Summer 2020 is officially underway with long days filled with radiant sun, deep blue skies and balmy evenings.

Besides the weather, little else about this summer is status quo. As we face gradual reopenings, precautions, restrictions and cancellations, our entertainment opportunities and leisure activities are limited as never before. We are collectively staying close to home. Focusing on family, a slower pace of life and simple pleasures.

The backyard barbecue is a simple, classic, essential summer activity, the ultimate home-based, uncomplicated delight. The wafting scent of a neighboring barbecue instantly induces an intense longing, hunger pangs (even when I am not actually hungry) and feelings of nostalgia, causing me to immediately cancel alternate dinner plans and break out the grill.

As for the grill, for my family, there simply is no other choice: the old-school charcoal grill, always!

In the three summers since we went back to basics and bought our inexpensive charcoal grill, we have never again used our deluxe gas grill. We also picked up a charcoal chimney, which could not be easier to use. All you need is crumpled-up newspaper, charcoal and a match, eliminating the need for potentially dangerous lighter fluid. And, as a bonus, the coals will be blazing hot and ready in a mere 10-15 minutes. We also often buy all-natural hardwood charcoal — mesquite, hickory and applewood are our favorites.

The smoky flavors that direct-flame, high-heat charcoal grilling impart are incomparably better than switching on your gas grill. I love the simple ritual, too.

Sliders are ideal for grilling. They are fun, fast and flavorful, and they are cute, creative, easy to handle and photogenic. Guaranteed to be loved by the kid in all of us!

Today, I share recipes for Hawaiian-style chicken with grilled pineapple; Mexican cilantro lime chicken with salsa verde; cedar plank salmon BLTs; and a couple of classic, all-time burger favorites, with cheese, of course! I hope they all make their way into your summer meal plan repertoire.

Here are some basic tips for simple, successful grilling:

— Always scrub and rinse your grill completely before using.

— Always brush your grill with oil.

— Make sure your coals are radiantly hot.

— Give your buns a quick toast — 15-20 seconds should do — to add flavor and a little crunch and to ward off dreaded soggy buns.

— Prepare all your accompaniments and garnishes in advance. Crispy cooked bacon, avocado, Boston lettuce, sliced tomato and thinly sliced red onion make virtually all sliders taste better.

— Cook time for sliders: Place on grill, cook for three minutes, flip, immediately top with cheese (if using), cook for two minutes longer, and transfer to a platter or cutting board. Allow to rest for five minutes, tented loosely with foil; they will continue to cook from the residual heat and retain their juices.

— I recommend using a kitchen scale to evenly portion your sliders; each slider should be between 2.5 and 3 ounces, definitely not more than 4 ounces per slider. Plan for two to three per person, depending on individual appetites.

Happy grilling!

HAWAII CHICKEN THIGH SLIDERS WITH GRILLED PINEAPPLE AND MONTEREY JACK 

These tender, juicy succulent sliders are my personal favorite. For maximum flavor, marinate the chicken for at least 2-3 hours. There is no need to shake off or pat dry the marinade; drippings will vaporize when they hit the flaming coals, creating a flavor-packed steam. I recommend King’s Hawaiian slider buns, which are tender and mildly sweet. Sliced red onion, tender Boston lettuce and mayonnaise counterbalance the sweetness of the juicy, charred pineapple and teriyaki chicken swimmingly.

Makes 6 sliders

18 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3 slices Monterey Jack cheese, each cut into 4 even squares

3 thick slices fresh pineapple, peeled and cored

6 King's Hawaiian slider buns

1/4 cup mayonnaise

6 Boston lettuce leaves

6 thin slices red onion

For the teriyaki marinade:

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

Zest and juice of 1 tangerine

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Whisk together all marinade ingredients. Trim excess fat and tendons off chicken thighs, then place between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap and gently pound with a rolling pin, rotating for even thickness.

Cut the chicken into 6 even portions, 3 ounces each. Pat dry, and transfer chicken and marinade to a gallon-size sealable bag. Shake and massage, then refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.

Once ready, prepare the grill, scrubbing thoroughly with a grill brush and rinsing if necessary. Loosely crumple a couple of pages of newspaper, and place in the bottom of your charcoal chimney. Fill chimney with charcoal, light the newspaper with a match, and place chimney on grill. Allow to heat up for 10-15 minutes, or until coals are very hot and glowing. Pour charcoal into grill, and brush grill top with olive oil. 

