Pantry Staples for Grilling Improv

Brooke Newberry
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Summer is the season for spontaneity.  Improv grill sessions plot out quickly, especially if you’re the only one in your circle with a grill. 

Throwing together an impromptu sesh is easy; the ingredient prep is most likely already in your kitchen.  Start simple – minimalism is best for last minute ingredient pairing.  Cavorting with too many opposing flavors will take away from your meat’s natural flavors.  Experiment with marinades, sauces, and rubs by combining staple pantry items based on personal preference.  

Take advantage of semi-homemade sauces and keep a store-bought barbecue sauce handy for assembly.  Go for a mild, supermarket “canvas” sauce and customize it with grill-clever extras like seasonings, fruits, and spices.

For Rubs, Marinades, and Sauces:

Salts: Kosher salt for rubs, flaked sea salt sprinkled on top of cooked steaks for finishing.

Seasonings and Spices: Paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, and freshly cracked black pepper are all you really need to prepare rubs.

Vinegars: Apple Cider and Wine Vinegars are vital for marinades and sauces.  Try injecting them into meats to tenderize. 

Oils: A mild oil like Canola works best for marinades.

Dark Brown Sugar: Develops sauces and strengthen rubs. If you have molasses in your pantry, it imparts a sweet rusticity.

Mustard and MayonnaiseMassage a little mustard or mayo into meat before adding a rub.  Soaks right in, loads up flavor, and rubbing will tenderize meat.

Peanut Butter: Think sauces for Thai chicken recipes.

Fruit Juices: Standard juices are solid options for brining, marinating, or adding to store bought barbecue sauces.  Use apple juice for pork or chicken and a little fresh OJ for a flank.

Worcestershire Sauce: a classic for steak marinades.

Ground Coffee: Add a tablespoon or two to a rub for extra depth.  Combine coffee grounds, sea salt, pepper, garlic, and paprika for a quick rub.

Cumin: Add to rubs for smokiness, especially if cooking Mexican dishes. 

Jams: Make a chicken or pork sauce with fruit for a sweet contrast.

Butter: Just a quick pat over a good piece of steak is sometimes all that’s needed.

Whiskey or Bourbon: Balance out sauces with a malty, bitter hit of the good stuff.

Beer: Drunk chicken, anyone? Inject into chicken before grilling.

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