On Grilling—Lamb Chops with Mint & Tomato Vinaigrette

March 2, 2009

My favorite animal is steak.
~Fran Lebowitz

The Grill is just one of life’s genetically ingrained pleasures, entailing the prehistoric basics of fire and food…profoundly tantalizing all of the senses in the most simple and universal of ways. As much as I adore that haven known as kitchen, there may be no cooking experience as innately fulfilling as hovering around a glowing grill festooned with singing, aromatic food. Elemental, fundamental and lacking pretense with the journey almost besting the destination.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this courier from the swift completion of his appointed rounds at the ‘Que.

The etymology of the term is debatable, but one theory espouses that the word “barbecue” is a derivative of the West Indian term “barbacoa,” which denotes a method of cooking meat over hot coals. “Barbeque” could have also originated from the French phrase “barbe à queue” which means “whiskers to tail.”

To strict contructionists, there is a sacred distinction between “grilling” and “barbeque.” According to these purists, when you grill, the cooking process is brief and done over direct heat. On the other hand, with barbeque the cooking process is lengthened, over lower, indirect heat. To me, there is no sin in uttering the terms interchangeably—it is simply food cooked over an open fire at differing rhythms. Some basics follow.

Fire Toys

Grill (ceramic, porcelain enameled, charcoal, gas), grill cover, tool holder, spatula, tongs, fork, work table, skewers, bristle cleaning brush, drip pans, basting brush, oven thermometer, barbeque mitts, chimney starter, fireplace lighter, spray bottle. Note: Burning natural lump charcoal results in less ash than burning briquettes, thus less frequent ash clean out is required.

Grill Lighting

(1) The most efficient way to light charcoal is with a chimney starter that uses no lighter fluid.

Roll two full newspaper sheets into tubes, then bend the tubes to form rings. Turn the chimney starter upside down. A grate splits the hollow inter­ior of the tub into two compartments. Fit the tubs into the base of the starter so that they are pressed against the grate. Be careful to leave a hole in the middle (the hole allows for airflow once the newspaper is lit).

Turn the chimney over so that it’s right side up. Load the chimney to the top with charcoal. Using a long match or butane lighter, light the newspaper in several places through the holes at the bottom of the chimney starter. Wait 10–20 minutes for all the coals to light. The charcoal is ready when you see flames licking at the coals in the top of the chimney and gray ash just starting to form.

Wearing an oven mitt, lift the chimney starter by the handle and slowly dump the coals in a pile onto the coal grate in the middle of the grill, spread them about, and put the starter in a safe place.

(2) The pyramid method is simpler than using a chimney starter, but requires the use of lighter fluid, which can alter flavors and scents.

Build a pile or pyramid of coals in the middle of your coal grate. Spray the pyramid liberally with lighter fluid. In several places, light the pile with a long match or lighter. After a few minutes, the flames may subside as the lighter fluid burns off. This does not mean that the coals have failed to light. In 20–30 minutes, the coals should gradually begin to burn and glow red. Do not attempt to speed up this process by spraying more lighter fluid on the coals. Spread the coals around the bottom grate.

Grill temperature

Grill temperature is best assessed by using the traditional hand test. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it:

1 to 2 seconds — high
2 to 3 seconds — medium high
4 to 5 seconds — medium low
7 to 8 seconds — low

Test for Doneness

Rare: Gently put the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. Take the index finger of your other hand and push on the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm.

Medium rare: Gently put the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb. Again press the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm with your opposing index finger.

Medium: Gently put the tip of your ring finger and your thumb together. Again press the fleshy area between the thumb and the base of the palm with your opposing index finger.


1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/3 C red wine vinegar
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
3 plump garlic cloves, minced finely
1 T dijon mustard
1 T organic honey

1 C mint leaves, chopped
4 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

6 local, organic lamb loin chops, about 1 1/2″ thick
Rosemary sprigs

Combine vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard and honey; and then slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking until smooth. Stir in mint and tomatoes.

Place lamb chops in single layer in glass dish. Pour marinade over, turning chops to coat all around; cover with foil and refrigerate 4 hours, turning lamb chops occasionally.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Strew a few rosemary sprigs around the perimeter of the coals. Grill chops to desired doneness, basting often with marinade, about 5-6 plus minutes per side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the lamb chops and the heat of the grill.

As always, let meat rest before serving and spoon some vinaigrette over each chop.

Serve with polenta or roasted potatoes and a pinot noir, old vine zinfandel or French burgundy.

One Response to “On Grilling—Lamb Chops with Mint & Tomato Vinaigrette”

  1. […] On Grilling—Lamb Chops with Mint & Tomato Vinaigrette My favorite animal is just one of life’s genetically ingraiTags:  animal, favorite, fran, genetically, grilling, ingrai, lamb, lebowitz, mint, steak, tomato, vinaigrette […]

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