Remove chicken thigh pieces from marinade, discarding remaining marinade, and place directly on grill. Grill undisturbed for 3 minutes, flip, top each piece with 2 squares of Monterey Jack cheese, and cook for 2-3 minutes longer. Transfer to a platter or cutting board, cover loosely with foil, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Brush the grill with more olive oil, and place pineapple slices on grate, cooking for about 1 minute per side, or until charred and juicy but not falling apart. Remove, and cut each slice into bite-size chunks. Toast both sides of slider buns, 10-15 seconds (be careful, as they burn quickly).

To serve, spread a light layer of mayonnaise on both sides of each bun. Top with the lettuce, onion, chicken, then a couple of chunks of grilled pineapple.

CILANTRO LIME CHICKEN SLIDERS WITH PEPPER JACK CHEESE AND FRESH SALSA VERDE

These sliders were inspired by my newfound obsession with tomatillos and homemade salsa verde. I had never before worked with tomatillos, but now I am hooked! And this zesty, bright version of salsa verde bears no resemblance to the flavorless, mass-produced, jarred liquid sold in supermarkets. These tasty little sliders reflect my love for authentic Mexican ingredients and flavors and have me dreaming of beautiful memories of past trips to (and memorable meals in) Mexico. 

Makes 6 sliders

18 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts (usually 2 breasts)

1 avocado

Fresh lemon or lime juice

6 squares pepper jack cheese (approximately 1/2 ounce each)

6 slider buns

1/4 cup mayonnaise 

6 leaves Boston lettuce

6 thin slices red onion

For the marinade:

1/4 cup soy sauce

Zest and juice of 2 limes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/3-1/2 cup fresh cilantro, leaves and stems, rinsed, patted dry and finely chopped

For the salsa verde:

1/2 pound (8 ounces) tomatillos, outer husks removed, rinsed with warm water and patted dry

1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, inner membrane and stem removed (remove seeds for less heat)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup white onion, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon honey

1 cup cilantro, leaves and stems, rinsed and patted dry

In a small bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Pat the chicken breasts dry, and trim excess fat. Place between 2 sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, and gently pound with a rolling pin to even thickness.

Cut the chicken into 6 portions, 3 ounces each. Transfer chicken and marinade to a gallon-size sealable bag. Shake and massage, then refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours.

For the salsa verde, place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse on high until puréed and well blended. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Set aside. 

Peel, pit and slice the avocado. Add a pinch of sea salt, and drizzle on fresh lemon or lime juice to prevent browning.

Prepare the grill: Thoroughly scrub the grate, stuff bottom of charcoal chimney with loosely crumpled newspaper, fill top portion with charcoal, light the paper, place chimney on grill and allow coals to heat up for 10-15 minutes. Pour charcoal into grill, and brush grill top with oil.

Place the marinated chicken on the grill, discarding extra marinade. Grill for 3 minutes undisturbed. Flip, top each piece with cheese, and cook for 3 minutes longer (until cheese is bubbling and melted). Transfer to a platter, and loosely cover with foil, allowing to rest for 5 minutes. Toast slider buns, cut side down, for 10-20 seconds.

To serve, spread the top and bottom of each slider bun with a light layer of mayo, 2 slices of avocado, lettuce, sliced red onion and chicken, then top with a generous dollop (or 2) of salsa verde.

CEDAR PLANK SALMON BLT SLIDERS WITH WASABI MAYONNAISE

We purchased exceptional, melt-in-your-mouth salmon at Fish in Newburyport. We originally asked for local wild-caught, but local conditions and water temperatures are not ideal, so Fish sources its salmon from the Faroe Islands — and it is unbelievable. The Faroe Islands are magically beautiful, situated between Norway and Iceland in the North Atlantic. The pristine, icy waters and strong currents are ideal. No marinade for these babies, just a smoky undertone from the cedar plank and charcoal. If you use a cedar plank, you must soak it, fully submerged, in cold water for hours. Place the plank away from the direct heat and the hottest coals; otherwise, it will burst into flames.

Makes 6 sliders

18-ounce salmon fillet, skin on

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

6 lemon slices

6 slices bacon

1 avocado

Fresh lime juice

6 slider buns

6 leaves Boston lettuce

6 cherry tomatoes, sliced

For the wasabi mayonnaise:

1/3 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons extra-hot wasabi paste (or extra-hot prepared horseradish)

1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Submerge a cedar plank in cold water, and soak for a minimum of 2 hours. 

On a large cutting board, slice the salmon into 6 equal pieces, 3 ounces each. Season each piece with salt and pepper, olive oil, and a lemon slice. Allow to sit at room temperature while you prepare the grill.

In a ramekin, blend together the mayonnaise ingredients. Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until crisp; drain. You can also cook the bacon in a cast-iron skillet directly on the grill, but be very careful, as the entire pan, including the handle, will become extremely hot very quickly.

