Chances are, ostrich, octopus and oysters won't be on the grills of many Chattanooga-area residents this Memorial Day weekend.
But there are other options besides hamburgers and hot dogs for a leisurely meal to mark the unofficial beginning of summer.
Quintin Perry, known as Chef Q at Off the Grill barbecue restaurant on Bonny Oaks Drive, says that, as a professional, he's grilled everything from ostrich to wild boar to elk to snake.
"I found ostrich to be really good," he says. "Wild boar is the best pig I ever ate."
Off the Grill, however, offers more routine items such as turkey, brisket, ribs, chicken and smoked beef sausage. For an unusual turn, Perry suggests Memorial Day grillers can try quail.
"Make a simple marinade of fresh garlic, oil and salt and pepper, put it on the quail and grill it," he says.
Kent Whitaker, a Chattanooga author and onetime winner of the Emeril Live Barbecue Contest, says a test run when grilling new things is probably best before inviting over friends and family as culinary guinea pigs.
"I think people need to try new things," he says, "but I also think that you should try them once on the grill to make sure you can cook it properly with tons of flavor."
For the adventuresome on Memorial Day, though, Whitaker, known as the Deck Chef, www.thedeckchef.com, suggests "new things can be twists on old things." Burgers, for instance, can become stuffed cheeseburgers by mixing the meat and cheese before grilling; chicken can be marinated in orange juice and seasonings instead of just tossed on the grill and slathered with barbecue sauce; and hot dogs can be marinated and basted in sauces as well.
In addition, he says, "grilled pizza is a nice twist, using pre-made crusts and a variety of toppings ranging from traditional to pulled barbecue with pepper jack cheese."
For dessert, Whitaker says grilled pound cake is his "signature summertime grilled treat" and is one he has used in chef demos at the Chattanooga Market and other events. He usually serves it with fresh strawberries, but pineapple, peaches or mandarin oranges are other suggestions. A flavored pound cake served with a favorite ice cream and toppings offers further variety, he says.
Krrb, a online global classified website, does list octopus among unusual items to grill. However, for the less curious palate, its Neighborly Living blog, blog.krrb.com, suggests romaine lettuce.
The instructions call for quartering the head the long way but cutting only deeply enough to allow the root to keep the four pieces together. Then lightly brush with olive oil and put the cut sides down on the grill. The head should be charred until it achieves "gorgeous grill marks," the website says.
It can then be served with red wine vinegar and crumbled bleu cheese or bleu cheese dressing (or both); with cooked bacon bits added to the wine vinegar and cheese; with balsamic vinegar, black pepper and sunflower seeds; or with olive oil, salt and fresh lemon.
The blog also suggests cutting a pineapple in half or in quarters the long way so the core is still intact. It should be grilled until marks appear, then seasoned with black pepper, fresh lime juice and honey.
The online Fine Cooking blog, www.finecooking.com, proposes that shellfish are easy to grill and require only a brush of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
"Nothing quite matches the sweet, intense and slightly charred taste of shellfish when it's cooked on the grill," the blog says.
The Daily Meal, meanwhile, might appeal to grillers shunning meat with recipes for tofu and for rice balls. Tofu might not have much character to some people, but the blog, www.thedailymeal.com, suggests a sweet and spicy marinade on the bean curd "steaks" makes them pop.
"When grilling tofu," the blog says, "it's best to use a firm tofu and grill for about five minutes on each side without moving it to get those coveted grill marks."
For yaki onigiri, or grilled rice balls, cook Japanese short-grain rice on the stove or in a rice cooker and let it cool slightly. While it's still hot, place it in the center of a square piece of plastic wrap and wrap it into a tightly packed, 1-inch-thick triangle. Unwrap the rice, brush with a bit of melted butter and some soy sauce, then grill on both sides until crisp.
The blog suggests Japanese short-grain rice is best because other types of rice won't contain enough starch for the ball to stick together when placed on the grill.
Cooking spray, for the grill
4 slices pound cake
Spray butter (or 2 to 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter)
2 to 3 teaspoons brown sugar (optional)
4 scoops ice cream
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup strawberry syrup
1/3 cup toasted and sliced almonds
Preheat the grill over medium heat. Coat the grill or foil with cooking spray. Coat the pound cake with spray butter or brush with the melted butter. Grill until the edges are browned and the slice is heated evenly. If desired, sprinkle the slices lightly with brown sugar before removing from the grill. Place a slice on a plate, top with the ice cream, sliced strawberries, strawberry syrup and almonds.
Calories can be trimmed by using low-fat, sugar-free items and dropping the butter and brown sugar.
If you fear placing slices of pound cake directly on a grill, try using a grilling basket or a sheet of heavy-duty foil to make a griddle-like surface.
- Kent Whitaker
1/2 fresh pineapple, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 medium nectarines, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 medium pears, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 medium peaches, cut into 1-inch chunks
3 to 4 medium plums, cut into 1-inch chunks
10 apricots, halved
3 tablespoons honey or light corn syrup, warmed
Thread fruit alternately onto metal or soaked wooden skewers. Grill, uncovered, over medium-hot heat until fruit is heated through, about 6 minutes, turning often. Brush with honey or corn syrup during the last minute of grilling time.
Prepared pizza dough
Standard toppings of tomato sauce, herbs, cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, etc.
Some flour or corn meal
Prepare the grill for high direct heat. Prepare a small bowl with olive oil for greasing the grill grates and for brushing the pizza. Prepare the toppings so they are ready to go on the pizza -- tomato sauce, cheese and anything else you wish.
Shape the pizza dough by flattening it with your hands on a slightly floured surface. Either use your fingers to stretch the dough out, or hold up the edges of the dough with your fingers, letting the dough hang and stretch, while working around the edges of the dough. Once you've stretched the dough, let it sit for 5 minutes, then push out the edges with your fingers again, until you have a nice round shape, about 12 inches in diameter. Do not make a raised rim, it will interfere with the grilling process.
Once the grill is hot, dip a tightly folded up paper towel in olive oil and use tongs to wipe the grill grates. Then place a pizza dough round on a lightly floured (or you can use cornmeal) rimless cookie sheet. Let the dough slide off the cookie sheet onto the hot grill grates. Close the lid of the grill and let cook for 2 minutes.
After 2 minutes, open the grill and check underneath the dough to see if it is getting browned. If it is on one side, but not another, use a spatula or tongs to rotate the dough 90 degrees and cook for another minute. If it is not beginning to brown, cover the grill and continue to cook a minute at a time until the bottom has begun to brown. The top of the pizza dough will start bubbling up with air pockets.
Once the pizza dough has browned, use your cookie sheet or pizza peel to remove it from the grill. Use a spatula to flip the dough over so that the grilled side is now up. Keep the grill covered.
Paint the grilled surface of the pizza with a little olive oil, then cover with 1 ladle of sauce -- no more, or you'll end up with a soggy pizza. Sprinkle on your toppings, ending with cheese and, if using meat, put that over the cheese. Remember to go light on the toppings, or your pizza will be heavy and soggy.
Slide the topped pizza back onto the grill. If you are using a gas grill, reduce the heat. If working with a charcoal grill, close the vents on the cover almost all the way. Close the lid and cook for 2-3 minutes more, or until the bottom begins to char and the cheese is bubbly. Pull off the grate with a spatula onto a cutting board or other flat surface and let rest for a couple minutes before cutting into slices.