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University of Illinois Extension

Horticultural grilling adds just the right flavor

May 17, 2013

URBANA - What do plants have to do with grilling, other than eating vegetables?

"Many grilling tricks make use of plants or plant parts to get just the right taste from the grill," said Rhonda Ferree, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Many types of wood chips are used to smoke meat or vegetables on the grill. They include oak, mesquite, and hickory for a bold taste, and fruit woods and vines for lighter flavor. Avoid soft woods, such as pine, which give off a not-so-tasty resin," she cautioned.

Before cooking begins, the wood is usually soaked in water so it burns more slowly and creates a moist, penetrating smoke, Ferree said. "Although you can use a fire made solely of the flavoring wood, most people build a bed of coals with wood or charcoal and add pieces of smoke wood.

"You can use smoke alone or in combinations with various pre-cooking techniques to enhance the taste of smoked foods," she added. "For fun, try your meals both ways and see which you like best. To start, toss a few chips on the coals while cooking burgers."

Pre-cooking techniques such as marinades, mops, or rubs add flavor as well, Ferree explained. Rubs are blends of dried herbs and spices that flavor the exterior of meat as it cooks. Marinades, made with herbs, spices, and an acidic liquid such as wine vinegar or lemon juice, enhance the flavor of meats. A mop is a sauce that keeps the rubbed meat from drying while it is smoke-cooked. A mop can be anything from a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce to a rub that you've held aside and combined with beer or another liquid.

U of I Extension nutrition and wellness educator Mekenzie Lewis said that using herbs has many other benefits in addition to flavor.

"Herbs and spices add flavor to food without adding fat, sodium, cholesterol, or sugar content. This is a great alternative to store-bought seasonings which often contain a lot of added sodium and sugars. Herbs are a great flavoring option for anyone with a restrictive diet, such as individuals with a condition such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease," Lewis said.

"And don't forget the veggies," Ferree added. "I often add my own fresh herb sprigs to vegetables on the grill. I particularly like rosemary in a potato packet with onions and peppers.

"Try adding zing to your next corn on the cob by grilling it in the husk with some basil, thyme, or cilantro stuffed inside. Or consider a veggie-only meal using a basket (or foil packet) to grill a combination of squash, potatoes, onion, and peppers tossed with a little olive oil, herbs, salt, and pepper.

"If you have a cookout planned for July 4th, try something new. You'll impress your family and friends and enjoy a great meal too," she said.

For more information on this or other horticultural issues, visit www.extension.illinois.edu or post questions on Ferree's Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ferree.horticulture.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture, ferreer@illinois.edu

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