Spatchcocked chicken and grilled green beans. Photos by Michael’s iPhone.

One of my missions in writing about food is to encourage more people to cook for their friends and families. Many, many people tell me, “I want to cook healthy affordable meals for my family, but I’m just so busy.”

So, I did a post on staple meals, since staple meals, the ones you return to on a weekly basis, are defined by ease, speed, goodness of flavor, and economy. (Another of ours is tomato basil pasta—see the iPhone video of a cool tomato water technique.)

The first thing you need to do to make it easy for your busy schedule is to plan! Have a plan.

The above is one of our summer favorites, the same staple meal I posted about before, only on the grill. Especially great on hot nights when you don’t want a pot boiling and the big oven on high.

Upside is great flavor. Two downsides. From the time you start the fire, the meal takes an hour and 15 minutes. The other downside is that you have to tend to the chicken when it’s on, so opportunities for leisurely coupling are more limited than they are with a traditional roast chicken.

I spatchcock the chicken for easier, quicker grilling and freeze the back bone and usually the wing tips. I tie the drumstick ends together for easier flipping. I season it with salt. (This can be done a day ahead; whoever gets home first can start the fire, remove the chicken from the fridge, and uncover it to let it warm up.)

Baked potatoes go into the toaster oven when the fire is started (this is optional, especially if you’re getting a little tubby, but it’s so damn good with chicken; I usually like to split one with Donna but she wanted her own this past week; OK, twist my arm).

Pick the green beans, then toss them with olive oil, salt, and minced garlic or minced shallot. I prefer shallot since I also add it to the chicken baste. Shallots are magic.

When the fire is ready, spread the coals across half the surface as you want to begin the chicken skin side down over direct flames (let the grill itself get good and hot before the chicken goes on it). Grill the bird till the skin side is nicely browned, about 10 minutes. If you get flareups early, which is common, cover the grill. Flip the chicken when browned, cook for 5 minutes, then move it to the cool side of the grill skin side up, and cover it so that it smoke-roasts.

While it’s cooking, I make a baste with the juice of 1 lime, ¾ stick of butter, 1 or 2 tablespoons minced shallot, 1 or 2 tablespoons dry mustard, pepper, and 2 tablespoons dried tarragon. (Use the tomato water method for melting butter into the lime juice if you want to keep the baste homogenized and creamy looking, then add the aromats.)

Baste every 10 minutes or so, saving enough baste to brush one more time just when you take it off. The chicken will take about 45 minutes, total. You can cook the beans over direct heat anytime, for about 10 minutes, till nicely charred and tender. I start them when the bird is almost done, in a covered grill, then finish them uncovered while the bird rests and Donna or I prepare the potatoes. (The mesh basket, which I have on my OpenSky page, makes this terrifically easy—as with asparagus, shrimp, and any other small items that can fall through the grill—but I have done them carefully without one; you just end up losing a few to the fire.)

Serve with ice-cold white wine. Heaven.

Save the bones to make a delicious, complex grilled chicken stock!

I invite you to share one of your summertime staples in the comments. Please note area of country, or country if outside U.S., if it affects the meal choice—I would love to hear from those in Australia and England if you’re reading, what your staple meals are!

Other links you may like:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



40 Wonderful responses to “Summer Staples”

  • Jamie Samons

    I’m a Southerner transplanted to New England, so I keep ginormous jars of pickled shrimp in the fridge. They’re great with couscous, which only requires minimal heat to cook. Big salad, some cheese, a bracing white or pink wine and I’m a happy lady. The leftover picking liquid is great on grilled vegetables or salads, too (bonus meal!).

  • Jenna

    Hi Michael!
    We are big fans of yours over at Butter&Yolk! We first discovered you after buying Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing. When you connected to Facebook, we became fans and enjoy your writing very much. Thanks for your posts!

