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Get Great Grill Marks With These 5 Food Styling Tips

Get Great Grill Marks With These 5 Food Styling Tips

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The season of grilling is upon us! Summer essentially mandates cooking outdoors, but sometimes the stick of a bad grill can ruin a good cook-out. Getting great grill marks on your food is the sign of a grill master, but sometimes that can be difficult to attain, even as the most seasoned griller. Enter, the magic of a Food Stylist: trained to make food look pretty and most accurately reflect the recipe to readers. Making sear marks and grilling food for photo shoots is actually a little more involved than you might think, but with these styling tips, you can fool everyone into believing your master status!

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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I remember one specific shoot we were working on—grilled okra on a skewer—and since the okra were cut into different sizes, it made more sense to grill them individually instead of actually on the skewer to get great marks. After they were grilled, they were threaded onto skewers for the photo. It just made more sense to have consistent marks over staying true to the procedure. I developed these next few tips from that experience in grilling okra and have tested them against many types of vegetables and proteins, even citrus! It's all about high temperature, proper oiling, and sometimes, all it takes is a little styling.

Achieve High TemperaturesWhether it be on a grill pan on the stove or an outdoor standing grill, it is important to keep your grill grates super hot, but not to the point of scorching. You want to make sure you achieve the balance of cooking your food while it makes marks, which can be a daunting task. This is especially true when a grill can achieve higher temperatures, even if your stove is locked in on a specific level. A fire under a grill can also fluctuate, so it is important to listen to the way your grill is operating. If you are finding marks before your food is completely cooked, gently turn down your stove or move your food away from the direct heat source. Gradual changes in heat are more reliable than cutting off heat all together. Grilling takes time and patience, master!

Essential OilingI have found that the best way to oil up grill grates is to first make sure they are clean. Before you turn on the grill, make sure that you have scrubbed as many remnants from your last grilling session as much as possible. Don't stress— oftentimes when you get your grill hot, it is easier to scrape away any grime. I have used kosher salt on my cast iron grill pan before, heated it up for about 20 minutes, and then used a thick-bristled brush to get rid of any buildup.

After you have a clean grill (as much as it can be cleaned), oil the grates with a brush or a simple paper towel. Dip clean paper towels into canola oil and wipe the grill until evenly coated. If your grill is too hot at this point, grab the towel with a pair of long tongs and apply. I would rather use canola oil over olive or coconut oil simply due to the expense. When you grill food, it doesn't absorb much fat from the oiling. It is to simply prevent your food from sticking. Grilling is perfectly suited for the lowly canola oil, so don't be afraid!

Press to SuccessGrilling proteins such as beef or chicken can be a challenge due to their uneven surfaces. I chose a flank steak to demonstrate- if you can tell in the photo below, the markings are more pronounced near the right side where the meat is thicker. In order to prevent this from cooking the rest of the flank, I placed a medium sheet pan directly on top of the meat and a few heavy objects on top to weigh it down. This allowed the surface to brown while the actual meat cooked, avoiding the boring lighter brown surface you might get in a simple sear. Sometimes vegetables need a little help, too, even if their surfaces are fairly even. Pressing the food into the grill will help create marks, just make sure you've properly oiled the grates.

Great GrillsWorking out of an apartment, I am subjected to using the supremely underrated grill pan. Luckily, I have the same pan we use in the studio—the delightful Lodge Pro Reversible Grill/Griddle. The grates have enough height to create excellent markings, and the cast iron can get super hot to cook food quickly and evenly. My apartment's smoke detector doesn't really appreciate my indoor cook-outs, so if I were to opt for outside grilling, I would choose a charcoal grill over gas. You can build your fire this way, creating heat zones in order to better control the way your food cooks.

Do you have any tips I may have missed? Comment below with your ideas. We'd love to share them. Onwards and upwards to great grilling!

Keep Reading:

How to Make Perfect Salmon Burgers, Plus 5 Tasty Ways to Top Them

Burgers may be the most riffed-on food in the American canon, but let’s face it, the beef patty has limitations. Bacon, barbecue sauce, and blue cheese are a beef burger’s best buds, assertive enough to stand up to the taste of medium-rare chuck, but switch a burger’s central protein to something more refined—salmon, say—and a whole bunch of slathering possibilities present themselves. Lighter, healthier, and more delicate salmon burgers are no shrinking violets, but they are especially perfect for spring and summer. Salmon also happens to be one of the best fish to grill.

