Seamus Mullen knows how to work a grill — a visit to the back room at his perpetually hot NYC restaurant Tertulia proves it. There, amid the inviting Spanish tapas dishes and inviting interiors, is a wood-burning grill where you’ll find Mullen and his team cooking whole fish, octopus and other delights — including his new favorite, he tells us, artichoke. [For more on Mullen, check out his FR Interview here.]
So when it comes to mastering our own grilling techniques, it pays to consult a chef like Mullen, who here provides advice both practical and inspired.
Do you prefer working with wood, gas or charcoal?
Charcoal and wood. To me, grilling with gas is not the same thing. There’s no smoke, there’s just heat. I think the process of grilling is really about developing subtle flavor. I think of the smoke as the ephemeral, elusive spice.
What is the biggest mistake the home griller can make?
The biggest mistake is to think that the grill is one-dimensional, that it’s just about a quick high heat sear for meat. I actually think that in many cases vegetables can be the real star of the grill.
What is your favorite cut of meat to grill?
Duck breast. This is something that very few people do, but if done right, the results are incredible. Start by searing the breast skin side down, then once golden, move it to a cool spot on the grill, ideally with some good hardwood or vine cuttings to gently smoke the duck. I like to put a lid over the duck so the smoke gets trapped beneath it and the meat is gently cooked. Fat works really well to absorb smokiness (think about bacon), so if you do it properly, a duck breast can be juicy, rosy and deliciously smokey.
What are the best vegetables on the grill?
Recently we’ve taken to grilling artichoke directly in the coals, charring the tough outside leaves, leaving the insides intensely flavorful and tender.
What’s the best way to cook vegetables on the grill?
See above…also we love to use a slab of pink salt, directly on top of the grill, it seasons and cooks the vegetables at once, works beautifully for mushrooms.
What do you like to drink with your grilled meat?
I’m a sucker for rose, especially in the summer. A cold beer in a can is also quite nice!
What’s the most epic barbecue you have ever thrown, or been to?
Probably way back when I was 17 and living in Spain as an exchange student. For Semana Santa (Easter week) my host family took me to there small town in Castilla Leon and we grilled a whole lamb over the coals with grape vines for flavor. It was drizzling, we were at a wine cave, I was drinking wine with adults and the lamb was some of the most incredible grilled meat I’ve ever had.
What bands are on your grilling soundtrack?
Marley, Tribe Called Quest, Led Zeppelin.
What is the worst food item you have seen thrown on the grill?
Hmmmm….can’t think of much, the grill is kind to most ingredients as long as you cook them properly.
Most useful piece of grilling gear you have purchased or used?
Cake tester: the thermometer of chefs! It’s thin and small so you can insert it into a fish to check for doneness without tearing up the delicate meat. I also love grilling pans: we use chestnut pans that are basically a sauté pan, with holes in the bottom. Throw in some clams or mussels and put a lid on top and they pop open and get nice and smokey.
Last one: Any burger secrets?
The secret to a burger is to make a thin patty and cook it very quickly over very high heat so that the exterior gets charred, but the inside is nice and pink.