Summertime is finally here and we’re all eager to get out of the house for some much needed time with our close friends and family.

Smelling burgers grilling a few houses over or your neighbor’s “famous” ribs is always the best subtle reminder that it’s grilling season.

As neighbors start grilling and throwing out invites to the next pool party, it’s only right to feel relieved for some normality coming over the horizon. Dad’s regular grill go-to might be a fine handmade burger, braised beer brat or barbecue chicken but not every household has a grill master. That’s why I’m excited to introduce these recipes so you can test out some different delights with your family or surprise your friends at your next get-together.

With Americans starting their summers under differing restrictions it seems not everyone is quite ready to come out of hibernation just yet. Some welcome the additional down time to garden and appreciate some home-grown produce, while others anxiously wait to get out the house for much-needed escape. Escape doesn’t have to be from just your house or family – it could be from your routine.

When your normal day turns into ordering take out and wearing the same sweats, it doesn’t take much. These recipes could help your family escape your quarantine routine and start your summer on the grill with a twist.

For those of us who have been burned out on fast food and takeout or have experienced the “Quarantine 15” a little too closely — I have something for you. Maybe the veggies have been a little absent from the grill and it’s never too late for that to change. I have a light vegetarian option that will be sure to make those picky eaters think again.

My Grilled Stuffed Portobello with Pesto and Goat Cheese can be eaten as an entrée, side dish or turned into a sandwich with some fresh mozzarella and tomato on crusty Ciabatta bread. The appetizer version of this could be baked in the oven with splash of dry white wine in the pan. There are lots of flavor profiles in one little bite.

For those of us with a taste for charred beef, my Bulgogi Beef Pine­apple and Pepper Kabobs would be a little more up your alley.

Made with sirloin, sweet pineapple and veggies, it’s sure to bring some fusion flavors to your grill. Now you might be saying right about now “but what if there isn’t any sirloin at the grocery for me to cube for kabobs?” Well, that might happen, so let’s try a recipe with a less popular cut of meat.

One of my favorite sandwiches to grill is Harissa Chicken Sandwich with Cool Yogurt Sauce. Harissa sauce is a spicy red pepper sauce that we’re going to use to marinate our chicken. This recipe is derived from parts of Northern African and Morocco. It has some sweet heat but is very savory and juicy since it is dark meat.

Summer is the time to escape to the grill. Kabob this, Kabob that. Here’s a kabob that will make them come back for seconds.

Bulgogi Beef Pineapple and Pepper Kabobs

Bulgogi Sauce

¾ cup soy sauce (low sodium if you prefer)

¾ cup brown sugar (lite)

5 garlic cloves crushed (fresh)

¼ finely grated ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

¾ fresh pear juice (pulp included, fine puree is best. Bartlett without the skin)

2 green onions (finely sliced)

Combine the soy, pear juice and sugar in a saucepan on low heat. Once the sugar dissolves, cut the heat and combine the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly. Yields 2 cups.

The kabobs

Now that our sauce is made you will need the following ingredients.

24 ounces of sirloin steak cut into 1.5-inch cubes

2 bell peppers (I like a red and orange bell for contrast), cut into 1.5-inch cubes

1 medium white onion, cut into 1.5-inch cubes

Half of a whole sweet pineapple, cut into 1.5-inch cubes

Toasted sesame seeds to taste

Scallions 2 each


Metal skewers are preferred for this recipe. If you have wooden skewers you’ll need to presoak them.

Cube the meat and combine it in half of the bulgogi sauce. Let it marinate for 30 minutes to an hour.

Once marinated combine the beef, onion, pepper and pineapple on the skewers in your preferred order. Preheat the grill. Grabs your tongs, remaining bulgogi sauce and favorite basting brush.

Grill the kabobs to your desired doneness, roughly seven to 10 minutes for medium-well.

Let the kabobs rest. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallion. Great over rice or a spring salad.

Harissa Chicken Sandwich with Cool Yogurt Sauce

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 hamburger buns (brioche works great)

2 whole roasted red bell peppers (store bought or roasted on the fresno chilies (fewer chilies if you’re not wanting the full heat)

2 bird’s eye chilies

5 cloves of fresh garlic (peeled)

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon cumin

1 shallot (peeled)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

Your favorite burger toppings (lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion, cheese, etc.)

For the Cool Yogurt Sauce

½ cup Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped

Pinch of salt and pepper

Let’s start with the Harissa Marinade.

Clean the roasted red peppers and dice into small pieces. Clean the chilies and mince them. Discard the seeds and membrane. (Remember not to touch your face or eyes when dealing with chilies)

Place diced peppers and chilies into blender. Pulse a few times, then add the garlic, lemon juice, salt, coriander, cumin, shallot and olive oil. Blend into a smooth paste.

This marinade is ready to be tossed onto our boneless chicken thighs. Spoon out enough marinade to coat the chicken. Marinate for 30 to 90 minutes. This marinade will last up to a week in the fridge if you top the jar with a little olive oil. While the chicken marinates we can turn our attention to the cool yogurt sauce.

Combine in a clean bowl the yogurt, lemon juice, mint, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for now.

Once the chicken is ready, get the grill screaming hot. Sear the chicken for two minutes, turn it and give it another two minutes. Flip it and cook it for another additional four minutes. After eight minutes, test the temperature of the thickest part of chicken thigh, making sure it reaches 165 degrees. Remove from the grill.

Butter the buns and toast them on the grill. Time to assemble the sandwich. Build the bun with your favorite burger dressing. lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle if you’d prefer. Then top the Harissa Chicken with our cool yogurt sauce.

Grilled Stuffed Portobello with Pesto and Goat Cheese

6 large portobello mushrooms (or with smaller mushrooms for an appetizer)

1 roasted red pepper (Canned but you can use fresh)

6 ounces pesto sauce (house made or your favorite store bought brand)

4 ounces goat cheese

1 ounce balsamic reduction (for garnish)

Fresh sweet basil (chiffonade cut for garnish)

Salt and pepper to taste

Clean mushroom tops with a damp paper towel.

Remove stem of mushroom cap and take a teaspoon to the black gills underneath. Discard the stems and gills.

Sheet the cleaned mushroom caps on a pan and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Heat the grill and prep the filling. You’ll need your pesto, goat cheese and roasted peppers cut into strips.

Sear the stem side of the mushrooms and turn to mark after three minutes.

Flip the mushroom and spoon in 1 ounce of pesto, two crossed pepper strips and crumble the goat cheese. Sear an additional four minutes.

Let rest and garnish with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and fresh basil.

T.C. Jackson is a Sullivan University graduate, member of the American Culinary Federation and former executive chef of Louis­ville Palace. He now is catering chef at Hardin Memorial Hospital for Morrison’s Foodservice. He can be reached at

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