Here, then, is a base recipe for fantastic salmon burgers—flavorful, juicy, and substantial—followed by five tasty options for dressing them: mango, tomato, and onion salsa soy rémoulade roasted garlic aioli jalapeño tartar sauce and tzatziki. Go ahead and take your plate outside. Eating al fresco makes these taste even better. A glass of wine doesn’t hurt, either.

11 Ways Advertisers Make Food Look Delicious

Advertised foods rarely look exactly like the real food they’re selling. In fact, a number of sites around the web have pointed out just how false food advertising can be. The truth is, the delicious-looking culinary concoctions we see in print ads and television commercials would be anything but appetizing if they were on your plate. Many times it wouldn’t even be fair to identify them as food. They’re more like a terrifying Frankenstein-like type of quasi sustenance commonly made up of a partially cooked food and a carefully created combination of interesting additives. For example.

1. Glue

Real milk tends to make breakfast cereal soggy and rather unappetizing in pretty short order. You know what doesn’t do that? White glue. Yogurt or shampoo have also been known to do the trick.

2. Sponges, Cotton Balls & Tampons

It’s important for hot foods to look hot. The way to do that is to show steam billowing off. Instead of stopping every few shots to nuke the staged food, photographers will often soak one of these items in water, microwave it, and skillfully hide it in the shot.

3. A Blow Torch, a Branding Iron & Some Shoe Polish

Most of the time, meat products aren’t actually cooked because cooking can cause them to shrink and dry out. So items like steak and hamburgers are carefully seared with a blowtorch. Afterwards, grill marks are added with a branding iron and, as a finishing touch, some shoe polish or varnish may be applied to provide a nice, succulent color.

4. Cardboard & Toothpicks

Even if you could get past the taste of the leather shoe polish described above, a photography-ready hamburger would be unpleasant to deal with, as they are typically loaded with sheets of cardboard for support and toothpicks or pins that have been strategically placed to keep lettuce, onion, and the rest of the package in their specifically staged place.

5. Motor Oil & Some Fabric Protector

A nice big stack of flapjacks can be a thing of beauty. The only problem is those breakfast staples are quite porous – so the syrup just seeps right in. Photographers solve that issue by coating them with a healthy layer of aerosol fabric protector. And, because maple syrup doesn’t always look great on camera, they might turn to motor oil as a stand-in.

6. Hairspray & Spray-On Deodorant

That ripe, delicious bunch of grapes you see in that ad have that matte look to them because they’re coated in a healthy amount of one of these grocery store spray can staples.

7. Glycerin

If a product is cold or icy, you can bet the version in the TV commercial is covered in glycerin. The substance is used as a sort of catch-all on food shoots to provide gloss and sheen, or give the appearance of moisture on everything from a beer bottle to the leaves of a salad.

8. Paper Towels

If you’ve ever drizzled a bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, only to watch all of the delicious topping slide and fall off the ice cream, you'll understand this trick. Photographers cut out little amorphous pieces of paper towel, lay them over the top of the ice cream, then cover the paper towel with the syrup. Apparently it does a bang up job holding the syrup in place.

9. The Food That Makes Other Foods Look Good

The MVP of the food staging world is the mashed potato. Whipped spuds are used for all sorts of aesthetic purposes. They’re loaded into syringes and then injected straight into meat to plump up specific parts of a turkey or roast. They’re dyed different colors and used to play the role of ice cream. And they’re baked into pies to provide a sturdy interior that won’t fall to pieces when a slice is taken out.

10. Antacid & Soap Bubbles

Soda doesn’t look so crisp and refreshing without an overabundance of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning and bubbling. Dish soap can be used for creating larger surface bubbles.

11. Tweezers

How specific do the details of food photography get? It’s not uncommon for a hamburger bun to be methodically covered with sesame seeds by a person with tweezers, glue, and an incredible amount of patience. Tweezers are also useful in assembling Asian and Italian noodle-based dishes - with the placement, shape, and curvature of each noodle being dissected, assessed, and set carefully in place. Just like you do it at home, right?

