Why are grills trendy? Less fat, more flavor
Ask a range of chefs and restaurateurs about grilling, and you’ll likely hear the phrase “Maillard reaction” more than once. Turns out, you can make the Maillard reaction – essentially the chemical reaction when reducing the sugar that gives browned foods its flavor – the lifeblood of a successful fast-casual restaurant. And while that lovely crispy brown color (from honey-colored to black) that wows customers and delights the taste buds can be the result of broiling or frying, it’s especially important in grilling.
Grilling is perhaps the easiest way to achieve the Maillard reaction, which requires a higher cooking temperature. Restaurants that grill get there quickly (on an open grill, drip pan, griddle or even a grill) or slowly (by means of a barbecue). All of these techniques have been called “grilling” at one time or another.
Why do restaurateurs like to grill? It helps that it is the most basic form of cooking. Grilling is probably as old as the cuisine itself and can be found in countless cultures and traditions around the world, from Mexico to Philadelphia, from Morocco to Miami, from Texas to Southeast Asia and from the United States. Latin America in the Middle East. Barry Nelson, Vice President of Operations for Pancheros Mexican Grill, claims that using a grill gives a menu a timeless quality. “We don’t usually follow trends,” he says of the brand, which offers grilled steaks, carnitas, chicken and tofu in its customizable dishes. “We want our food and our flavors to survive trends and fashions. “
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Grilled flat bread
While health seems to take a back seat in many quick casual events, using the grill is one way to have your tofu and eat it, too. Mehdi Zarhloul, owner of a business based in Las Vegas Crazy pita, claims that high grill temperatures remove excess fats and oils from proteins. And there are other perks, which Crazy Pita uses for its Mediterranean-inspired menu of pitas, platters, salads and rice bowls. “The grill allows for rapid production of several types of meats and vegetables simultaneously,” he says. “It’s spacious, evenly heated and easily accessible. This allows constant quality control.
Ambrose Whyms, Chief and Vice President of Operations at Miami Grill, Zarhloul echoes, singing the praises of the grill. “Grills maintain and enhance the flavor of food, while providing a variety of healthier preparation options by eliminating the need to add extra fats and oils,” says Whyms. Miami Grill serves a wide range of grilled protein in its restaurants, including steak in its cheesesteaks and 1/3 pound Angus steak patties in its burgers.
Grills not only offer a healthier option, but also a more naturally tasty option. Cowboy Chicken has been cooking chicken rotisserie style over a wood-fired oven since 1981. With the flavor that comes from grilling, Cowboy Chicken can count on the simplicity of its natural, fresh chicken and a little hand-seasoning. This is because grilling infuses flavor in a natural and reliable way that eliminates the need for additives or culinary acrobatics.
The grill also facilitates operations in a quick casual atmosphere. “It’s easy for me to train a staff member to use a grill,” says Ben Koenig, founder of Heritage meals, a growing Californian concept with a globally inspired menu. Heritage Eats is structured with a 360 degree walkway around a kitchen island and charcoal grill. Jesse Gideon, President and CEO in Atlanta Fees to order, also appreciates the versatile attributes of the grill. “You can cook fast and hot or slow and longer,” he says. “You can smoke with it or even use jumpers on it. The best part is that you can do a lot of bulk and variety of foods in a very small space.
Another advantage of the grill? The interaction that occurs between the customer and the food. Grilling is central to grilling-centric concepts, so that a customer can participate in their meal on several sensory levels. Lennys Grill and subs makes his signature Philly Cheese Steaks, among other menu items, on a grill facing the customer. “Think about your five senses: the visual of steam coming out of the grill; the aroma of steak, chicken and Italian sausage; hear the sizzle of onions, green peppers and mushrooms cooked to order, ”said Randy Hough, senior vice president of operations. “By the time we can touch and taste, I bet your stomach is rumbling already.”
Of course, taste is always king in fast casuals, and grills are delivered there. “Our first location had queues around the block as the mesmerizing aroma of fresh chicken cooked on an open grill filled the air,” explains Loco El PolloExecutive Chef of, Heather Gardea. El Pollo Loco’s commitment to cooking over an open flame has facilitated the chain’s expansion to over 470 locations. “There is nothing more delicious than a perfectly grilled chicken.”
There is nothing more delicious than a juicy, crispy, seared, seasoned and charred meat, vegetable or even fruit, which is good news for restaurateurs who grill to some degree. A fast casual may choose to grill because it offers versatility, health, simplicity, ease, and theatricality, but customers will continue to line up because grilled foods taste great. Grill it, and they will come.