  • Dean

    Great post and great coincidence! I grill roasted a spatchcocked chicken last night. I served it with a sauce made from basil from the garden pureed with olive oil and a little lemon juice. For the side dish I roasted a whole eggplant and grilled some corn, cut the kernels from the cob and mixed it with the eggplant that I’d scooped out from the skin then seasoned w/S&P, garlic, oil and a dash of siracha. A simple chicken properly seasoned and grilled is a real joy.

  • Doug R

    Sounds great. An alternative to the beans that I like to make, when in season, are big fat pea pods. Very lightly oiled, and aggressively salted

  • Maureen Sanchez

    i’m guessing a spatchcocked chicken is one with the breast bone broken and back removed – splayed and flattened for the grill? We often buy 2 whole young chickens at a time, keep the bits for stock – use the onion, shallot, and garlic that we’re cooking with in the stock – eat one chicken (grilled) that night, save one for sandwiches or salad for later in the week. I love chicken – roasted, grilled, fried – it is so versatile works into a personal cycle menu so well. Whenever I have a 1/2 onion I’m not going to use, or celery stalks that are not perfect – ditto carrots, tops to fennel, etc. I put them in a freezer bag for stock – that way, not matter what stock i’m making, I always have vegees available for it (and aromatics) without stressing out about shopping for the ingredients. I think that’s the piece that stresses most people out — the need to go buy pantry items they don’t have or have never heard of.

    Pesto we make all summer long – usually in double or triple batches — and freeze whatever we don’t use – so that all winter long we have it until the basil starts growing again in the spring. Planning is the key to all of it. Buy a bushel of tomatoes when they’re cheap and gorgeous, cook all sorts of lovely things, freeze or can them. Have them ready for go-to meals.

    We also have different jobs in the kitchen — I’m always manning the camera, I do the sauces and marinades, grow the herbs, do the baking. Hubby is generally sweating it out over the grill.

  • mantonat

    Just bought a couple of whole chickens and was dreading turning on the oven to roast one. Will definitely try grilling outside. The one thing I hate about grilled chicken though is when the fat drips down and flares up and you end up with burned fat soot on the chicken skin. It just doesn’t taste good and makes the chicken look like it’s been in a tire fire. I might just put the chicken in a cast iron pan and put the whole thing on the grill.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      you do have to keep eye on. As soon as it flares cover grill, and only cool over direct heat till nicely seared.

    • DiggingDogFarm

      I use a grill basket over a double bed of coals, double bed meaning if I have a flare-up, I can quickly move the bird over the un-affected coals to avoid it.
      The grill basket makes it easy to flip the bird frequently so it cooks more evenlyy and minimizes flare-ups.


  • Allen

    I have not tried the grilled chicken, I have roasted many in the oven. Will give it a try.
    My go to is brine a pork butt, dry rub, then smoke it and pull for a variety of styles, vinegar like N. Carolina, or tangy BBQ, like KC.
    It’s usually the cheapest cut, lots of fat and feeds plenty. I sometimes make a Cuban pork over rice with lots of lime, cotija, cumin, and cilantro., great with a mojito. And homemade Mexican chorizo cooked with coarse chopped onions as per Rick Bayless for lots of great appetizers, omelet filling, and the drippings make for great roasted corn.

  • Andrew

    I realize for expediency, Donna can’t talk all the photos, but please try to crop feet out of food pictures! Exposed toes do not enhance the visual aesthetic of an otherwise tasty meal. : )

  • KCG

    While I agree with the “dinner staples” idea I don’t think we can minimize the amount of time it takes to eat well and healthy. This is an issue that our local farmer’s market committee has been struggling with – how to get more people to come to the market. I used to think we had to teach more people how to cook, but I’m beginning to think that even that wouldn’t matter without the time to use those skill. We eat three meals a day at home (we work at home) and because I’m diabetic we almost never go out to eat. We have a large vegetable garden where I try to grow all the vegetables we eat – I freeze summer veg for winter use. I added all the time up I spend cooking those three meal, going to a weekly farmer’s market, gardening, etc. I came up with 30 hours! 3+ hours a day. Try asking a single mother with young children to put in that sort of time. Try asking two working professionals who get home at 7pm to do that. We’re on the bleeding edge with our commitment to the best and freshest food we can get, but even if you half my 30 hours, it’s still a lot of time. My point is I don’t think there are easy answers to this problem.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      agreed. people need to THINK about cooking differently