Peel, pit and cube the avocado; gently mash it, season with salt and drizzle with fresh lime juice.

Vigorously scrub the grill grate, and prepare the charcoal chimney with crumpled newspaper. Fill top with charcoal, light the paper, place chimney on grill and leave for 10-20 minutes, then pour hot coals onto grill.

Remove cedar plank from water, and place salmon, skin side down, on plank. Place plank on grill, indirect heat, away from hottest coals. Cover grill, and cook for approximately 20 minutes, checking occasionally to reassure yourself the plank has not caught on fire.

Remove plank and salmon, and allow to rest for a few moments, uncovered. Using a spatula, the salmon will lift away effortlessly from the skin. Toast the slider buns on the grill for 10-20 seconds.

To serve, slather each bun, top and bottom, with wasabi mayo, then add the lettuce, salmon, bacon, a dollop of avocado and tomato slices. 

THE ALL-AMERICAN BURGER SLIDER

When it comes to burgers, I am a minimalist. Oversized burgers that are high in fat and seasoned (or stuffed) with all kinds of flavorful additions just aren’t for me. I love my burger sliders on the small side (2.5 ounces) and made with mild, fresh, tender and lean grass-fed ground beef from Tendercrop Farm, seasoned only with sea salt and ground black pepper. We have heard countless times from family and friends that our burgers are the best they’ve ever had! I hope you agree.

Makes 6 sliders

6 slices bacon (preferably corncob-smoked local bacon)

3 slices extra-sharp Vermont cheddar, each cut into 4 equal squares

6 Boston lettuce leaves

6 thickly sliced cherry or Roma tomatoes

6 thin slices red onion

15-18 ounces lean grass-fed ground beef

2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

6 potato slider buns

2 tablespoons melted butter (optional)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (optional)

For serving:

Individual ramekins of ketchup, mayonnaise and yellow mustard on the side with spreaders

Scrub the grill thoroughly with a grill brush. Place loosely crumpled newspaper in the bottom of a charcoal chimney. Fill the top chamber with hardwood charcoal, light the paper, place the chimney on the grill grate and allow the coals to heat up for approximately 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat until crisp; drain on paper towels. On a cutting board, prepare the cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion.

Using a kitchen scale, portion the ground beef into 6 sliders between 2.5 ounces and 3 ounces each, being careful not to pack too tightly. Place on a serving plate. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Once the coals are glowing, dump them into the grill and brush the grill lightly with olive oil.

Place burgers on grill, and cook for 3 minutes, Flip, top each with 2 squares of cheddar, and cook for 2 minutes longer, allowing cheese to melt. Transfer to a serving platter, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Toast slider buns for 15-20 seconds, cut sides down. Transfer to a cutting board, brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds (if desired).

To assemble, place a folded piece of lettuce on the bottom bun, followed by a slice of tomato, slice of onion, cheeseburger, slice of bacon and top bun.

Serve with ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard on the side.

THE MINI MAC SLIDER

I can honestly say that I have not been to a McDonald's in decades. But most of us have fond memories of fast food classics from our childhoods, including the Big Mac. I was curious to see what it might be like to make a homemade, backyard barbecue "Mini Mac" slider using fresh and local ingredients (and only one burger patty). My husband absolutely loved them. I must confess that the special sauce recipe is not mine, I searched online how to make it and watched a YouTube video demonstrated by an executive from McDonald's.

Makes 6 sliders

15-18 ounces lean grass-fed ground beef

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons ground black pepper

3 slices American cheese (each cut into 4 equal squares)

6 potato slider buns

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1 1/2 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded

1/2 small white onion, finely diced

6-12 kosher dill pickles

For the special sauce:

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1 teaspoon granulated sugar or honey

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Scrub the grill grate with a grill brush. Place loosely packed newspaper in the bottom of a charcoal chimney, fill top with hardwood charcoal, light the paper, place chimney on grill and allow coals to heat up for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk all special sauce ingredients together in a small ramekin; set aside. Prepare 6 individual burger patties, 2.5 to 3 ounces each, and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Once grill is ready, brush lightly with olive oil, place burgers on grill and cook for 3 minutes. Flip, top each with 2 squares of American cheese and cook for 2 minutes longer. Remove, and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Grill the buns, cut side down, for 15-20 seconds. Brush tops with melted butter, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

To assemble, spread a generous layer of special sauce on the bottom of each bun, and top with the shredded lettuce, diced onion, cheeseburger and pickles. Spread special sauce on top bun.

Allison Lehane lives in Newbury, where she is a home cook who is passionate about locally sourced ingredients. Her recipes have been inspired by her world travels through her former career as an international home fashion buyer for TJX Corp. Contact her at highroad198@icloud.com.

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