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Food We Love: Grilling advice for your Labor Day weekend cookout

Video by Eliza Davidson

Welcome to Food We Love, our Sun-Times video series featuring stories about Chicagoans family food traditions, secret recipes, special ingredients and unusual favorite dishes. Each week we’ll hear a new story about food and family plus learn some amazing recipes that you can try at home. Our host is Chicago journalist Linda Yu who loves cooking at home, as well as exploring new restaurants throughout the city.

Today’s episode: Chicago chefs share their top grilling tips

Join Linda Yu every week for cooking and conversation on Food We Love.

This is a special edition of ‘Food We Love” by Ji Suk Yi:

Expert grilling advice

Earlier this summer, over 100 of our city’s finest chefs along with 2000 foodies celebrated at the Green City Market’s 18th Annual Chef BBQ fundraiser.

Add to the scene that dozens of charcoal grills were fired up throughout the evening, with a plethora of good drink purveyors that poured beer, wine and cocktails, topped off with the beautiful weather- all resulted in a successful night to one of summer’s most anticipated, mouthwatering events.

Local food, talent

BBQ skewers by the Boleo Restaurant at the Green City Market Chef BBQ. | Sun-Times Staff
BBQ skewers by the Boleo Restaurant at the Green City Market Chef BBQ. | Sun-Times Staff

Chefs prepared a tasting menu utilizing seasonable, sustainable and heirloom produce and products featured at the market. It’s an opportunity for chefs and the Green City Market farmers to collaborate and showcase the best that the Midwest has to offer. An added bonus, is the accessibility attendees have to their favorite celebrity chef – for example, Rick Bayless and past Top Chef winner Joe Flamm.

All of the revelry was for a good cause with proceeds supporting the market’s programs. Beyond just the year-round markets there are education programs and food access initiatives like Link Matching and Produce Box.

Good vibes permeated all around. Chefs seemed to actually enjoy working this event. They work long, hot hours on their feet and do plenty of charity events year-round but this one is special. Mostly because it’s an opportunity to see their fellow industry colleagues in the casual setting of a bbq.

“I feel like the biggest kept secret (of the bbq) is the fact that it’s a party for us. It’s greatly beneficial as a fundraiser and a huge successful party but the chefs actually get to hang out – which never, ever happens,” said Chef/Owner John Manion of La Sirena and El Che restaurants.

If you missed the Chefs BBQ — have no fear, there’s always next year! Plus, the chefs provided great grilling advice and shared the seasonal ingredients that inspired them the most, which you might want to use, too!

What to grill now?

There was plenty of grilling at the Green City Market Chef BBQ. | Sun-Times Staff
There was plenty of grilling at the Green City Market Chef BBQ. | Sun-Times Staff

Asked what seasonal produce you should be grilling before summer is over, many chefs enthusiastically suggested eggplant, corn, zucchini and squash.

“Right now, I’m obsessed with tropea onions which kind of look like shallots but are more overgrown. It has a natural sweetness, that we’ve pickled (but you can grill or use raw) from Nichols Farm,” said Executive Chef Nick LaCasse from Half Acre Beer Company.

Clever Rabbit, a veggie focused restaurant in Wicker Park, served up grilled beans tossed with sesame, rock shrimp and cherries over sticky rice and vinaigrette. Executive Chef Spencer Blake says he’s inspired by all of the varieties of tomatoes and stone fruit that can be served raw, cooked or preserved.

Three must-have items

Ji Suk Yi talks with Chef Ian Davis of Band of Bohemia about the Chef BBQ event. | Sun-TImes Staff
Ji Suk Yi talks with Chef Ian Davis of Band of Bohemia about the Chef BBQ event. | Sun-TImes Staff

The chefs all seemed to agree a great pair of tongs, of varying lengths and models. Also key and often overlooked was an excellent grill brush for cleaning. Most seemed to agree that charcoal was the way to go – the wood variety, not the briquettes.

Rick Gresh, national culinary director for AceBounce, said, “When you say BBQ, it sends your brain into two different worlds — old, low, slow smoke bbq or grilling. If you’re going with slow smoke, you need a great thermometer…. a basting brush and tongs.”

Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman, of Sepia and Proxi restaurants, said, “One of the things that is super key is you’ve got to clean your grill, get it hot, rub it with a little bit of oil on a paper towel to season it, otherwise your food will stick.”

“If you’re grilling a fish fillet, get the grill clean, get it really hot… then brush a thin layer of mayonnaise on the grill and your fish will not stick,” Zimmerman said. His mayonnaise of choice is the cult favorite Japanese “Kewpie” brand.

Ji talks to Chef Nick LaCasse from Half Acre Beer Company. | Sun-TImes Staff
Ji talks to Chef Nick LaCasse from Half Acre Beer Company. | Sun-TImes Staff

In the summer heat, you might not even have to fire up the grill for too long or at all.