    • mantonat

      Although many dishes and foods do require lots of prep and cooking time, there are also foods that require almost no time to prepare that are very healthy. My breakfast was Fage yogurt with blueberries and almonds. (Fage ingredients: milk and culture). My lunch was salmon on top of a mixed salad. The salmon can be poach in advance in about 15 minutes. My wife and I prepped enough salad veggies for a week’s worth of lunch last night – took about 20 minutes including making a vinaigrette and cleaning up. Dinner tonight is going to be that tasty chicken pictured above (with roasted beets). About 10 minutes prep – I will tend the chicken while watering my veggie garden and feeding my dogs.

      If you say things like “preparing healthy meals for a week takes 30+ hours), you’re just going to scare away people who either don’t like to cook or say they don’t have enough time. There are plenty of occasions where I will spend an entire Saturday doing nothing but cooking, but that’s because I love it. With well-sourced foods, it doesn’t have to be that big a deal.

      Where I agree with both you and Ruhlman is that food preparation (and enjoyment) do not take enough of a central role in American society any more. Eating is an afterthought, and therefore cooking is an afterthought. People who claim to not have enough time still somehow find time to learn how to use iPhones, watch hours of reality TV, get stuck in commuter traffic, etc.

    • Beth

      I AM part of a 2-professional couple that gets home between 6:30 and 8pm every weeknight, and travel a lot on weekends, and I DO spend 20+ hours a week – on actual food prep and cooking, meal planning, sourcing, research and self-education (including reading 100+ food-related RSS feed items a day *sketches a bow to Michael*) I’m not where you are with it, or where I’d like to be, but I’m better than I could be, and vastly better than I have been in the past. That’s what we need to promote, I think… you’re right that there are no easy or one-size-fits-all answers, but meeting people where they are and modeling approaching it with a sense of joy is a start.

    • BJ

      Try to hook up with someone who does have time. Maybe a stay at home mom? Offer to pay them for some frozen veggies or stock or whatever they have. It will save you time and money. Create your own neighborhood Co-op. It can be beneficial for you both. Won’t you be my neighbor? Food breaks the ice, flat out.
      Good Luck!

  • KCG

    Oh, I forgot. For a quick hot weather meal, I make omelets on the grill. The trick is to get the steel omelet pan down into the coals (not on the grill) so it gets really hot. I make a salad while the fire is starting , open a bottle of wine and prep the eggs. Once I’m cooking, I’m done in less than 5 minutes. It still takes a half hour to eat – not including the cleanup.

  • Kasha the FarmGirl

    Green beans on the grill are a little-known piece of summer heaven. I will be sure to add shallots next time!

    Also, I love your foot in the shot. Donna’s pics are drool-worthy, but this just reminds us you’re human. Thanks for a great post, as usual!

  • Carly

    Every summer for the past 3 summers at least, I’ve said I’m going to finally work grilling into my summer routine. I love cooking on a grill, but when the whole process falls on me, I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. Grill’s full of spiders, I forgot to buy more charcoal, it’s been so long since I’ve done it that I end up with a fire not nearly hot enough and by then I’m so hungry I just turn the oven on… It’s kind of pathetic, really!

  • Alison

    What’s with the layout? It’s very difficult to read the post…

  • Maureen

    In hot southern California summers I like to keep it pretty light most nights. Quick veggie sauces and multigrain pasta ( i like the brand that comes in a yellow box and their regular come in blue boxes) Veggies from my patio container garden and Farmers’ Market. Zucchini shredded, garlic, shallot, nutmeg and mint in extra virgin olive oil with penne; Tomatoes, thyme, red onion, garlic in extra virgin olive oil and then toss with farfalle and ricotta; top with parmigiana reggiano. For meat meals: I love grilled sausage and veggies; grilled pizza, too.

