Grilling God: Jason Dady

"I'm a small cook from a small town. It's the seventh largest city in the United States. It's called San Antonio." Jason Dady tells me this, wide-smiled and sweating, while he hovers over a Big Green Egg at last month's Austin Food & Wine Festival. He's grilling a whole branzino that has been simply dressed with fresh herbs and a little olive oil. But the truth is, Dady's cooking is hardly grill-centric. It's hardly simple either. While cooking at the The Lodge Restaurant of Castle Hills in the early 2000s, he was one of the first chefs to do serious tasting menus in the city. He would later open Bin 555 and a pair of successful trattorias. But on this scorching spring day, the topic was how to cook meat (and vegetables) with fire.

Where did you learn to cook on a grill?

One of my first jobs, when I was in culinary school in San Francisco, was at Stars Bar and Dining. We had a six-foot live fire grill with a live fire rotisserie behind. I didn't know shit about nothing. I was a young cook, but I was a fucking machine and I went in there and just blasted that station. I worked there for a year and a half and they wouldn't take me off. I always remember that one holiday season, they fired 45 orders of lamb chops and every lamb chop had a perfect grill — I'll never forget that. It was a defining moment! When you do that, you are like, "I am the fucking man!"

How much weight do you lose during that service?

I drank enough wine to keep it fair.

What do you drink when you're grilling?

Pink wine. I am the biggest bitch in the world. I love rosé. I've had the opportunity to go to Barcelona four or five times and I love it. [Rosé is] cheap, it's tasty, it's crisp. When it's done well, it's perfect for outdoor drinking.

OK, down to business. What's the biggest mistake you can make when grilling?

The biggest mistake you can make is not having the temperature hot enough. We have a saying that when we sauté, it's hot pan, hot oil — which creates a natural, non-stick method. I use the same philosophy when I'm grilling — it's hot fire, hot grill grate and brush a little bit of oil on there to create a natural non-stick. You also have to pay attention to the smoke that comes off of it. To me, grilling is very simple if you have common sense. White smoke is good, gray smoke is "let me pay attention," dark gray smoke is "I need to pull it off."

Right now you are cooking on a Green Egg. But this is no endorsement...

Well, it should be an endorsement (laughing). For the home cook, it's perfect: it's small, concise and manageable, which is the most important thing. It doesn't take a lot of charcoal or wood to get it rippin'. These things get up to 700 degrees with a pound of charcoal.

The gages are accurate with these things?

I don't ever look at them. If it's at 300, I'm happy. If it's at 700 I'm like, "Oh shit." We did probably 100 pounds of turkey and chicken a day, and close to 100 pounds of fish. I'm not back and forth freaking out. I'm doing some beef tongue over here now that we're doing for fun.

Do you grill a lot of fish? What's the secret?

Just look at the skin. The trick is that the big green egg provides a nice, moderate temperature all the way across. We brush it with just a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and cook it on the skin all of the way — it's all about the crispy skin. Once you get the crispy skin, it's just a matter of cooking the flesh to the bone. Eight to 10 minutes total.

How do you do vegetables on the grill?

Honestly, my favorite is zucchini.

Those are easy to fuck up, though.

The thing I like to do is a zucchini New York strip. We'll get the biggest zucchini we can find, barely trim the sides off, score it and cast iron sear or grill it. You get the color and texture of a steak. If you cook it medium rare and let it rest, by the time you get it to the plate, it kind of has the texture of red meat.

What's the most useful piece of equipment a backyard griller can buy?