By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 26, 2010 at 5:23 AM

Why do Milwaukeeans like grilling so much? Is it just an excuse to be outside for a few more minutes? Is it because we so often tie grilling into tailgating? Perhaps it's just a primal urge to cook over an open fire. Maybe we just like brats.

As grilling season fires up, our editorial staff looked at the food chain of charcoal-cooked cuisine. None of us are trained professionals, but we gladly offer our tips, as well as our favorite local shops for gettin' the grub. Grill on, Milwaukee:


This is a difficult item for me to write, if only because my lovely wife considers me a master of grilling steaks and I'm about to reveal to the entire audience, including my lovely wife, that I'm actually just a doofus with a seven-step grilling "secret" that is too easy to screw up.

1. Buy a decent steak from a reputable butcher -- T-bone, filet, rib-eye -- it doesn't really matter as long as it's about an inch thick. I like Grasch's in Elm Grove, but I also get good meat at Sendik's. You can buy tasty steaks at Sam's Club, too.

2. Pre-heat the grill. Whether it's charcoal or propane, many people don't wait enough for the grill to get really hot. Get it going at a decent pace and give it at least the amount of time it takes you to drink one beer.

3. Unwrap the steaks (which should be close to room temperature), apply a little olive oil to both sides of the steak and sprinkle on your seasonings on one side. You can get fancy here. Some people like salt, pepper, a pinch of garlic or elaborate (and expensive) dry rubs they concoct themselves or buy at the store. I just grab the little bottle of Montreal seasonings, because it's easy and I like the taste. Again, season only one side.

4. When the grill is hot, put the steak on (seasoned side down), close the grill and walk away. This is pivotal. The grill will "grab" the steak initially and you don't want to move it around once you set it down. Open another beer. Come back in seven minutes.

5. Open the grill. Flip the steaks. (Use tongs, but don't pierce them in any way). Wait another six or seven minutes.

6. Give the steak a look. If you want to get fancy, you can move it around to get the cross-hatched grill marks. If you want to ensure doneness, turn down the burner (on a propane grill) on the steak side and crank up the other side for a little indirect heating action.

7. Remove steaks from the grill and place on a clean platter (you know, one with no raw meat juice on it). Let the steak sit for about five minutes (if you can wait that long) to allow the juices to settle. Enjoy the steak and the compliments from your fellow diners. --Drew Olson


There are two schools of thought when it comes to grilling sausages. The purists never soak and boil them in beer; they say it kills the natural flavors. I, on the other hand, like to cook with beer whenever possible, so I'm a big fan of boiling them first and grilling the sausages at the end.

My recipe works just fine for pork or turkey brats, and just slightly well for Italians, since they really do lose some of their natural flavor when boiling in beer. These days I steer toward turkey brats, as they're a bit healthier than the pork ones -- though certainly less delicious.

Take a big pot and fill it with a half-beer, half-water mixture. Two or three light beers are more than enough. Add some salt, pepper, crushed red peppers, a few cloves of garlic and about half an onion, diced. Boil the brats on as low of a heat as you can, for as long as you can remain patient. If you have an hour to spare, do it. If you have a ton of time, try using the crock pot on its lowest setting overnight. The grilling part takes just a few minutes, since the brats are already cooked.

Locally, you'll be just fine with Usinger's brats or the Turkey Store's turkey brats from any grocery store. But take it up a notch with handmade sausages from Groppi's, 1441 E. Russell Ave., or Sendik's. You can really taste the difference. --Andy Tarnoff


I grill a lot of chicken, and for the most part, I buy free-range meat from The Outpost, with the occasional bird parts coming from Whole Foods or Pick 'n Save.

A few years ago, my stepmother told me the best way to grill chicken is to "fool the juices," which means to flip the pieces more often than you would a burger or steak, and just before all of the juices drain to the grill side. I've found that this works best with dark meat, particularly thighs, since they are high in fat and have a lot more juice (thanks to the fat) to contend with. Turning them a lot also reduces the chance of the greasy meat from catching on fire. If the chicken breast still has the bone intact, I recommend cooking it on the bone side because it doesn't dry out as quickly.

