Don't Wait for Summer to Fire Up Your Grill

With all this nice weather, I am beginning to wonder if we are skipping right over spring and into summer. I'm somewhat fearful about what less-than-usual snow and rain mean for the larger climate picture and what it will mean for farmers in the coming months, but it's hard not to be excited about enjoying the warmth earlier this year. I find myself running to shop for items to make summer nights better than ever. For instance, we bought a little table for outside in our yard and decided to invest in a propane grill.

Growing up in Minnesota made me L-O-V-E the spring and summer. I can remember long days spent with my girlfriends; we would throw on our swimsuits, walk to the lake, and spend all day basking in the sun and playing in the water. I am forever reminiscent of that hour of the day where the sun just begins to set, the activities wind down, and dinner is on the way. Almost every night my family fired up the grill to cook. Back then, grilling meant primarily skewers of saffron-marinated chicken or lamb kabobs with a giant heap of basmati rice. These days, my palette craves a bit more.

So, back to that new propane grill. I know there is much debate about the health effects of using charcoal or propane and people tend to land on both sides of the spectrum. My stance is that grilling, if done right, is a very healthy and simple way to prepare food and enjoy seasonal vegetables. And the propane option is a good one for me; I'm too impatient to wait for the coals to heat up in the metal coal starter.

I have paced the local farmers market the past few weekends expecting a bit more variety, but have quickly realized that summer is still in the future and winter is more recent than it sometimes seems. While I wait patiently for the August abundance of produce, I am grateful for the delicate springtime taste of mushrooms. One of my all-time favorite grilled dishes is marinated mushrooms on skewers. Coupled with a hearty steak (grass fed and locally raised, of course) you get a delicious meal and one satisfied belly.

I aim for marinades that are simple and easy to prepare. My go-to favorite is oil, onions, balsamic vinegar and more garlic than I care to admit. If possible, I try to remember to get whatever I'm grilling into the marinade the night before or in the morning on my way out the door. But often my mind is distracted by other matters and I'm usually rushing at the last minute to whip up a marinade and count down a full hour of basking time while my hunger grows. If I'm extremely hungry or short on time, I pop open a bottle of Italian vinaigrette and pour it on. Also, I keep herbs growing nearly year round in my kitchen and frequently substitute a marinade for an easy herb rub. I combine almost anything together, but especially enjoy chopped sage and rosemary with salt, pepper, and garlic.

If burgers or hotdogs are more your flavor, it’s worth investing time in great condiments. Why not experiment with concocting homemade mustard? Or try your hand at making one of the Best Condiments in the World? If nothing else, you've got to at least whip up a batch of mayonnaise that doesn't come in a glass jar. It's easier than you think and tastes better than you can imagine.

As for the best grilling meats, may I suggest Misty Meadows out of Rochester, which offers a selection of grass-fed lamb and beef as well as pasture-raised chicken. Moonstone Family Farm is another great meat supplier and can accommodate both delivery and pick-up of bulk orders. And we are big fans of Eric and Lisa Klein's Hidden Stream Farm, which not only supplies pasture-raised beef, chicken and pork to most of the Twin Cities area food co-ops, but also directly to you, if you want it. (Remember, you can always split a bulk order with a friend or neighbor.) Finally, Thousand Hills Cattle Company is another Minnesota supplier of grass-fed meat; its products are available at Lund's, Byerly's, Kowalski's, even SuperTarget.

By the time I tire of protein, all of my favorite grilling vegetables will begin to show up at the farmers markets. In a few months, squash, eggplant, eventually peppers, and finally sweet corn will become regulars on the new grill. In the meantime, though, there's nothing simpler yet more delectable than grilled asparagus.

Ah, I love the spirit of grilling season. I hope that you, like me, are looking forward to backyard barbecues and nights spent with the windows open, listening to the sound of crickets, and breathing in the smoky scent of flame-roasted food. But don't wait until summer. Carpe diem!

Alicia Jabbar
is a self-described foodie, cook, and advocate for local and delicious foods. Alicia spent several years living in San Francisco, but last year spent seven months living and working on a farm on the East Coast. Now she's in Boulder, Colorado, where she is pursuing an opportunity to become an organic farmer. The single best aspect about food, she says, is the community it engages and the conversation it creates. We couldn't agree more. Her last post for Simple, Good and Tasty was Nothing Says Happy Earth Day Like a Big Pile of Compost.