The Prep Work
The night before, Borgna wrote out the menu to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything and to work out the order of cooking. He marinated the steak and chicken and soaked the wooden skewers for the sardines in wine. “It keeps the skewers from burning and gives flavor to the fish. Use white—red stains,” he says. He also julienned the crudités and stored them in an airtight container.
Two hours before he started cooking, Borgna drained the marinated beef and let it air-dry: “If it’s too wet, it won’t sear,” he says. About an hour before lighting the grill, Borgna put the onions, leeks, and tomatoes in grill baskets, then skewered each sardine and stuffed them with garlic and herbs. He coiled the Italian pork sausages in a spiral and threaded them and the merguez sausages onto flat skewers; wrapped a couple of heads of garlic in foil; prepared the vinaigrette and set it aside in a jar; cut the peaches, removed the pits, stuffed them with sugar, and wrapped them in parchment paper and aluminum foil (he doesn’t like food to come in contact with foil while it’s cooking, “because heat releases aluminum into the food,” he says). His plan was to grill the dishes to be served at room temperature first, so they would be ready to snack on. “This is summer food,” he says. “It doesn’t need to be piping hot.” The chicken would go last. “I start that when the guests arrive,” Borgna says. “It cooks over indirect heat, so it doesn’t need the same kind of attention. Then I can relax, have a glass of wine, and join the conversation.”
Flay: “It’s great that Adriano has prepared everything ahead of time. He’s organized, he’s made lots of lists, and he’s prioritized the prep work. It’s not a good idea to experiment too much when you grill for a big group; save trying out new dishes for when it’s just you and a friend. I once put too many chickens on the grill trying to cook fast for a big bunch of people, doused the birds with oil over the high heat, which I would never do now, and closed the lid. The whole thing went up in flames.”
Borgna uses a well-seasoned four-year-old oval Kingsford Patio 2 charcoal grill. The cooking space accommodates multiple items much better than a round grill, he says, and he likes the swinging-door grate. “You don’t have to remove the whole grate when you want to add charcoal,” he says. “You just push the food to the sides, lift the part in the middle that opens, and add the new coals.” He prefers an old grill to a new one. “The more you cook with the same grill, the more familiar you become with hot spots and the way it cooks.” His fuel of choice is Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Hardwood Charcoal. “It’s not chemically treated, and it’s environmentally correct because the trees aren’t cut specially to make charcoal.”
For turning the steak, he used a long-handled chef’s fork because he likes the way it pierces large pieces of meat, but he used long-handled tongs or a metal spatula “for anything more fragile.” He used two chimney starters, metal canisters with wire-mesh bottoms, to prepare and hold the hot coals, and cleaned the grill at the start with a brass-wire brush. He kept a tough pair of long leather gloves nearby for handling the chimneys, and he was covered to his knees with a long apron. “Chimney starters get hot,” he says, “and they can topple.”
Flay: Borgna’s grill has no bells and whistles; it’s basically an oval kettle with a grate. That proves you don’t necessarily need the most expensive piece of equipment, especially if you’re using charcoal. A grill, a pair of tongs, a brass brush, the chimney starters, and a spatula are basically all you need.
Many people think poking a hole in the steak with a fork is taboo, but the general rule is to stick the fork in the end of the meat where it won’t matter so much. Don’t pierce the middle, though, or you’ll lose the natural juices.
The chimney starter is the greatest $17 investment ever—it makes your life so easy. The long, narrow shape draws the heat up, which lights the charcoal quickly and evenly, without lighter fluid. Lighter fluid is out of the question—the food will taste of chemicals. I like hardwood charcoal because it has a clear flavor and a more intense heat than briquettes, although it burns faster. It’s also better for you than briquettes. Eighty percent of the market is buying gas grills today—all you have to do is press a button and turn a knob—but the flavor isn’t the same.