Here is what Labor Day does not mean to Floridians:
• Cooler weather is around the corner. (Uh, no.)
• School starts soon. (The bell has already rung.)
• Outdoor cooking's days are numbered. Who wants to 'cue in the cold? (We're year-round grillers.)
Here is what Labor Day does mean to Floridians:
• A three-day weekend. (Well, for many of us anyway.)
So even if you're not planning a Labor Day picnic or party as they do up North to herald the end of summer fun, you might crank up the grill just because you've got the time. Burgers and dogs are the go-to fare, but blank-canvas chicken offers opportunities to make something special. That is if you are mindful not to turn the flames on high and burn the heck out of the bird.
A few hours in a marinade, even one that comes in a bottle and is marked salad dressing, brings personality to plain chicken. Consider going global — Asian, Italian, Greek, Cuban — on this American holiday to celebrate our melting pot. And do as I do: Grill smaller pieces or ones without bones to cut the time and ensure proper cooking.
I have tended to shy away from chicken on the grill because it has often come off the grate perfectly burnished on the outside and an unsafe shade of pink inside. Or well-cooked inside but unappealingly charred. To turn out perfectly grilled chicken, the heat needs to be toned down, medium at most. If you can hold your hand above the grate for about six seconds without crying uncle, you're good to go.
The lower heat cooks the chicken internally before the outside burns. Chicken needs your attention, especially if you want those coveted grill marks. You can start the process with the pieces over high heat to get the marks, then reduce the flames for the remainder of cooking. Move the chicken to another part of the grill while the hot spots cool down a bit. Plan on standing by and flipping the chicken several times or moving it away from flames.
Some other tips:
• Brush on barbecue sauce in the last few minutes of grilling, otherwise the sugars will burn. Some char is nice but chicken that actually looks like charcoal briquettes is not.
• Stick to smaller pieces or, better, go boneless and you'll have more success with even cooking.
• Use an instant-read thermometer to test for doneness. Chicken should hit the 165-degree mark when it's safe to eat, the USDA says.
• Discard marinade that has come in contact with raw chicken, or heat it to boiling for about five minutes to kill any bacteria. Better yet, reserve some of the marinade before you add the chicken if you want to use it as a sauce.
• Marinate skinless chicken or risk the meat drying out quickly. The marinade, especially if it has a little oil in it, will protect the surface of the chicken. Too much oil, though, can cause flare-ups. Watch the grill closely.
• Chicken pieces with bones will take longer than boneless, with the exception of wings. Meaty drumsticks cook in about 30 minutes and most boneless pieces less than that.
• For bone-in breasts, grill bone side first to get most of the cooking done, then put the heat to the skin for that crispy finish.
• Clean the grate and oil it lightly or spritz with a nonstick spray before heating the grill. You don't want to lose half the meat when you flip it.
Okay, maybe there is some labor to a Labor Day chicken cookout. Still, the results are worth the effort, especially when you have all day.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.
Grilled Potato Salad
1 pound red onions, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
8 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
1 1/2 pounds baby new red potatoes, halved
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs (choose from parsley, tarragon, dill, chervil, basil and chives)
Heat a grill pan over medium heat. If using open grill grates, skewer the onions and potatoes so as to not lose any through the grates.
Brush the onions with a little olive oil.
Toss potatoes with about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and toss.
Grill the potatoes and onions over medium heat until tender and browned, 20 to 30 minutes for the potatoes, 10 to 15 minutes for the onions. (To get a head start, you could simmer whole potatoes on the stove for about 10 minutes.)
In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 6 tablespoons olive oil.
Coarsely chop the onions and toss them and the potatoes with the vinaigrette until coated, and then toss with the herbs. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.
Serves 4 to 6.
Source: Fine Cooking
Asian Sesame Ginger Grilled Chicken Thighs
With Pineapple and Red Pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 (16-ounce) bottle Ken's Lite Asian Sesame With Ginger and Soy salad dressing, divided use
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 red peppers, quartered, seeds removed
8 (1-inch) slices fresh pineapple
Place chicken in a sealable plastic bag and add all but 1/2 cup of the salad dressing. Marinate in the refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, heat grill to medium.
Place the thighs on the grill and cook for about 20 minutes, flipping several times and brushing with the reserved salad dressing. With 10 minutes to go, brush olive oil on the red pepper pieces. Place on the grill. Flip after 5 minutes. With 5 minutes to go, add pineapple rings to the grill and cook for about 2 1/2 minutes on each side.
Remove chicken, peppers and pineapple to a platter and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
Source: Karen Pryslopski,
St. Petersburg Times
Grilled Chicken Tenders With Cilantro Pesto
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 pound chicken tenders
2 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves (1 large bunch)
2 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Whisk lime juice, soy sauce, canola oil and chili powder in a large bowl. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the marinade in a small bowl. Add chicken to the remaining marinade; toss to coat. Marinate in the refrigerator from 20 minutes to 1 hour.
Heat grill to medium-high.
Meanwhile, place cilantro, scallions, sesame seeds and the reserved marinade in a food processor and process until fairly smooth.
Oil or spray the grill rack. Remove the chicken from the marinade (discard marinade) and grill until cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, about 2 minutes per side. Serve the chicken with the cilantro-sesame pesto.
Serves 2 to 4.
Source: Eating Well
Marinated Grilled Chicken Legs
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
8 chicken drumsticks (about 2 1/4 pounds), skinned
Scallion strips (optional)
Combine the first 11 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add chicken to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 2 hours, turning bag occasionally.
Remove chicken from bag, reserving marinade. Place reserved marinade in a small saucepan; cook over medium heat 3 minutes. Place chicken on grill coated with cooking spray; grill 30 minutes or until chicken is done, turning and basting occasionally with reserved marinade. Garnish with scallion strips, if desired.
Serves 4 (2 drumsticks each).