9. Create Fake Drinks to Keep the Budget Low

Chances are high that when you see a glass of white or red wine in a food editorial, it’s not actual wine in there.

Purchasing real wine adds unnecessary expenses to a food styling budget. And there is an easy and cheap way to fake it.

There are problems with shooting the real thing, too. For example, red wine often shoots too dark. So food stylists often mix a few drops of red food colouring into the water as a substitute.

As for white wine, a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet can make a convincing chardonnay.

Kitchen Bouquet is used for browning and seasoning meat. It is a liquid product composed of caramel colour and seasonings. It is an American product, but most countries have an equivalent. If you can’t find such a product, soy sauce also works very well.

Add it to the water drop by drop until you get a realistic shade. A little goes a long way.

When styling coffee or tea, you may want to show steam coming off the top of the beverage. You can do this in Photoshop. But it’s easier to create the look of steam in-camera.

The important thing to know is that you can only create this effect when using backgrounds that are on the darker side. Otherwise, the steam won’t show.

Put a smaller cup or dish behind your subject. You will have to position your camera so it doesn’t show. This means you have to be shooting your scene straight on.

Boil some water in a kettle and when your camera is set up and ready to go, pour the boiling water into the cup behind your coffee or tea and take the picture.

My setup

The answer, as with anything photographic, begins with light. Remember the word photograph comes from Greek words meaning light (photo) and drawing (graph). Below is a description of my setup and gear.

Alas, they never taught me studio lighting when I was getting my Master of Arts degree, so I had to teach myself. Books came in handy, and some of my faves are on this page below. I promptly figured out that any light from the built-in flash is just plain awful. Horrible. The worst.

The biggest problems are light placement and color balance. Strobes are the industry standard because they pump out a lot of perfectly balanced light and they don’t melt chocolate and ice cream. The problem with stobes is that it is really hard to visualize what the light will look like. Poof and the light is gone. Continuous light bulbs are so much easier to work with, but incandescents get too hot and are too yellow.

At first I chose not to invest in big studio strobes and used small portable strobes that I could also use in the field. Since I’ve used Nikon single lens reflex (SLR) cameras for 30 years, when Nikon introduced its SB-800 strobes, I went out an bought three immediately. These are amazing devices that can be fired wireless from their high end digital cameras. But they were still tricky to use in the studio to get exactly the right light (I laughingly call my basement my studio). I have since added one of the newer model, an SB-900.

In 2008 Scott Kelby turned his readers on to the Westcott Spiderlite 5. It has changed my life. The reason: It uses special Compact Fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs that are beautifully balanced at 5500 kelvin (that’s the color of the light) and exude an elegant soft light that wraps around the food and caresses it lovingly. No more guessing what the light will look like. It’s WYSIWYG.

Nowadays my main camera is a Nikon digital single lens reflex (SLR). I often attach the camera to a computer with a USB cable and download immediately in order to view the image on a real monitor. That’s a lot better than viewing the image on the camera back. When I’ve got what I want, I eat the model.

For shooting in my kitchen or dining room, on my grill deck, on location, or on road trips, I typically use my camera with a Nikon flash fitted with a pocket size softbox. I can hold the flash in my left hand and shoot with my right. Or I can set it on a table and walk away. It talks to the camera without wires. Great light, quick and easy.

Make ahead vegetable hors d’oeuvres

At my Whole Foods, they have a salad bar with a grilled veggie platter that always catches my eye.

My mouth waters as I walk by. While it was beautiful and very appetizing it wouldn’t be difficult to make. I experimented with it for my guy’s birthday dinner (way back in March) and it was a hit (from my perspective as the cook and for our guests)!

The seasoning mix is easy and delicious. You can absolutely use your own or just salt and pepper (though I’d encourage adding dried thyme)!

The best part is that you can use whatever vegetables you like or have on hand. Make ahead vegetable hors d’oeuvres is very adaptable!

Grilled apricots and blackberries with ginger nut biscuits and cream

Yotam Ottolenghi’s grilled apricots and blackberries with ginger nut biscuits and cream: chuck another berry on the barbie. Photograph: Louise Hagger for the Guardian

I love roasting fruit on the barbecue, but it’s not always practical, especially when that fruit is juicy and you don’t want to lose those juices to the coals. My solution is to cook fruit in a small oven tray on top the grill. (Of course, if you’re using a griddle pan on the stove top, you can just grill the fruit directly on it.) I like to serve these in individual dessert glasses, but any bowl or glass will do. You probably won’t use up all the bay sugar: keep any leftovers in a jar for sprinkling on fruit salads or yoghurt. Serves six.

