“There are gazillions of cheeseburgers in the world. But how many of them are good?”
That’s the question chef Tim Love wants backyard grillers and professional chefs alike to ask themselves. In his mind, the answer is, “Very few.”
To correct the situation, the owner of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and the Love Shack in Fort Worth has taken it upon himself to spread the word of how people can improve their grill skills.
Love is “precise on his procedure,” which is what has earned him a loyal following and a growing national reputation.
The process begins with the right wood, he says. For fish, you want a wood like pecan that burns at a cooler temperature, so your delicate fish, such as trout won’t dry out or burn up quickly. “It’s easier on the tooth when eating seafood,” he says. Pecan also doesn’t impart an overwhelming flavor, so the natural flavor of the fish can shine through.
He recommends hickory for chicken, game birds and pork, while mesquite, which burns hottest of all woods, is made for red meat, such as buffalo and venison in addition to beef. With mesquite, “you can get a good sear quickly,” he says, adding that “searing the meat is what imparts the flavor.”
The grill itself should be clean before starting, and Love prefers cast iron to stainless steel. It holds heat longer, which is important in getting that sear. Whether you’re using gas or wood, the chef says you should get your entire grill as hot as possible, before you put a steak on it. Only cover half of the grill with meat. Why is that important? Because when you put that steak or chicken breast on the grill, the bars begin cooling down immediately from the temperature of the meat. So you need hot bars to sear the other side.
When the steak is not quite to where it’s grilled to your desired doneness, Love says, “take it off the heat and let it relax (for at least 10 minutes). Then, put it back on the grill to get it hot” when you’re ready to eat.
That means if you’re having a dinner party, you can grill the steaks ahead of time and just finish them when you’re guests arrive.
Preparing the meat requires its own attention. Except for chicken and fajitas, Love doesn’t use many marinades. “Acids on meat break it down and leave a mealy texture,” he says.
He prefers rubs, but he makes sure sugar is not one of the ingredients. Sugar will caramelize on the meat’s surface and that could occur long before the meat is done, leaving you with burnt sugar rather than an attractive flavor. Salt, however, should be a main ingredient. “Meat needs salt,” he says.
Once the meat is done, Love likes to apply a few touches before serving. “When you grill red meat, finishing it with a lemon juice will make all the difference in the world,” he says. He often uses a compound butter to give a steak an extra depth of flavor.
Serving the right wine is important, too. Because of the Texas heat, Love favors whites, such as Albariños and those from Rias Baixas, as well as rosés, wines that are refreshing in the heat. “I just enjoy cold wine,” he says. “I drink a ton of rosé in the summer.” You might be surprised at how good they can be with beef, thanks, in part, to that spritz of lemon at the end.
Love was recently in San Antonio, not to scout locations for a local branch of one of his restaurants, but to promote the line of Bush’s Grillin’ Beans now on the market.
The lineup of beans, including Bourbon and Brown Sugar and Texas Ranchero, fits in with the rest of his cuisine, which he as urban western. It’s friendly and approachable, yet made with the influences of all that has made Texas great.
“Texas is quite the melting pot of people,” Love says, citing the Chinese railroad workers, the Spanish, the French and the Germans in addition to the Mexican influence.
And Texans of all backgrounds like their grilled meats. Thanks to Love’s tips, more people will be able to put some extra sizzle in their summer.
For some of Tim Love’s recipes, click below: