The Thrill of the Grill by Mary Stein Hurst

The Thrill of the Grill
By Mary Stein Hurst

Sam Duncan, 8, sometimes wears his scratch-and-sniff “pizza shirt” when his parents, John and Heather Duncan, start the charcoal to grill outdoors. That’s because when Sam sees his mom making pizza dough in the kitchen, he knows it will go on the grill.

“We saw an article in a magazine about grilling pizza and we played with it, Eventually, we got our groove going,” Heather Duncan says. “And the kids love it. It’s a great thing to do for the summer.”

John Duncan uses charcoal on the grill that used to have legs but now sits atop a repurposed fire pit.

“I also put a few pieces of oak wood for a little bit of smoke flavor,” he says.

Heather Duncan says she usually makes cheese pizzas. She makes her own dough and sometimes buys her sauce in a jar and, of course, grated mozzarella cheese but advises cooking other toppings, like sausage, green peppers, mushrooms or onions ahead of time because the pizza won’t be on the grill long enough to cook them when they are raw.

Her pizza dough recipe makes about five 10-inch pizzas, which she calls more kid-friendly. She coats both sides of the dough with olive oil before putting the dough on the grill.

John Duncan, a Lake Alfred city commissioner, does most of the grilling. He says when the dough starts to bubble, it’s time to turn it over. With both sides of the dough grilled, Heather Duncan tops the crusts with pizza sauce, and then adds cheese.

John Duncan covers the pizzas briefly to melt the cheese and they are done.

“It takes about one minute on each side for the crust and about two minutes covered for the cheese to melt,” he says.

Heather Duncan puts it simply: “You flip it, sauce it, cheese it, cover it and it’s done.”

Their daughter, Catherine, 11, says pizza night at their house is “the best.”  Bailey, who just turned 13, doesn’t say much; he just eats it.

Pizza isn’t the only thing the family likes on the grill. Steak is popular and the Duncans use a trick of her parents. Coating a room temperature steak in a mixture of cornstarch and sea salt, then freezing the steaks for 30 minutes, results in a crusted flavorful steak cooked to desired doneness with all the juices staying inside.

While the Duncans enjoy grilling with charcoal, the owners of DARN Grills and Ranch Supply, 27999 U.S. 27 in Dundee, use and recommend a different kind of grill.

Co-owner Dawn Armstrong says she is lazy. The store on U.S. 27 sells Green Mountain pellet grills, which she says, are electric and burn sawdust pellets in a smoker-type grill with a stack. The lower the adjustable stack, the more smoke flavor the meat will have.

“The controls are digital so you can set a temperature,” she says. “It’s so easy. You can smoke meat slowly or use it as an oven.”

She says the sawdust pellets come in three blends – a traditional oak and hickory blend, a Texas black oak blend with added mesquite, and a fruitwood blend of pecan, cherry and beech for a sweeter taste.

Richard Neale, her co-owner and fiancé, says he started selling the pellet grills when he worked at a hardware store in 2004. He and Amstrong often cook on the grill at their store so customers can sample some of the meat.

“You can literally set it and forget it,” he says.

The grills come in various sizes, ranging from medium and large to a smaller Davy Crockett grill made for tailgating or camping.

“It plugs into your cigarette lighter,” Amstrong says.

Cleanup is a snap. She says because the pellets feed into an auger, there is no flare up and it’s almost impossible to burn anything. A small bucket on the outside catches any grease and the pellets burn down to a fine ash.

“I use a shop vac to clean it,” she says. “I cook pizza on it, cookies, almost anything.”

She says she plans to start a ladies night in late July or August so women can learn to be grillmasters,” she says. “I think I’ll call it Barbecue and Wine.”

Armstrong says they both prefer to use rubs on their grilled meats, not sauces, though they also sell a variety of them at their store.

“We like to let the flavor of the meat speak for itself,” she says.

No matter what mode of grilling – charcoal, wood, pellets, or propane – Raul Hernandez, owner of RKY Seafood, 175 Ave. A in Winter Haven, says fish on the grill is the healthiest.

Though he sells fish and seafood, there are only certain types of fish he recommends for grilling because they have firm flesh and won’t fall apart on the grill.

He recommends grilling salmon steaks, grouper, mahi mahi, tuna and swordfish because they are cut in steaks and won’t fall apart on the grill.

“Flounder and tilapia you bake or fry,” he says. “Cod you fry for fish and chips.”

But grilling is easy and quick and Hernandez recommends using a little butter and garlic or Goya Complete Seasonings.

Hernandez says people could grill on aluminum foil or use a pan with small holes but it’s not necessary.

“Grilled fish is absolutely the healthiest way you can eat,” he says.