Fire and nice: Matt Moore’s hot grilling tips
Elyse Glickman talks with Nashville grill master Matt Moore on infusing American down-home cooking with unique, global flavours
Although the barbecue cookout is a time-honoured American summertime tradition, grilling is truly one of mankind’s most universal cooking techniques, spanning all six inhabited continents. While many people associate the south, Kansas City or the west with American expressions of the barbecue cartform, Nashville-based Matt Moore—author, chef, pilot, musician and full-on renaissance man—is the perfect person to remind you that the proverbial American melting pot widens the definition of what makes barbecue both international and American.
The multitasking author’s culinary finesse and easygoing persona, in fact, has landed him a global audience through articles about his fiery exploits in the BBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution, Chicago Tribune, People, Southern Living, Esquire and Men’s Journal as well as TV appearances on NBC’s Today, VH1, the Hallmark Channel and countless others.
‘My Mom’s side of the family hails from Beirut, immigrating several generations ago to south Georgia and beyond,’ theorizes Moore on why his books and television appearances have gained such a following across the US. ‘We might have settled in the south and learned to make perfect fried chicken, but we also brought plenty of recipe standards from the old country. Early on, my mother, who was proudly of Lebanese–Syrian descent, would always prepare our steaks, burgers and kebabs in much different ways than our friends and neighbours. There was always great olive oil, vinegars and citrus used in our marinades, not to mention tons of garlic. Traditional Middle Eastern spices like cinnamon, allspice and sumac were always the je ne sais quoi of why our food always tasted so good.’
Above and beyond the flashy demos and homespun recollections of family meals, he’s offered fellow grilling enthusiasts lots of practical advice in books like his best-selling 2015 A Southern Gentleman’s Kitchen and his recently published Serial Griller. The former includes a heady mix of familiar down-home favourites with exotic twists combined with recipes that tie directly to his Middle Eastern roots, including Za’atar-spiced wings and chicken shishlik with geen garbanzo masabacha and gribenes. He also has the growing number of vegetarians covered as well, with a few inspired ways to bring more excitement to their meatless fare.
‘Now and then, you need a break from the heavy stuff, and this is why grilled eggplant that’s nicely seasoned is such a hit,’ he says. ‘The meaty texture of eggplant is light when it needs to be and yet can be stick-to-your-ribs satisfying just the same. I love serving this as a main dish to carnivore friends and seeing how they are totally satisfied after the meal, rarely asking that ages-old question, “Where’s the beef?”‘
There’s no question that Matt believes grilling over a live fire makes practically everything better. However, like any other cooking technique, grilling takes a lot of practice, patience and time to master. On the other hand, he believes the current world situation provides enthusiasts at every level of cooking and grilling a prime opportunity to improve their skills as well as adopt healthier eating habits. After all, why eat out so much when creating, serving and enjoying a grilled masterpiece can be an adventure in itself?
‘Being at home either makes one more sedentary, or allows you the time to stay a bit more active since there are less day-to-day distractions,’ Matt explains. ‘I’m honestly grilling now more than ever. It provides me with an atmosphere and experience to celebrate each day, and it also means I’m not deep frying or consuming many carb-related foods since those are typically less accommodating using that method. Lean proteins, fish and vegetables are a part of my nightly routine. My kids love the quick beef kefta! However, when it comes to my diet, I just avoid the pita to save some of the carbs—though it pains me to do so!’
During the hot summer months (which often extend into fall in many parts of the country and is on its way in the southern hemisphere), Matt stresses that the grill is your best friend to cook up healthy foods for your family, with the extra benefit of keeping the heat out of your kitchen. Essentials which should always be in your pantry, especially for this cooking lifestyle, include high-quality olive oil, garlic, lemons, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper. All of these constitute the base of every recipe.
‘I literally do everything on the grill, from traditional grilled fare like steaks and burgers to baking cakes and sides utilizing indirect–convective methods,’ he says. ‘I like keeping whole chickens at hand to spatchcock and grill, as the whole family enjoys that with a side of salad spiked heavily with feta and fresh oregano.’
Beyond the grill, Matt confides his family’s sentimental favourite food is grape leaves, something that the whole family can participate in when prepping a meal (and can be done vegetarian with a few tweaks).
‘It’s something I’ve waxed poetic on for years, and often I believe we bicker as to the best methods and ingredients as any good southerner might with chicken, beef or salmon,’ he recalls. ‘At practically every family gathering when I was growing up, Sitty spent the early morning hours rolling grape leaves by hand, followed by frying batches of chicken in cast-iron—all in an effort to feed the kids bellies after a Sunday mass. However, we kiddos did not eat for free. The art of rolling a grape leaf was taught at an early age—and if you wanted to eat ’em, you’d have to roll ’em. This is one of the first traditions I am passing on to my kids.’
4 cups chicken stock
6 medium garlic cloves, smashed
2 large sprigs fresh oregano, plus chopped leaves for garnish
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp black peppercorns
3 cups ice
2 medium eggplants (about 3½ lb)
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup diced plum tomatoes (from 2 medium tomatoes)
½ cup diced English cucumber (from 1 medium cucumber)
¼ cup diced red onion (from 1 medium onion)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled (about ½ cup)
1. Bring the stock, garlic, oregano sprigs, 1 tablespoon of the salt, and the peppercorns to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat.
2. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Add the ice to the saucepan and stir until melted.
3. Partially peel the eggplants by peeling in alternating stripes. Cut the eggplants lengthwise into 1-inch-thick slabs. Place in an 11- by 7-inch baking dish and pour over the stock mixture.
4. Let marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Remove the eggplant from the marinade; discard the marinade. Pat the eggplant dry.
5. Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal.
6. When the coals are covered with grey ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 450°F to 500°F. Coat the top grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to high [450°F to 500°F].)
7. Coat the eggplant slabs with cooking spray and sprinkle with the ground black pepper and ¾ teaspoon of the salt. Place on the oiled grates and grill, covered, until the eggplant is tender and grill marks appear, 5 to 6 minutes per side.
8. Transfer the eggplant to a cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes. Roughly chop the eggplant into 1- to 2-inch pieces and arrange on a serving platter.
9. Toss together the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, vinegar, oil, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the eggplant and sprinkle with the feta and chopped oregano.
Beef kafta with quick labneh
Hands on 20 mins
Total 50 mins
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yoghurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lb 80–20 lean ground beef
¼ cup finely chopped onion (from 1 small onion)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 medium garlic cloves, grated on a microplane (2 tsp)
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-inch-round) flatbreads (such as Toufayan)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1. Place the yoghurt in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl and drain in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Discard the liquid in the bowl. Transfer the drained yogurt to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, or up to 1 week.
2. Open the bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light a charcoal chimney starter filled with charcoal. When the coals are covered with grey ash, pour them onto the bottom grate of the grill.
3. Adjust the vents as needed to maintain an internal temperature of 350°F to 400°F. Coat the top grate with oil; place on the grill. (If using a gas grill, preheat to medium [350°F to 400°F].)
4. Stir together the ground chuck, onion, parsley, garlic, allspice, pepper, and remaining ¾ teaspoon salt in a bowl.
5. Divide into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a 5-inch-long log around one (8- to 12-inch) skewer.
6. Place the skewers on the oiled grates. Grill, uncovered and turning every 5 minutes, until charred on all sides and a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of the meat registers 160°F, 15 to 20 minutes.
7. Transfer the skewers to a serving platter.
8. Brush both sides of the flatbreads evenly with the oil. Place on the oiled grates and grill, uncovered, until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
9. Serve alongside the skewers and yogurt sauce and garnish with parsley.