After years of grilling and barbecuing, as well as just cooking in the kitchen, I’ve gone through all kinds of gadgets, cookware, different versions of utensils, even a couple of blenders. Over the last few years, though, I’ve found myself simplifying and only keeping around those tools I actually use. Instead of a whole knife set, I have only the knives that I typically use. Instead of stacks of pots and pans, I have pots and pans I need.
Along with tools and gadgets, there are a few ingredients that I go to over and over. Here are my top 5 ingredients I can’t live without (and why).
This is almost too obvious, but it’s just that important. I’ve gotten picky about salt and only use sea salt without additives like iodine and stuff to keep the salt from sticking. However, I try to not use ingredients that have too much salt already added to them like a lot of store-bought rubs and sauces. I’d rather add my own salt. I’ve also found that I like large-crystal salt like French grey salt. Adding my own salt means I can control how much I use. Even when watching sodium intake, I’m adding a lot less when I add my own salt instead of all the sodium in canned or prepackaged food.
This isn’t necessarily a grilling ingredient, but I do bake on the grill. Cinnamon is just about my favorite spice. It can be used in desserts, drinks and even a touch for seasoning meats and vegetables to add a bit of an exotic extra bit of flavor. There’s not a lot to say about cinnamon, but if you want cinnamon toast and don’t have cinnamon, you just have sugar toast!
Besides: What’s apple pie without a good dose of cinnamon?
Onion is much more versatile than many think. It’s great grilled on its own and it’s great as a seasoning ingredient in a lot of dishes. At festivals, a lot of cooks will put an onion on their grill so the aroma attracts people. Onion goes great with just about any meat and it’s a great combination with grilled apples for a salad or cooked down with some balsamic vinegar to create an onion jam. And Vidalia onions are so sweet you can almost eat them like an apple. You can even roast and puree onions to use as a healthier addition to soups than cream (try it!).
It doesn’t have to be in large quantities, but butter can add so much flavor that it’s just irreplaceable. Just a touch brushed on meats will add a richness that will surprise you. Mix butter with herbs for a compound butter that adds layers of great flavor to a grilled steak.
What’s lobster without butter? Well, it’s still lobster, but butter adds that silky mouthfeel and boost of flavor that is so so so delicious.
And if you haven’t used browned butter yet, you’ve deprived yourself. Use it in cookies, on grilled oysters or just about any time you’d used regular butter. It’s just over the top in flavor.
5. Surprising to nobody: Bourbon!
Yes, it’s great to drink in cocktails or neat (it’s actually best with a couple drops of water). It’s also a fantastic ingredient in lots of recipes. This is,without a doubt, one of the most versatile ingredients available to me. It’s sweet, but a bit spicy (especially high rye bourbons). It adds depth to desserts and a layer of not-too-sweet extra flavor to savory dishes. It works with chicken, pork, beef and salmon. Adding a couple tablespoons to a pecan, apple or cherry pie gives a bit of deeper sweetness. Dill pickles with bourbon added take on a bit of sweet, a bit of spice and a lot of great! Even my wife, who won’t drink bourbon, likes it as an added ingredient. Add some to your next batch of chocolate chip cookies and thank me when you do.
On top of that, you can still get decent bourbons for not too much money.
That’s my list. My top 5 ingredients are simple, but I find simple works best. Quality ingredients will always show themselves off.