A chef shares his recipe for the perfect Memorial Day weekend cookout

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(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Memorial Day weekend is here, and lots of us are getting ready to celebrate outdoors with good people, good music and most importantly, great food.

Whether you're on team cookout or team barbecue, we get an expert take from Chef Joe Gatto on how to make your soirée spread delicious.

Highlights from this conversation have been lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

On sliders as the ultimate cookout food

"You make your own [meat] grind, and, when we do parties, I'll make my own cheese and I'll make the rolls. That to me is the quintessential food. And I love it as a slider as opposed to a big burger because you always see half-eaten burgers leftover at a party, but with sliders, you never see leftovers."

"You smash them down just as you put them on [the grill], not after. So what it does is it gives it tons of surface area to caramelize. And we know caramelization is the key. Get that nice brown crust, bring the sugars to the surface, get that yumminess that we're looking for. And then you flip them, add a little caramelized onion, a little American cheese. (Yes, American cheese, because it rocks on a slider.) And then a nice fluffy bun. And that and, like, a beer ... I mean, I'm there all day."

On the perfect beginner meat to grill

"Ribeyes or New York strips, those are really easy to do. They're all about high temperature. The whole idea is you have to heat that grill up for at least 10 minutes. You've got to get it super hot, and you want your steak out of the fridge for 20 minutes, a half hour. You want it rested, you want it to be salted before you're putting it on. You don't just salt and then put it on because the salt is going to fall off. But you also want to salt it because it's almost — it's going to go all the way through from osmosis. It's going to get deep into that meat and really give you a beautiful, yummy crust."

On brining and grilling perfect chicken

"What a brine does is, it's basically a salt solution that will penetrate all the way through. It's not like a marinade that's acid-based. It's going to penetrate all the way through, and through osmosis, because it has semi-permeable cell walls down there, it's going to take the water out and it's going to replace it with your flavored water. So you add a little lemon and a little garlic. And, if you're trying to cook chicken, one of the things I've taught people over the years — and this works with steak as well — is to take out a digital thermometer and stick it in the side, not at the top. So you see the temperature of the chicken you're going to pull. I like to pull it at about 158 degrees so it has continuation. And then when you pull it out, poke it, because you know it's the right temperature. Poke it, poke it, poke it. Do that every time for the next 10 or 12 times, however many times you cook chicken. And then guess what? Next time it's on the grill, it's perfect."

On a vegetable alternative to the burger

"My wife loves vegetables, doesn't eat meat. So I made black bean burgers. OK, super easy, right? You can kind of add whatever you want. I did black beans and then I did a little cheese. I took tomatoes and food processed that with a little Italian seasoning, and you cook it just like a burger because you add a little breadcrumb, or you can make it gluten-free, no problem. And if you don't have grill sheets, take a cast iron, and put it right on the grill. And instead of buns, because she doesn't really do gluten, I did portabella mushrooms that I had marinated in lemon and garlic overnight, and then I dried them off really well, and I seared those right on the skin. Just like a whole cap, and those were the buns."

On subbing out the salad

"People always put salads out, which never seem to go anywhere. They're just kind of sitting there and everyone's like, 'No, I'm going to pass.' But one of the things we do for parties at home is a grilled roasted vegetable salad. So you do peppers, onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, and you toss them in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic — everything you want, and then you roast them all on the grill. So you get that beautiful char, you put them all in a big bowl, toss it with a lemon-garlic vinaigrette, or any kind of vinaigrette you want. So it's a bright dish to serve and it will be gone. It will be a rockstar hit."

On grilling without the grill

"When you're stuck inside, one of the big things is, you still have a flame. You still have a broiler, which is like an upside-down grill. You still have an oven and you still have burners, so you can't smoke a brisket, but you could take that pork shoulder, right? Do it in a slow cooker and then finish it on the stovetop by searing it. So you can really create these things in slow cookers or in your oven. You know, it's really easy to plan for. You just don't go into it last minute saying, 'I want to make a brisket and I'm stuck indoors.' Right? You think it through, you make a chicken dish, and then you're rock and roll. And, you know, I always make friends with people who have smokers."

This segment aired on May 26, 2022.

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Sarah Leeson was a freelance producer for WBUR's Radio Boston.


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Aimee Moon was a newsroom fellow at WBUR.


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Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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