Overview

At last, summer has officially begun, and we’re all ready for the simple pleasure of standing around a grill outside, cool drink in hand, watching dinner happen.

Unfortunately, with live-fire cooking (I count a gas grill in that category), you can’t simply set your oven temperature and pour another Arnold Palmer. Grilling requires full engagement with the fire, which is both a pleasure and a challenge. But understanding a few principles can tip the scales more toward the pleasure side.

Your goal in grilling is to avoid burning while still thoroughly cooking the food and giving it a kiss of smoke and char. Here are three actions toward that goal: 1) don’t use a typical oil-based marinade, 2) build a two-level fire to give you heat control, and 3) add your sauces only at the very end of — or after — cooking.

Marinating for flavor, not flare-ups. The purpose of a marinade is to add flavor to your ingredient. The problem comes when the marinade burns.

Untamed grilling temperatures can rise to more than 700 degrees, and actual flames also are part of the picture, so tender marinade bits like chopped garlic and fresh herbs incinerate on the hot grill. And when oil drips onto the coals or gas jets, it causes a flare-up or creates smoke carrying unhealthy compounds called nitrosamines, which are to be avoided.

But marinades do add flavor, so what can we do? One solution is to use a “dry marinade,” made from plenty of salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. Coat the meat (or fish or chicken) with the marinade ingredients and leave for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours; longer is better. When it’s grilling time, scrape it all off, pat the meat dry (the salt will have drawn out a few juices), and you’re ready to go. No bits to burn, no oil to drip, just flavor imparted into your protein.

What about sticking, you say? I rub the grill grates with just a film of oil rather than oiling my food. More importantly, I let the grate get really hot before installing my meat. The hot grate sears the meat on contact and after several seconds will create a crusty surface, which then lets the meat release.


Make the recipe: Grilled Lamb Chops With Lemony Herb Sauce and Eggplant

Working the high/low. Perhaps the technique that gives you the most control while grilling is the two-zone fire, which is actually simple. For a gas grill, just turn one burner to high and the other to low. You may need to tinker with those settings because everyone’s grill is different; my old gas grill had the BTUs of a Bic lighter, so I would have used medium to get low. (Read how to gauge the desired temperatures below.)

For a charcoal grill, start your coals using a chimney starter. If you don’t have one, please buy one now; it is low-tech and life-changing.

(To use a chimney, stuff the smaller, bottom cavity loosely with paper. Fill the top with charcoal briquettes and, if using, hardwood lumps. Holding the chimney upright, light the paper in several places. The Venturi effect comes into play, drawing air from the bottom chamber up through the top. Remove your grill grate and carefully set the chimney in the bottom of the grill until the coals are red hot; this should take about 15 minutes. Proceed with your grilling operations.)

Using an oven mitt (the chimney handle can get hot even though they’re designed not to), dump out the red-hot coals onto one side of the grill. Add more coals (about an equal amount will give you enough firepower to grill something small, such as chops or steaks), and let them burn until you have a nice deep bed of glowing coals coated in white ash.

Now, with long tongs, a little shovel or other hand implement, scoot about 1/3 of the coals to the other side of the grill basin, so you have 2/3 piled on one side and 1/3 spread out on the other. Put the grill grate back in place.

Test the temperatures with your hand. Hold your palm about 5 inches above the grate. You should want to pull your hand away — urgently, I might add — from the hot side after only 2 to 3 seconds and the moderate side after about 8 seconds.

You are ready for action! Heat the grill grate for a few minutes, and then, using a wadded-up paper towel or bar rag and tongs, rub on a little oil where you think your food will go, and add your food.

The general principle is to start your food on the hot zone, letting it sear gently and develop some sexy grill marks, and then transfer to the cool zone, so the interior can finish cooking without the exterior overcooking. Having a cool zone also allows refuge for your food if you get flare-ups during the first part of cooking; you never want to cook your food directly over flames.

Decide when your food is done using an instant-read thermometer. Or, you can simply cut into your meat. In any case, know the meat will continue to cook once off the grill, so pull it off the heat before it’s fully done to your liking. You can always put it back.

The seasoning, finally. If you’re using a barbecue sauce or other thick condiment, you can brush some on during the last few minutes of cooking to let it heat up and set. (I am not a barbecue expert. I know there is much science and lore and religion around true barbecue, and I dare not make any pronouncements thereabout. Here, I’m just talking about plain old grilling.)

Grilled Lamb Chops With Lemony Herb Sauce and Eggplant

Storage: The chops and eggplant can be refrigerated together in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Refrigerate leftover sauce in a separate container for up to 3 days; the herbs may look less bright but will still be delicious.