I love to barbecue chicken on the grill, and have a wide range of BBQ sauce favorites, ranging from Annie's organic BBQ sauces to making my own. My favorite is a homemade spicy molasses and ginger barbecue sauce, although these days I usually concoct on the mild and / or sweet side to appeal to my kids' tastes. I am just moving into rubs, so more on that next summer. --Molly Snyder Edler


It's tilapia time, Milwaukee.

It's not easy grilling tilapia or any fish, though it can be quick and somewhat painless. The main challenge is knowing when your flounder of choice is ready to eat. There's not the cut-and-dry rare, medium and well-done in the fish world. Most fish, like my friend the tilapia, will flake easily at the touch or with a fork - that usually means it's done. Color is key, too, if it's shiny or see-through -- not done. If it's tough to see through, you're probably OK. Far from scientific, but that's what I was taught. Works with my tilapia grilling, and most fish for that matter.

First step, though, is buying a quality product. Lots of good frozen stuff out there, but fresh from St. Paul's Fish Market at the Milwaukee Public Market is a good call.

Personally, the George Foreman Grill makes "grilling" tilapia easier for me. Consistent heat and little sticking, but more smell since it's of course, indoors. Outside on the Weber, lemon and olive oil are needed to coat. Then I usually stick to pepper and my Spice House standby, Sunny Spain Seasoning (great flavor, no salt). Use a fork to turn, and if your fish has a skin, keep it on when you grill -- as it helps keep it together and, some say, locks in those crazy fish antioxidants.

Higher heat than average is a good call and, like any meat, don't drastically under- or over-cook. Easier said, than done, I know. Finally, drizzle, near the end of grilling, with lemon and consume. -- Jeff Sherman


Living with a vegetarian for about 15 years, I've never really had the opportunity to perfect my steak grilling techniques, but I have had the time to focus on some good, traditional grilled vegetables.

We eat more than our fair share of asparagus at home, so it's little surprise, then, that I like to marinate asparagus spears in olive oil, garlic and sea salt, and toss 'em on the bar-b. Although I prefer the slim, young shoots when I steam asparagus, I think the thicker stalks do well on the grill because they have time to get nice grill marks and flavor without overcooking.

I also like to use the grill to roast red peppers. Roast them as close to the flame as possible, turning them occasionally, until the skin is black and blistered all over. Put them in a brown paper bag and close it up so that the steam finishes loosening the skin. Then, peel off the skin with your fingers once they've cooled a little, cut 'em open, clean out the seeds and the white ribs. It's best to not do this under water because the shower will wash away some great flavor. A little oil or a vinaigrette over the top and they're good to go.

Finally, I love to grow eggplant in the garden, slice 'em up when they're still young and let them rest in salted water to draw out some of the bitterness. Then, dry them off, season them with sea salt, pepper, dried oregano and some olive oil and grill them until they're tender. Simple and awesome. I've never had luck growing peppers and although I started to grow asparagus, I ran out of room, so now I buy all of those things at grocery stores with good produce, like Sendik's, Whole Foods or The Outpost. --Bobby Tanzilo

Meat alternatives:

Long-time vegetarian, long-time griller. Homemade veggie burgers, though delicious, can be tricky on the grill and usually fall apart, so I stick to store-bought brands for cookouts. Back in the day, options were a bit limited and the varieties of vegetable-based Gardenburgers, although often small, dry and rubbery, were usually the best bet.

Today, the meat substitutes section of the grocery store has grown to include plenty of choices from Boca, Morningstar Farms, Amy's Kitchen and more. But my ultimate favorite grilling products are made by Tofurky, a company that makes vegan franks, sausages, deli slices and jerky from wheat gluten, seitan and organic tofu. The foot-long veggie dogs are good for that ballpark flavor, but the brats are really where it's at. I prefer the beer brats slathered in brown mustard, sauerkraut and hot peppers, but they also make chipotle, kielbasa and sweet Italian with tomato and basil flavors. And yes, they sizzle when you cook them over a flame.

Where to get them: Tofurky brats aren't at every grocery store, but I've found them at Beans & Barley, 1901 E. North Ave.; Whole Foods Market, 2305 N. Prospect Ave.; and Outpost Natural Foods Co-op, 100 E. Capitol Dr., 2826 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., or 7000 W. State St. in Wauwatosa. -- Julie Lawrence