1½ tbsp mild olive oil
1 lemon, finely shave off the peel in 5 long strips, then juice, to get 1 tbsp
70g caster sugar
3 apricots, pitted and quartered
8 fresh bay leaves, 4 left whole, the rest finely blitzed or very finely chopped
300ml double cream
Seeds scraped from ½ vanilla pod
180g Greek-style yoghurt
150g blackberries
4 ginger nut biscuits, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice and two tablespoons of sugar. Add the apricots, lemon peel and the whole bay leaves, and leave to infuse for at least 30 minutes.

Put the cream, vanilla seeds and two tablespoons of sugar in the bowl of a freestanding mixer with the whisk attachment in place (or large bowl, if using a hand-held whisk). Whisk on a high speed for one to two minutes until firm. Detach the bowl from the machine and gently fold in the yoghurt, keeping as much air in the mix as possible, then refrigerate.

In a small bowl, mix the blitzed bay leaves with two teaspoons of sugar, and set aside.

Put a small ovenproof tray on a hot barbecue to heat up. Once hot, tip the contents of the apricot bowl on to the tray and roast for about six minutes, turning the fruit once. Add the blackberries to the tray, mixing them in with the apricots, and cook for about four minutes more, until the blackberries begin to soften and turn syrupy and the apricots are completely soft. Leave to cool.

Spoon the yoghurt cream into six dessert glasses and sprinkle over half the chopped ginger nuts. Top with the apricots and blackberries, and finish with the remaining biscuits and a sprinkling of bay sugar.

What’s the Best Way to Cook a Steak?

ANATOMY OF A RIBEYE When buying a steak, look for a nice rosy color and even marbling. When cooking one, you want an evenly brown and crispy crust on the exterior, and a juicy, tender texture within.

ANYONE WHO has ever lifted a skillet has an opinion on the wildly subjective matter of the best way to cook a steak. Some swear by the charcoal grill. Some geek out over their sous-vide setup. While chefs and home cooks alike love their techniques and gadgets, we thought the best people to ask are those who truly know meat. Enter our panel of butchers, five steak-savvy pros who assure us success lies in four easy steps—Nathan Abeyta from Deep Cuts, Dallas Theotis Cason from Cason’s Fine Meats, Portland, Ore. Nicholas Ponte and Sarah Welch from Marrow, Detroit and Orlando Sanchez from Butcher Bar, New York City.

Step One: It Starts With the Meat

“The meat makes the meal!” according to Mr. Cason. Scoring the best cuts starts with striking up a conversation with your butcher. “Let us know if you want a fancy steak or an everyday steak. Ask our opinion,” Mr. Ponte advised. “Once we understand what you are looking for, we might go beyond what’s in the case and offer something extra special.” Be sure to share your personal tastes. Ms. Welch always asks customers, “Do you like lean cuts or fatty cuts? Grass-fed or grain-finished? These conversations are important in finding the best steak for you.” Smart shoppers should seek freshly cut meat with a deep rosy color and check for even marbling throughout fattier cuts.

Another great reason to talk to your butcher: They often share cooking tips, noting that some cuts are more foolproof than others. “I find that a steak that’s at least 1¼ to 1½ inches thick tends to be more forgiving when you cook it,” Mr. Abeyta said. Ms. Welch singles out tenderloin as a “low-risk” cut, while Mr. Cason points to skirt steak as particularly salvageable. “It cooks quick and easy, and if you overcook it you can cut it up and put it on a salad or use it in a stir-fry.”

Step Two: Choose Your Fat and Gather Your Tools

For ingredients, all you need in addition to meat are salt, pepper and cooking fat. Ms. Welch advocates for cooking steak in beef tallow. “Its high smoke point allows it to conduct heat very well,” she said. Otherwise, the butchers recommend light oils such as avocado, canola or extra-light olive oil. Avoid regular olive oil as it burns on high heat and can add a bitter flavor to the meat.

Mr. Sanchez is a staunch endorser of obtaining and using an instant-read meat thermometer. “It really helps, especially for amateur cooks, to get the meat to the temperature you are seeking,” he said.

