Food Network Stars and Others Share Their Ultimate Grilling Must-Haves

We asked some of America’s best chefs to name their secret cookout ingredient.

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April 26, 2022

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Grilling Secret Ingredients from the Stars

Whether you prefer charcoal, gas or indoor grills, there's no wrong way to put together a mouthwatering spread of barbecued-to-perfection mains and sides. No matter what you choose to make, one thing is certain: the ingredients you use will go a long way in making the dish the best it can be. Food Network Magazine reached out to Food Network stars, and professional chefs and industry insiders, to find out what items they always use to make their grilling recipes a success. Tournament of Champions star Elizabeth Falkner says, "I love Salsa Macha on portobello mushrooms or grilled fish tacos. I make mine with guajillo and ancho chiles, oregano, sesame and pumpkin seeds or peanuts, vinegar and a neutral oil. But you can buy it too!" Keep reading to see whether your go-to favorite ingredient made the cut.

Introduction slide written by Michelle Baricevic for
All other slides by Nora Horvath for Food Network Magazine.

Soy Sauce

I use soy sauce in a lot of my marinades to enhance flavor, but it also works as a tenderizer by breaking down the myosin protein found in tough cuts of meat. — Eddie Jackson, The Big Bake

Photograph by Alamy.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is a staple for me. It has a way of enhancing flavor without making things too spicy. I put it on my fish — grilled or fried — and it’s a main ingredient in all of my rubs. — Rodney Scott, Rodney Scott’s Whole Hog BBQ, Charleston, SC

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Lemon Zest

When I make my rub, I always add a little sugar and lemon zest because it helps with caramelization. That extra char adds complexity, and the lemon zest brightens the flavor without adding acid. — Shirley Chung, Tournament of Champions

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Apple Cider Vinegar

We always use White House cider vinegar as the base for our barbecue sauce. — Sam Jones, Sam Jones BBQ, Raleigh, NC

Porcini Mushrooms

I will often mix ground mushroom powder into spice rubs to add that ever-elusive umami quality. I make it from store-bought dried porcini mushrooms or stems from assorted mushrooms that I save, dry and grind as needed. — Roger Mooking, Man Fire Food

Photograph by Getty Images.

Hot Sauce

I can’t live without Crystal hot sauce, mostly as a finishing touch. If a sauce or vinaigrette is missing something, chances are it needs Crystal. — John Manion, El Che Steakhouse & Bar, Chicago

Annatto Paste

I always use annatto paste from El Yucateco on pork and oily fish like salmon. I love the acidity of annatto seeds.” Daniel Bojorquez, La Brasa, Somerville, MA

Horseradish Sauce

These three condiments are in constant rotation at my house: Woeber’s Horseradish Sauce, Wickles Spicy Red Sandwich Spread and Old Brooklyn Mustards Bohemian Blend. They’ll pep up anything you make and take it to the next level! — Michael Symon, Throwdown with Michael Symon

Pimento Wood

Jamaican barbecue has so much flavor because we smoke everything over pimento wood. It’s a super-aromatic wood reminiscent of nutmeg and cinnamon, with an unmatched sweetness. It really brings out the spices in our marinades and gives jerk chicken its famous flavor! Brittney (Chef Stikxz) Williams

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Beef Fat

At the restaurant we render fat that’s been trimmed from beef to make an oil.It’s great brushed onto steaks as they cook or used in place of the oil in your favorite marinade. — Ben Norton, Husk, Nashville

Photograph by Kang Kim.


I stir Jim Beam bourbon and Café Du Monde coffee into my barbecue sauces and baked beans. — Phil Martin, Black Cat BBQ, Los Angeles

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Balsamic Vinegar

I marinate rib-eyes with a little bit of good balsamic vinegar and oil, and I always add some herb of the day like rosemary or sage. The balsamic is key: It’s sweet and allows the steak to caramelize better. I like Villa Manodori, which you’ll find at most Whole Foods. — Christian Graves, Citizen Rail, Denver

Onion Soup and Dip Mix

One of my favorite childhood food memories is my dad grilling during the summer. The secret to his burgers, and a tradition I’ve carried on at home, is using Lipton onion soup and dip mix. Stir in about half the packet per a couple pounds of ground beef before forming the patties.” Matthew Daughaday, Juniper, St. Louis

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Fresh Herbs

I use an herb bouquet as a mop to apply sauce or vinegar on grilled meats or veggies. Just grab some sage, rosemary and thyme and wrap one end with butcher’s twine. Dip that into your favorite sauce, then go to town! — Eric Adjepong, Tournament of Champions

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Yellow Mustard

Yellow mustard is to condiments what hot dogs are to charcuterie: totally underappreciated and absolutely delicious. I love to mix yellow mustard and hot sauce together and brush it on milder flavored foods in their final moments on the grill. Gabrielle Quinonez Denton, Ox, Portland, OR

Photograph by Shutterstock.

Chili Bomba

I love chili bomba from Che Fico in San Francisco. This chili-and-garlic spread packs a serious punch, with nice acidity, and it’s delicious mixed with some fruity olive oil and spread onto just about any summer veggie hot off the grill. — Michael Gallina, Vicia, St. Louis

Olive Oil

My philosophy is to keep things simple, so I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and a nice olive oil as a base for everything I grill. And I serve dishes with wedges of lemon or lime because a touch of acid really brightens them up. — Ann Kim, Young Joni, Minneapolis

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