Memorial Day Means Grillin’: Tips and Recipes From Five Great Michigan Restaurants

Sven Gustafson

| 6 min read

Grilling chicken
We here at A Healthier Michigan are looking forward to the long Memorial Day weekend with friends and family as much as the proverbial next guy. In that spirit, we solicited easy grilling tips and recipes from the chefs and food pros of five great Michigan eateries: Cliff Bell’s and the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit, the Mission Table in Traverse City, Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor and San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids. So don your apron, grab your tongs and fire up the ‘barbie with us.
Matt Baldridge, executive chef at Cliff Bell’s, a restaurant and jazz club in Detroit
“Something that I do, I use a lot of grapeseed oil,” Baldridge said. “It’s healthier for you as opposed to using butter: The flashpoint on it is a lot higher, so you can get higher temps before you get that carbon on it. I use sea salt, too, which is better than the iodized (version), it’s a lot healthier.”
Baldridge says he likes to grill raw vegetables at home, including shallots, yellow squash, eggplant, mushrooms left whole, harder root vegetables like carrots and parsnips and Michigan asparagus, which is in season now. He’ll toss them in grapeseed oil and sea salt, wrap them in tin foil and roast them on the grill. When finished, he likes to serve them right out of the foil package.
Fruit also works well on the grill, Baldridge says. Slice stone fruits like peaches, plums and nectarines in half, remove the pits, toss them in grapeseed oil, a little salt and some sugar. Grilled peaches pair well with pork tenderloin in summertime, he said.
“In the summertime, I’ll put pretty much anything on the grill,” Baldridge said, including salmon and tuna. Lighter, flaky fish (such as lake perch or walleye) should go in a foil wrap with holes poked in it to allow for a smoky, charred flavor.
Mike Buss, special events and catering manager at San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids
As for grilling tips, Buss says to make sure the grill is up to temperature, “blazing hot.” You should scrape it down to remove the old char. Buss likes to use an old rag, bound tightly with butcher twine, saturated in oil to prepare the grates. He uses a blended vegetable oil for its higher burning temperature, and he likes to sprinkle salt over the grates prior to grilling.
He also likes to to smoke food using a cast-iron smoker chip box commonly available at Home Depot or Lowe’s. “I pretty much do that more than I grill,” he says.
“One of my favorite things to do — me and my lady, we’re vegetarians — I make this salad.” It’s got smoked portobellos, smoked red peppers, red onions and corn for char-grilled flavor. He’ll dice the vegetables and combine with goat cheese, fresh herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary, a vinegar like a pear-infused or white balsamic and add a tiny bit of olive oil. Finish with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
A sampling of the Spanish tapas on offer at San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids.
“Another thing we do for my friends that they absolutely love is Korean barbecue,” he says. He’ll take a flank steak and slice it nice and thin and make a marinade of equal parts soy sauce, vegetable oil and sugar, throwing in red pepper flakes, scallions, white sesame seeds, marinating the meat for six hours or even overnight. When ready, the steak grills up quickly because of the sugar — no more than one minute on each side, he says. “All my friends go pretty crazy over that. I love to cook, that’s pretty much why I’m in this field,” Buss said.
San Chez (pronounced “San-CHEZ,” like the name) will hold a smoking and grilling class June 14. Watch their website for the listing and to reserve a spot.
Paul Olson, executive chef of Mission Table (formerly Bowers Harbor Inn) and Jolly Pumpkin near Traverse City on the Old Mission Peninsula
“You need to season the hell out of meat,” Olson says. “Half the seasoning falls off of the meat.”
Salt and pepper work fine. For larger cuts like pork butt, brine it overnight in a water-based solution of sugar, salt, pepper, bay leaf, garlic and “whatever you want to infuse into it.”
For grilling steaks, Olson says, “the key is seasoning and letting it rest. The larger the piece of meat, the longer it needs to rest.” For thick cuts like prime rib, pull the meat off the flame and let it rest 25 minutes; for steak, 5 to 10 minutes will suffice. Failing to allow cooked meat to rest causes it to lose it juices and become dry.
At the restaurant, Olson and his crew marinate hanger steaks overnight in garlic, shallots, some balsamic vinegar, olive oil, tomato juice or fresh tomatoes, pepper and fresh thyme, all puréed into a paste. Omit salt, which pulls moisture from the meat. “The acid in the balsamic is good, it breaks down the fiber a little bit,” he said. “You just don’t want to marinate it too long, like four or five days, because the acid will break down the meat and cook it a little bit.”
And as for grilling with gas or charcoal? “It matters,” Olson says. In fact, hardwood charcoal grills are “way better” than either and impart superior flavor to the food, he says.
Chris Franz, executive chef of the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit
Franz offered the following recipe for chipotle-orange BBQ chicken with grilled corn relish. (Disclosure: The author occasionally moonlights as banquet staffer at the Rattlesnake.)
Chipotle Orange BBQ Chicken
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • Salt to taste
  1. Preheat grill.
  1. Whisk together orange juice concentrate, chipotle pepper, vinegar, molasses and mustard in a small bowl.
  1. Lightly oil the grill or broiler rack. Season chicken with salt and grill for 2 minutes. Turn, brush with the glaze and cook for 4 minutes, brushing occasionally with glaze. Turn again, brush with the glaze, and cook until the center is no longer pink, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Grilled Corn Relish
  • 5 large ears corn, (about 3 cups kernels)
  • 1 ½ cups finely diced sweet onion
  • ¾ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, (1-2 bunches)
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  1. Grill corn, in the husks, on high until steaming and just tender, 7 to 9 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the husks and silk. Slice the kernels from the corn using a sharp knife.
  1. Combine the corn kernels, onion, parsley, lime juice, oil and salt in a medium bowl. Serve at room temperature or cold.
Alex Young, executive chef at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor
(Editor’s note: This submission came in after the original post was published and was later added to it.)
“When cooking BBQ chicken over wood (or charcoal and wood), season liberally with salt and pepper before cooking. Then cook until golden brown, the skin is crispy and the chicken is 95 percent done before basting with your sauce. Then be sure to caramelize the sauce thoroughly on each side before serving.”
Let us know how these tips and recipes work out for you. What are your favorite things to grill?
For more grilling recipes, check out these blogs:
Photos credit: wkaSean Munson and LauriPatterson.

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