The snow has melted, the rain has stopped, and the sun is finally out. This means it’s time for the barbecue to be cleaned and prepped for a busy season of grilling.

Who doesn’t love the smell of burning coals, meat searing on the grills and charcoaled veggies. Hardcore grillers will know that barbecue season is year-round. But for those who choose to keep the lid on it until June, now is the time to get your tongues at the ready. It’s grilling season.

We spoke with Pat LaFrieda, meat purveyor and butcher, about how he spots the good from the ugly, the biggest barbecue mistakes he’s seen, and how grilling brings the family together.

When you speak with Pat LaFrieda, you immediately get to the heart of the matter: meat. What is his favorite cut to grill in the summer? Growing up LaFrieda, it’s no wonder he’s tried just about everything on the grill. Burgers with different meat blends are a staple at the LaFrieda household, but his favorite cut to grill is the outside skirt steak because of its incredible flavor and tenderness.

Picking the best meat

According to this meat purveyor, the first thing to look for — or rather smell for — is odor. If it smells bad, it’s bad. Meat of any variety has almost no odor when it’s fresh, so if it smells funny, chances are it’s gone bad.

The next trick to picking out the best meat is looking for the government’s seal of approval, or the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) inspection seal on the package at the store. If USDA products aren’t available, get to know a trusted neighborhood butcher. A butcher should always have a clean white coat, imperative on clean. And make sure you’re buying domestic. We have some of the best growers and meats in the world right here.

“Good times are always had at a family barbecue.”

Safety first

Before anything actually goes on the barbecue, the most important thing to do is to empty your drip tray. Doing it immediately after every cooking session is the best way to ensure you’ll never forget about it. But if you prefer to leave it, remember to always empty and clean it before you start cooking. Too many people have forgotten to empty the drip tray, which results in grease fires that will not only ruin dinner, but are quite dangerous as well.

Bringing families together

Maybe you haven’t heard the saying, “Barbecue brings families together.” But it’s true. Haven’t you ever noticed that the moment you light up the coals, the kids come out of their room and everyone gathers around the table? It’s because everyone loves a good barbecue. And even at the LaFrieda household, the best part of any barbecue is how the entire family gathers together.

Making everything better

Whether it’s just a Sunday night dinner as the sun slowly sets, or whether it’s the annual family reunion where everyone comes from the four corners of the United States, good times are always had at a family barbecue.

This summer, go to your local butcher; grab your favorite cut of chicken, beef or veggie burger; grill up a few veggies or a corn on the cob; toss up a salad; and pour the drinks in the plastic cups. Your family’s about to get their grill on.

Are you hungry for barbecue yet? Pat LaFrieda shares a recipe below to help you cook up his favorite kind of meat: outside skirt steak. Get ready for some incredible flavor and tenderness with this recipe for skirt steak pinwheels.

Skirt Steak Pinwheels

This dish was popular with retail butchers in the 1940s and 1950s. Angelo Bonsangue, a butcher who worked with us on Leroy Street, taught me how to make them. I occasionally teach these at cooking classes and people love them. I often grill them at home. This recipe makes 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 outside skirt steaks (1½ pounds each), trimmed of excess fat

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 8 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

  • 4 lemons 

  • 1½ cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

Directions:

1. Lay the skirt steak out on your work surface and season it on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle cheese over the steak, leaving a ½-inch border with no topping. Grate the lemon zest from all 4 lemons directly onto the steak and sprinkle the parsley on top of the lemon zest. Starting at one of the short ends, roll the skirt steak from one end to the other. Tie a butcher’s knot in the center of the roll.

2. Tie two more butcher’s knots in the center of each side. Cut the roll in half along the first knot (remove the string) to form two wheels of equal size.

3. Preheat a grill or a grill pan over high heat.

4. Place the pinwheels cut-side down on the grill or in the pan, and cook them until they’re browned on both sides (about 8 minutes). Serve one pinwheel per person.