Grilling? Don’t hold the mayo!
Mayonnaise is turning out to be grilling’s best friend.
A BARBECUE cookout is when those of us self-professed grill masters and weekend warriors deftly show off our live-fire cooking skills in front of family and friends.
That is, until the grill flares up and those beautiful steaks are reduced to charcoal and we’re peeling them off the grill through a cloud of smoke.
It’s an all-too-common tragedy played out in backyards everywhere. What if there was an easier way?
My challenge was always fish, which would glue itself to the grill whether I oiled the fillets or the grill racks, or both.
Then I noticed chef Michael Cimarusti lightly brush delicate halibut fillets with mayonnaise before grilling.
Yes, mayo – the stuff of cafeteria bologna sandwiches and picnic potato salads. Cimarusti is chef and owner of Providence, No.1 for the last few years on Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants List.
He uses the technique at the restaurant, and when I asked him about it, he explained that the mayonnaise keeps the fish from sticking to the grill. He adds a very thin layer, “so it’s almost not there”.
This isn’t the first I’d heard about cooking with mayonnaise. It’s often touted as the fat of choice, particularly when making a grilled cheese sandwich.
Dave Danhi, founder of the Grilled Cheese Truck, slathers a combination of butter and mayonnaise on the outside of his sandwiches before cooking.
“I’ve done it since the beginning,” said Danhi, formerly chef at fine dining restaurants including the Water Grill, touting the goldenbrown crust it gives the sandwiches.
He argues that the addition of mayonnaise raises the smoking temperature so the sandwiches don’t burn on the griddle.
But what about the grill?
It can take the heat
“This is an area I’m playing a lot more with now. Mayonnaise really works,” said Meathead Goldwyn, founder of the popular website AmazingRibs.com and author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.
“It sticks really well to the food, helps release food from the hot grill surface, and gets a beautiful golden colour.”
Part of the reason mayonnaise works so well is because of its composition.
“Mayonnaise is an emulsion, which means you have small droplets of oil surrounded by egg yolk, and that has a couple of really cool properties,” said Greg Blonder, professor of product design and engineering at Boston University and co-author of Goldwyn’s cookbook.
This emulsion allows the oils in mayonnaise to stick to food, unlike plain oil. Oil and water don’t mix, which is why it’s hard to get the fat to adhere to foods you want to grill.
So as you grill, you’re left with a very limited amount of oil to keep food from sticking.
Also, as the oil runs off, it’s likely to result in flare-ups.
“Mayonnaise acts like little timerelease oil capsules, and you can put it on thick. And the emulsifiers like to stick to the meat,” Blonder said.
Mayonnaise is a great release agent for meat, and is particularly helpful for grilling chicken and fish.
Where oil only heats and browns the food thermally, mayonnaise also browns food chemically – that golden-brown colour – through the Maillard reaction, which requires sugars and proteins to work; as
these are heated, the non-enzymatic reaction produces browning.
“When you just put regular oil on meat, it doesn’t bring these to the table. It only brings fat,” Blonder said.
Mayonnaise may help foods retain moisture as they cook on the grill. “Chicken breasts – they’re the world’s driest food. Mayo is one way to make them moist,” Goldwyn said.
Though he hasn’t formally tested moisture retention yet, Goldwyn said he believes the mayonnaise might help to keep food tender.
“If nothing else, the mayo evaporates under the heat rather than the moisture in the meat,” he said, arguing that the meat won’t dry out.
He compares it to the baste that pitmasters use when cooking tough cuts for long periods over low heat. The baste is what evaporates, rather than the moisture in the meat.
“But the baste drips off and evaporates pretty quickly, so you’re not getting a great deal of benefit,” Goldwyn said.
He said he thinks mayonnaise might give more benefit as a baste. “I haven’t tried it on a pulled pork or, heaven help me, on a brisket. But I’m getting ideas now.”
The mayonnaise mojo
One of the reasons people may be afraid to try mayonnaise is flavour. “They think it will add flavour. But that’s the thing. It doesn’t alter the flavour” of the food, Goldwyn said.
Mayonnaise works well as a vehicle for other flavours. “It’s a white canvas you can flavour with almost anything,” Goldwyn said, including just about anything in your spice rack. “I call it mayo mojo.”
I’ve recently brushed mayonnaise on everything I’ve grilled, from chicken breasts to pork chops, asparagus to mushrooms. When I added a dill-flavoured mayonnaise to salmon, it was as if I was grilling on Teflon, the fish released so easily. I almost felt like I was cheating.
For what it’s worth, allegiance to mayonnaise brands can spark as much debate as politics or religion.
“This country is divided into, not Democrat and Republican, but Hellman’s and Miracle Whip,” Goldwyn said.
Personally, I’m a Best Foods (or Hellman’s, as it’s known in other parts of the country) fan, and haven’t tried grilling using Miracle Whip, though I did use an olive oilbased store brand I found in the back of the fridge when my Best Foods stash ran out last week, and everything grilled up just fine.
I also frequently use Kewpie
– a Japanese mayonnaise, and a favourite of some of my chef friends – on my grilled cheese sandwiches.
Goldwyn recommends mayonnaise for garlic bread on the grill, and slathers a flavoured mayo to add a crust to cooked baking potato slices – “They get crunchy, like those coated French fries.”
I mentioned one of my favourite meals is a steak sprinkled with Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper.
Would mayonnaise work on steak, I asked.
Goldwyn paused to consider. “Well, why not?” he decided.
For the record, I brushed a thin layer on prime rib-eye steaks just the other day. It worked perfectly.
PERFECT GRILLED STEAK
2 thick-cut boneless rib-eye steaks, prime or choice grade
4 to 6 tbsp mayonnaise coarse sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Remove the steaks from the refrigerator and set aside to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Blot the steak on all sides with paper towels to remove excess moisture.
Brush a thin layer of mayonnaise over both sides of the steak. Season each steak on each side with salt, to taste, along with several grinds of black pepper.
Heat a grill over medium-high heat until hot. Add the steaks and grill for about 3 minutes on one side, then rotate the steaks and grill for another 3 to 4 minutes.
Flip the steaks over and repeat, grilling each steak for a few minutes, and then rotating to get good grill marks.
Check the steaks for desired doneness. Remove to a cutting board several minutes to give the meat time to rest.
Slice and serve.
GRILLED SALMON WITH DILL
4 salmon fillets
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill salt and freshly ground black pepper lemon wedges, for serving
Pat the salmon fillets dry to remove all excess moisture.
Make a dill spread: In a bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, dill, a generous 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste, and several grinds of black pepper.
Brush the spread over the salmon fillets on all sides.
Heat a grill over medium-high heat until hot.
Place the fillets flesh-side down on the grill. Grill for about 6 minutes on one side, rotating halfway through for good grill marks.
Flip the fish over and continue grilling, skin-side down until the fish is cooked to desired doneness, about 6 minutes more.
Remove the salmon steaks to a platter and serve garnished with lemon wedges and a side dish of grilled or roasted potatoes, or mash. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service
A bit of mayo brushed on salmon before it goes on the grill makes it seems as if you are grilling on Teflon – the fish releases so easily. — DIDRIKS/VisualHunt (Right) Mayonnaise sticks to food, helps release food from the hot grill surface, and helps food gets beautifully browned. — JULES:STONESOUP/VisualHunt
Rib-eye steaks brushed with mayonnaise and seasoned with salt and pepper, to be served with grilled potato brushed with mayonnaise and seasoned with parmesan, garlic and rosemary. — TNS