How to Grill Chicken Like a Pro

If you asked me, truthfully, how I grill chicken, I would say, “I hand it to my husband, and it comes back grilled.” This is not because I am incapable of grilling chicken. I did it successfully for decades before I met my own personal grillmaster. But in the ten years we have been together I have handed over all grilling duties to a man who genuinely loves to grill just about everything and anything and will happily do it in weather from 25 degrees to 105 degrees.

I was a good griller in my own right before I met my husband, albeit one who worked exclusively on a gas grill. He is partial to charcoal, often with a bit of wood thrown in for smoke. This is fancier than I ever got with my own grilling. But he also taught me some tips and tricks that if I were ever faced with a need to grill without him, I would absolutely employ, especially when it comes to chicken.

WATCH: How to Make Grilled Lemon-Rosemary Chicken & Leeks

Chicken on the grill is a complex thing. Different pieces cook at different rates. Bone-in versus boneless brings more variables to the party. The skin really wants to burn before the meat is fully cooked, and it can go from perfectly cooked and juicy to a stringy leathery bit of chicken jerky in no time at all. But a well-grilled piece of chicken is a thing of culinary delight, and so, I am here to assist you in achieving that with some confidence.

Keep the Skin On

First off, please, if you can, try to avoid grilling skinless chicken. The health-conscious may of course choose to remove the skin before eating if they prefer, but the skin provides much needed self-basting of the bird and prevents sticking. The caloric difference between chicken cooked with the skin on and then removed is no different than if you remove the skin before cooking.

Salt Your Chicken

Salting chicken parts at least two hours or up to a day before cooking can help both season the meat and keep it moist. I am personally not a fan of a wet brine, as I find it makes the meat watery, and the skin flabby.

Use a Thermometer

The two things that are musts for cooking any piece of chicken on the grill are an instant-read meat thermometer and a willingness to rest the cooked chicken after grilling. You want your chicken to be 160 degrees internally for white meat and 170 for dark when you remove it from the heat, and then you must tent it with foil and rest it for 10 minutes for boneless pieces, 15 for small bone-in pieces, 20 for large bone-in pieces and 25 for whole chickens. This resting period both finishes the cooking, bringing them up to proper safe temperature for eating, and redistributes the juices so that they don’t all leak out and make your chicken eat dry.

If you are cooking whole chickens, I recommend spatchcocking, both for ease of flipping, and a more consistent cooking time. This recipe for Korean Barbecue Spatchcock Chicken

is a great one for this style. There’s also the ever-popular beer-can chicken.

Bone-In or Boneless?

Basically, you have two methods for chicken on the grill: one for boneless, one for bone-in. The bones, which can help keep chicken moist, require longer cooking times so your methodology is different. But in both cases, you want to have two temperature zones in your grill. A hot zone over direct gas flame or coals, and a cooler side with no fire. This allows you to better control the cooking times and ensure that the meat cooks through without burning the outside.

The BEST Grilled Pork Chops

I admit it… I LOVE to grill! Well, my husband and I love to grill. We are a team really. I work on creating amazing marinades for our meat and veggies and he is the grill master. It’s a perfect partnership. From the minute the weather starts to warm up we fire-up the grill and it’s hard at work until the first snow flies. I have been known to grill some fabulous steaks standing in a snow storm a few years back. We don’t prescribe to the Memorial Day to Labor Day idea, that’s for the birds! Any day that you don’t have to completely bundle up in a parka is fair game in my book.

This week has finally started to warm up and of course we busted out the grill and had one of our favorite dinners, grilled pork chops with a fresh green salad. My secret to these pork chops is an amazing marinade. This one is super simple with only a handful of ingredients, namely… olive oil, white wine, garlic, dried oregano, dried basil, bay leaf, salt & pepper. That’s it!

To start, I grab a nice head of garlic, olive oil & white wine.

Now, I ‘m not a wine drinker so, I don’t really know to much about wine. What I typically do is find a lower to average priced wine for this purpose. Under $10 a bottle for sure. My rule of thumb is white wine for pork, chicken & fish. Red wine for beef. I really like Tyler Florence’s California Crush wines for this marinade, you can find it at Target. Here is the marinade recipe…

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