    • Carly

      I fall back on cold meals way more than I cook outside! Our a/c is sort of pathetic, so some nights even boiling a pot of water feels like a terrible idea. My favorite hot day dinner is a marinated chickpea salad. I just stick them in a bag for a few hours with minced onion or shallot, balsamic, olive oil, s&p, and herbs (basil, oregano), then when I want to eat, toss them with diced veggies and greens. Especially good with tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and some sort of bitter green. Toss in some feta, too, if it’s on hand. It’s also great stuffed into pitas. Takes no time at all, and I never get tired of it, even when the garden starts burying us in tomatoes and cucumbers.

  • Victoria

    Chicken and green beans is my favorite go-to dinner (unless I’m making Marcella’s butter and onion tomato sauce over rigatoni with two sides: creamed fordhook lima beans and a tart green salad). I usually cook my (small, very small), salted-overnight bird in a rotisserie and then toss the green beans with the chicken fat that drips off the chicken during cooking. That main also gets a tart green salad, and, if I’m insane, homemade French fries. If I’m not insane, mashed sweet potatoes with butter and a little maple syrup.

  • Kathy

    Damn, I love chicken. My husband is allergic to poultry so I don’t get to make it very often, which renders it somewhat exotic and therefore that much better!

    A summer staple meal here (in Austin, TX): lamb chops marinated with smashed garlic cloves, red wine vinegar and olive oil and then grilled medium-rare; some sort of flatbread tossed onto the grill and brushed with garlic butter; and grilled mixed veggies (zucchini, yellow squash, red onions, mushrooms, okra, peppers — whatever is in season — I use a perforated wok-type pan on the grill). The only real prep is marinating the meat and chopping the veggies (and making flatbread dough, if you want to go there) so as long as I plan ahead earlier in the day, I can have it all on the table in 20 minutes.

  • Janet

    Pork Ribs. Placed in a warm oven (300 – 325 F) for 90 minutes with onion, lemon and dark beer, then placed on a hot grill with our homemade BBQ sauce. Round out the meal with corn and a salad. This is summer for me.

  • Jason

    I did a lot of spatchcocked chickens on the grill, but my wife and I usually hit the dark meat so we switched to leg quarters. We parboil potato wedges while the chicken is cooking and grill them while the chicken rests, then serve with a lemon pepper dressing using grilled lemons. We alternate vegetables depending on what is available, but grilled bell pepper and corn salad with baby spinach is awesome.

  • Allen

    That is my truly favorite method for go to meal with my wife.
    You can use parchment paper or foil.

    I like a nice big mound of green beans, sometimes a little diced celery or onion, hallibut, or a nice flakey fish. Add whatever flavors you like; grated ginger, orange zest with a micro plane soy sauce, sambal olek and sesame. Or just a splash of whatever wine you have opened and maybe a little olive oil.
    I made a pair of them this weekend with salmon over green beans, lemon wedges, dill, salt, pepper, olive oil and white wine.
    The trick is to get a good seal and double fold all the edges, easy to do after you do the first one.
    Take the papillotes to the table when they start to puff up and cut open on the plate right at the table, all the flavors and aroma greet you before the first bite.
    12 min cook time and very little effort. Very big in aroma and flavor.

  • Witloof

    Here’s my favorite summer pasta but you have to use the BEST tomatoes you can get at the greenmarket:

    While pasta water is boiling, slice up some cherry tomatoes {Sungold if you can get them} and some garlic and gently sauté in olive oil. Chiffonade some basil and grate some parmesan. When pasta is ready, toss it all together in the sauté pan until the cheese melts.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Spatchcocked has become my way of preparing poultry for grilling and roasting most of the time.

    I don’t remove the backbone or wing tips…they eventually make their way to stock….plus it prevents disturbing the oyster and protects it from drying out.

