Los Angeles' top chefs offer secret tips, tools and techniques that they use for their own backyard barbecues.
Tip Buy the right meat for your grill, says the owner of Hollywood butcher shop Gwen. "If you have a Big Green Egg or good kettle grill, something that cooks slow and low with lots of smoke, a brisket is a beautiful thing," he says, adding for even caramelization, "consider steaks sous vide first to keep the temperature even," i.e., initially putting well-seasoned meat inside a plastic bag to simmer in 55-degree water.
“All you do on the day of the barbecue is fire up the grill, and cook the steaks until you really get the caramelization on the outside," he adds.Try a leg of lamb, deboned by the butcher and marinated in olive oil, garlic and rosemary.
Tool Use a blow poke on a charcoal grill. “When you’re grilling, you’re part cook and part firemaster. If you can’t wrangle your fire, it’s difficult,” he says.
And no barbecue is complete without a good beer: “I have to say that or I’d be denied entry back into Australia.”
Tip Cut the bird in half to easily fit it on the grill, "marinate before and don't be shy on salt and pepper," says L.A.'s A-Frame chef (Jon Favreau is a fan), known for cracklin' beer-can chicken. "Garlic is a friend, so is lemongrass. Grill low and slow." You can marinate in beer or one of the spice blends or sauces Choi created for Williams & Sonoma. Try quail or Cornish game hen.
Tool Southern California is the Kogi chef's secret weapon: "It's all about the produce, weather, flavor, backyards, big speakers, cars and cultures."
Tip Both chefs love a good old-fashioned beef burger with traditional fixings at a backyard barbecue, as do many of the entertainment industry-heavy clientele of their catering company, Caramelized Productions. “We’ll do fancier burgers like lamb with feta, but the most popular burger for parties we do is one with American cheese, ketchup, mustard and pickles on a soft white bun,” says Shook. “It just strikes a chord.”
But a great burger comes down to the meat: "I like a short rib and chuck burger mix for a higher fat content. You don't need to add oil or anything for the grill, just add salt and pepper," says Dotolo. Keep the patty thick and add cheese just after you flip it on high heat. "Links need slow and low cooking," says Shook. "You want all those spices in the casings to cook slowly.” Poach in water or beer first.
Tool A reliable spatula or tongs; cook burgers and dogs separately. "The big misconception is to throw it all on at the same time," says Dotolo.
Tip If you can't smoke pork all day, go for sliced shoulder steaks, says the chef of downtown L.A.'s Majordomo (Brian Grazer and Phil Rosenthal frequent). "They’re highly underrated and easier to grill, especially if marinated.”
Other advice: Braise or boil ribs first so they don't take as much time on the grill. Or try pork belly — he gets his at McCall's Meat & Fish Co. in Los Feliz. His backyard go-to, however, is a good thick-cut pork chop. “Just don’t buy crappy pork,” he advises. "A great pork chop should have a nice amount of fat in it. And remember, you don’t have to cook it well done.”
Tool A good grill brush to maintain a clean grill.
Tip Try local catches like black cod, vermillion rockfish, yellowtail — especially the collars — and white seabass, all great on the grill, says the chef of Cape Seafood & Provisions, where Seth Rogen and Busy Philipps pop in.
But his personal favorite is whole rockfish from Santa Barbara. Drizzle olive oil inside the belly, salt generously and fill with a handful of fresh thyme and parsley. For crispy skin, "brush a little mayo on both sides of the fish, place on a nice hot, clean grill, and cook about four to five minutes per side. And don’t move the fish around while cooking," Cimarusti says. Rockfish are the ideal size for one person—"It’s like a personal pan-size pizza of the fish world."
Cimarusti also recommends sparkling wine and “some really good whisky to end the night, preferably bourbon.”
Tool A roast fork. Put the tines between the grill grates and under the fish so you can easily use a spatula without ruining the skin.
Tip Zucchini, broccolini, eggplant, peppers and onions cook best on an outdoor fireplace, large enough to grill a lot at once and provide ambience. But any really hot gas or charcoal grill will do, says the founder of Mozza (everyone from Jeffrey Katzenberg to Melissa McCarthy to Beyonce and Jay-Z have dined).
Marinate after, not before, grilling. When done cooking, add olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, chile flakes and fresh herbs. If you want fruit, hang a pineapple over the grill: “The flame sort of warms and cooks it but doesn’t dilute the flavor,” she says. “Plus it has a great dramatic effect.”
Tool "You need a great work table so you can work to put things on the grill," she adds.
Tip The A.O.C. visionary says it’s easy to create masterpieces simply by walking through the farmers markets. Focus on three or four salads and sides that complement each other. Have a legume, grain or lentil as a base for one salad; leafy greens and crisp vegetables for another; and stone fruit, buttery cheeses and ham for a third plate. "I love farro tabbouleh with minted tomatoes, or beluga lentils will eggplant, feta and roasted peppers. And add huge handfuls of greens to lighten up the grains," says the Lucques and The Larder chef, who caters at The Hollywood Bowl.
Tool For big summer parties, she and husband David Lentz, chef and owner of The Hungry Cat, often have two Weber kettle grills going at the same time.
A version of this story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.