piece of watermelon with some salt. It’s really nice.