Make ahead: The sauce for the finished meat and eggplant can be made up to 2 hours before grilling.

Correction: An earlier version of this recipe included incorrect nutritional information. This version has been corrected.


Ingredients

FOR THE LAMB CHOPS

6 to 8 (1 1/2-inch thick) loin lamb chops (2 to 2 1/2 pounds total)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 to 8 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled and chopped

1 small handful fresh thyme sprigs, roughly chopped

1 small handful fresh rosemary sprigs, roughly chopped

6 to 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped

A few sprigs fresh oregano or marjoram, chopped (optional)

2 Italian globe eggplants (about 1 pound each)

Canola oil, for grilling

FOR THE SAUCE

1 scallion, white and light green parts, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh chile pepper, such as jalapeño or Anaheim (optional)

1 tablespoon drained capers, roughly chopped

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)

2 teaspoons minced anchovy (optional)

1/2 small garlic clove, finely grated or minced, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves chiffonade

2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves chiffonade

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

FOR THE GARNISH

1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes or chopped tomato

1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling


Steps

Step 1

Marinate the lamb: Generously season the lamb chops with salt and pepper, and then press the garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano (or marjoram), if using, into the chops, coating all sides. Place on a large platter or large, rimmed baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Step 2

Make the sauce: About 2 hours before you plan to grill, in a small bowl, combine the scallion, chile (if using), capers, lemon zest, anchovy (if using), garlic, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes and ground cumin, then add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Stir and set aside.

Step 3

Grill the eggplant and lamb: About 1 hour before serving, start your two-level charcoal fire (see above); if you’re using a gas grill, preheat the grill for about 15 minutes. While you are setting up or preheating the grill, let the lamb chops sit at room temperature.

Step 4

Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of the eggplant skin vertically, so they have stripes. Cut the eggplants into 3/4-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle generously with salt and arrange on a wire rack set over a tray, for about 30 minutes.

Step 5

When ready to cook, finish the sauce by whisking in the cilantro, parsley, mint and basil, followed by the olive oil. Taste, and adjust the seasonings with more garlic, salt, sugar, lemon juice or red pepper flakes, if desired. The flavor will develop while the sauce sits, so taste and adjust once more right before spooning it onto the grilled food.

Step 6

Wad up a few paper towels or a kitchen towel, moisten generously with the canola oil and, using tongs, rub the oil on the area of the hot grill grate where you will place your food.

Wipe the dry marinade from the chops (it’s okay if a few bits remain) and, using paper towels, pat the chops dry and blot any water that has beaded on the eggplant slices.

Step 7

Arrange the eggplant on the hot side of the grill and leave them alone for 2 to 3 minutes, which should produce a nice deep browning with a touch of char. Flip and cook for another 2 minutes on the second side.

After both sides of the eggplant are browned, move the slices to the moderate zone and continue cooking, turning frequently, until the exterior looks browned and dry and the interior softens, an additional 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your heat and the eggplant.

Step 8

Transfer the eggplant to the platter, stacking the pieces in a couple of piles, and cover loosely with foil for an additional 5 minutes. Don’t skip this step: The accumulated steam will continue to soften the interior and improve the texture.

Step 9

Meanwhile, once you’ve moved the eggplant to the moderate zone, place the chops on the hot side of the grill and leave them alone for 2 to 3 minutes (unless the fire flares up, in which case move them to a cooler spot for a few seconds and then try again). Lift the chops, and if the undersides are nicely browned and sizzling, flip and cook for another 2 minutes on the second side. Then turn the chops on their sides so the thick edges get 30 seconds or so over the hot fire, and then move to the moderate zone of the grill.

Step 10

Continue to grill the chops, turning them a few times, until they are done to your preference. For medium-rare, this size chop will take 8 and 10 additional minutes, or when an instant-read thermometer, inserted into the middle of the chop without touching a bone, registers 125 degrees. When ready, remove the chops and pile them on a platter. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm; they will continue to cook a bit.

Step 11

To serve, arrange the chops and eggplant slices on a platter, stir the sauce again to recombine the ingredients and spoon it over everything. Season the tomatoes with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Scatter the feta and tomatoes over the platter.

From food writer Martha Holmberg.

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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Nutrition

Calories: 413; Total Fat: 27 g; Saturated Fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 102 mg; Sodium: 302 mg; Carbohydrates: 10 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Added Sugar: 3 g; Protein: 34 g.