Chef Joe Flamm of Spiaggia said to have a lot of prepared dishes ready to go and grill only one or two items so you can enjoy the party. Another way to not get overwhelmed is to have all your ingredients needed for grilling ready to go.

“The benefit of going to the Green City Market in general and summer, it isn’t so much about cooking but just eating it as it comes out of the ground,” said Manion.

Manion said the key to cooking success is often sticking to the adage that “simpler is better.”

He recommends that cooks should use a good salt — like Maldon or French (fleur de sel) salt — and to “leave it alone.”

“Hard wood charcoal – forget about the briquettes, natural hard wood charcoal… I prefer to cook over oak because it has a neutral flavor,” said Manion. “FInish with a good olive oil. Leave it alone. Let things be.”

The most unique answer to the question of what’s essential to successful summer cooking:

“Some degree of a home made hot sauce – whether it’s pickled chiles or an actual hot sauce,” said LaCasse. “It’s great to season things (and it adds) some acidity, some sweetness, some heat.”

Oh, yeah, how could I forget – the chefs mentioned that a cold beer or cocktail is also essential. Perhaps more for the cook than for the recipe.

Green City Market’s Lincoln Park location is open May through October, every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. They also have outdoor locations in the West Loop and at Gallagher Way adjacent to Wrigley Field. The market moves indoors from November to April at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

Try this recipe!

One of the many delicious dishes being served at the Chef BBQ included the Smoke Potato Salad from Chef Leonard Hollander at Arbor Restaurant. You can print and download it here.

The smoked potato salad by Arbor Restaurant. | Sun-Times Staff.
The smoked potato salad by Arbor Restaurant. | Sun-Times Staff.

Smoked Potato Salad

Figwood Smoked Norland Potatoes


3 lbs. Norland red potatoes

Salted water

Figwood or other fruit wood chips


  • In a medium sized pan cover potatoes with cool water, add 2-3 tbsps. Salt. Place on medium high heat and bring to a simmer until potatoes are fork tender, drain water and set aside to cool.
  • Place thin layer of foil on the bottom of a large pot. Add 1 ½ cups of smoking chips on top of foil. Caution: open windows and turn on oven fan during smoking process.
  • Arrange potatoes in a metal steamer insert basket. Place basket atop chips, cover tight with a lid. Turn heat to medium high, as soon as smoke starts, reduce heat to low. Allow potatoes to sit in the smoke for 10-15 minutes. Remove and cool for later use.

Black Garlic Aioli


1 egg yolk

4 cloves black garlic

⅔ cup olive oil, extra virgin preferred

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. sherry vinegar


  • In a mortar dish mash black garlic and salt together with pestle. Add egg yolk and mix thoroughly.
  • While vigorously mixing, have someone slowly stream in the oil, continuing until mixture thickens into a rich velvety spread.
  • Mix in sherry vinegar and adjust salt to taste.
Arbor Chef Leonard Hollander put the finishing touches on his smoked potato salad dish. | Sun-Times Staff
Arbor Chef Leonard Hollander put the finishing touches on his smoked potato salad dish. | Sun-Times Staff

Summer Vegetable Giardiniera


½ cup small diced of each following vegetables

30 pole beans

2 medium carrots

2 medium zucchinis

3 Peppers- (you can use any kind of peppers except spicy ones)

1 fennel bulb

1 jalapeno pepper

3 shallots

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsps. sugar

2 tbsps. salt


½ cup red wine vinegar

2 tbsps. fresh oregano, chopped

½ cup olive oil

2 tbsps. chili flakes

2 tbsps. grainy mustard


  • Combine all vegetables in a container. Sprinkle with salt and sugar, toss to combine. Cover with water and allow to sit in refrigerator 6-12 hours (overnight). Strain water next day to prepare for next step.
  • In a separate bowl combine mix olive oil, vinegar, chili flakes, oregano and mustard. Pour over vegetables and mix thoroughly. Can be used immediately if desired. However, ideally it’s best to let stand for day (can prepare up to a week in advance). If preparing enough to reuse, stir giardiniera with every use to keep even distribution of oil, vinegar and spices.
  • Cut cooled potatoes in half, season lightly with salt.
  • Place 1 tbsp. of aioli in the bottom of medium bowl. Add potatoes and top with several teaspoons of giardiniera. For a pop of panache sprinkle with fresh herbs.


This has been a special edition of “Food We Love” featuring Sun-Times program host Ji Suk Yi who is filling in while Linda Yu is off.

I’m really easy to find on social media. I hope you’ll follow me for updates & beautiful photos and much more.
I’m really easy to find on social media. I hope you’ll follow me for updates & beautiful photos and much more.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this segment of “Food We Love” with special guest host Ji Suk Yi. We hope you’ll watch and share our other Food We Love segments, too. Each one has a great story plus recipes for you to try at home.

You can also check out Ji Suk Yi’s Sun-Times video series called “The Grid.” Each week, Ji visits a different Chicago neighborhood to find the best places to eat, drink, shop and much more. Watch the Grid videos, read the comprehensive articles then go explore this great city!

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