    I like to pop-out the femur joint from the socket by cutting a slit from inside the bird near the kidney and bending the connection. I also make a hidden cut into the joint between the drumstick and thigh and where the wing meets the body….all that ensures that the bird cooks more evenly and those stubborn areas don’t become a problem.

    I use a basket for the bird, that way I can flip frequently so the bird cooks more evenly and flare-ups are less of a problem. Consequently, I don’t need to bother with indirect heat.


  • Nicholas L. Hall

    Panzanella, without a doubt. Simple, no heat required, and a perfect way to highlight summer’s produce. Essentially a salad of stale bread, it’s endlessly variable. We’ve grilled corn, cut it off the cob, and added it to the salad. Tomatoes are a constant. blanched or very thinly sliced green beans are great. Get creative with the dressing, too. Recently, I added some homemade yuzu kosho to a basic vinnaigrette. It was great.

  • NancyRing

    We love to do “beer can” chicken during the summer. I usually use a tall iced tea can as it provides a little more stability. The can contains herbs from our garden and then whatever liquid seems good that night – beer, iced tea, wine, juice or water with citrus juice.

    Cooking the chicken this way requires almost no tending and there is plenty of room on the grill for potatoes and veggies. Clean up is a breeze!!!

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    I am always afraid that the ambient heat of the barbecue won’t cook the chicken. Also how long does one wait to add more briquettes to the already ashen coals? Does it go by time ie every 45 minutes or by sight which means picking up the humongous hood to look. What say you, Michael?

  • Charlotte

    I reviewed Tamar Adler’s “The Everlasting Meal” for my Bookslut column last year (oh look, in the same essay where I discussed “Twenty”):
    Anyhow, she has a TON of great suggestions for doing prep over the weekend — especially veggie prep. I’ve been using them this summer as my garden comes in, and knowing that I have some tabbouleh, some blanched greens, some hardboiled eggs, and some pickles in the fridge has made both work-at-home lunches much more simple, as well as streamlining dinner prep. If you’re looking for an addition to Michael’s tips in “Twenty” — this is a great read.

  • Beth

    Have a plan. Repeated for truth.

    I do a lot of whole-meal salads in the summer. Tonight’s dinner’s salad, in fact – a big chef salad with prosciutto, avocado, boiled egg, tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers, and shaved parmesan. I’ll probably broil some garlic toast to go with it, but that’s all.

    A lot of people think of crockpots as a winter-food thing, but they’re energy-efficient and transfer less heat into the ambient environment than stovetop cooking. Soup-and-sandwich is another common summer meal, especially smooth puree’d vegetable soups. Everything in the pot in the morning. Come home, puree, add spices, let the soup rest while making sandwiches, DONE. Ten minutes. I also make crockpot tajine a fair bit during the summer.

    I often do a bunch of grilling on Sunday and use leftover cold grilled meat – chicken, sausage, fish, lamb mostly – in a wide variety of dishes during the week. Some weeks in July and August I work my meal plan so I don’t turn on my stove from Monday morning right through to Saturday morning.

    I live in southern Colorado, so high summer is veggie heaven. Every kind of pepper imaginable – whenever I grill I put a dozen or so on the cooling coals to roast after I’m done cooking, and can them or turn them into pepperonata. Lots of very traditional Mexican food, and I’m getting very into continental Spanish lately too.

  • Greg B. Carlstrom


    I did grilled green beans tonight. Delicious! I also did beer can chicken and roasted potato salad. All washed down with local white wine. Those are my summer staples!


  • Elke

    We just had an easy, simple meal last night of salmon (in CA, the salmon selection has been great this summer) cooked with a little butter in a pan and a huge helping of chard cooked with garlic and some red wine vinegar and old sourdough “croutons” with olive oil, S&P, in the toaster oven.

    Have also made a ziti, broccoli, and Italian sausage dish with 4-5 anchovy fillets smashed up. It’s a tasty one-dish meal that my 4 year old loves because it’s a bit salty. Although she will eat anchovies or sardines straight from the jar before they go in a dish.


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