Chicago’s Top Chefs Share Their Favorite Labor Day Grilling Tips and Recipes

Labor Day is right around the corner, which means it’s just about time to stock up on the ice cold beer, cue up some afternoon tunes, and fire up the focal point for the main event: the grill. And while brats and burgers are always a good idea come party time, guests are bound to enjoy a menu that goes a bit off script, too — especially if it’s coming from some of Chicago’s top chefs of the moment. From paella to pork chops, here are five chef-approved recipes to try come Sept. 4 — along with their go-to pitmaster tips.

Giuseppe Tentori of GT Prime

Labor Day recipes: GT Prime's Giuseppe Tentori
Giuseppe Tentori (Photo by Anthony Tahlier.)

The Recipe: Triple Sear Ribeye Steak


  • 2-inch thick ribeye steaks
  • Rock salt
  • Booze of choice
  • Soy sauce


1. Rub 3 tablespoons of rock salt all over steaks, then throw them on a very hot grill and cook for just 1 minute on each side to get a good sear.

2. Remove steaks from the grill and place them in a sheet pan. Take a booze of your choice — white wine, red wine, sake, bourbon — and pour enough over the meat to rinse off the salt before placing steaks back on the grill for about 4 minutes per side.

3. Remove steaks from the grill and put them back on a sheet pan and drizzle soy sauce over them before cooking to your desired level of doneness.

Pitmaster Tip: “This is not only one of the most delicious ways to cook a steak — it’s one of the absolute easiest. I have shared this recipe with friends and family, and they always have rave reviews. I began cooking steak this way when I was working under Charlie Trotter — it’s a Japanese technique that has been around for hundreds of years. One note: If you choose to use bourbon for the wash, don’t use your best bottle. Save that for a glass!”

Ashlee Aubin of Salero

The Recipe: Paella

Labor Day recipes: Paella
Paella (Photo courtesy of Salero.)

Paella Stock Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 3 ounces bacon or ham scraps (optional)
  • Shrimp shells (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika

Paella Stock Directions:

1. Roast tomato, onion and bell pepper on the grill (or in the oven) until browned all over.

2. Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer for 1 hour.

3. Strain, and keep hot if using right away. Can be made up to 2 days in advance.

Paella Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts paella stock
  • 1 cup bomba rice
  • 1/4 cup sofrito
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 8 ounces chicken (cut into bite sized pieces)
  • 2 ounces Spanish chorizo (or spicy salami)
  • 8 ounces shrimp
  • 1 pound mussels or clams
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1/4 cup piquillo peppers
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Paella Directions:

1. Using a charcoal grill or your regular stove, heat an 11-inch paella pan over medium high heat. Add a generous glug of olive oil and wait until it is close to smoking.

2. Add the chicken and brown on all sides. Add rice and sofrito and allow to toast in the olive oil for 1 minute. Add half the paella stock, chorizo, a big pinch of salt and the saffron. Let cook on medium high heat until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir just occasionally, scraping any bits that stick to the bottom.

3. Add half of the remaining paella stock. Taste the rice occasionally. When the rice tastes almost cooked, add shrimp, clams, mussels, peas, piquillo peppers and a little more stock.

4. Cover with aluminum foil (or a second paella pan) until all the shellfish is cooked and open.

5. Finish on medium heat until all the stock is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked. Then leave it on the heat for another minute. You want the rice on the bottom to stick and caramelize (but not burn). Let rest for a minute. Squeeze lemon juice on top and enjoy straight out of the pan.

Pitmaster Tip: “Use short-grained Spanish rice, such as Bomba or Calasparra, which soaks up all the flavor while staying nice and firm. All of the flavor comes from the broth — start with saffron and pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika), add some white wine, bacon scraps, shrimp shells — whatever you’ve got! For paella, you can combine all different flavors and textures to keep it interesting. Be sure to keep the heat even — a Weber grill is the perfect way to cook paella. Be sure to embrace the char, too — the absolute best part of the dish is the crispy, toasty rice that you scrape off the bottom of the pan.” 

Ricardo Jarquin of Travelle Kitchen + Bar

Recipe: Grilled Pork Chop with Oyster Mushrooms, Cherries and Habanero Vinn

Labor Day recipes: Travelle
Grilled Mangalitsa Pork Chop (Photo by Ricardo Jarquin.)


  • 10 ounces pork chop
  • 3 oyster mushroom clusters
  • 8 sugar snap peas
  • 2 ounces habanero vinn
  • 8 slices of serrano peppers
  • 8 slices of garlic
  • 3 ounces swiss chard
  • 1 ounce thai basil/cilantro picked
  • 1 ounce chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter

For the Habanero Vinn:

  • 8 ounces white distilled vinegar
  • 2 ounces habaneros whole
  • 1 ounce sugar
  • 4 ounces extra virgin olive
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 cherries, pitted and in half

For the pork marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 ounce chopped rosemary and thyme
  • 2 ounces Dijon mustard
  • 8 ounces extra virgin olive oil


1. Pork Marinade: Mix all ingredients in medium mixing bowl. Taste for salt and marinate pork chops with as much or as little marinade as you would like. Marinade will yield enough for 10 chops.

2. Habanero Vinn: Place all ingredients in a blender and blend on high speed until all ingredients form a smooth vinaigrette.

3. Grill pork chops over medium to high heat. While chops are grilling, place oyster mushrooms on the grill alongside the snap peas. Cook mushrooms and snap peas toward the end of the grill, as they won’t take as long as the pork chops. Once pork chop is cooked, remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.

4. Toss oyster mushrooms, snap peas and pitted cherries in a small bowl along with the habanero vinn. Season with salt.

5. Sautee swiss chard with garlic and once soft add butter and stock. Season with salt and place on the bottom of the plate. Top chard with oyster mushrooms, snap peas and cherries. Slice pork as thick or as thin as you want, place on top of the mushroom, snap peas, and cherries. Garnish pork with cilantro and thai basil.

Pitmaster Tip: “Marinate your protein ahead of time. I personally like to marinate chicken, pork or beef at least 24 hours before grilling to ensure your protein is packed with flavor and tenderized. Another lesser-known and favorite trick of mine is to use wood chips — it’s a quick and easy way to make everything you grill taste amazing. You can experiment with different kinds — my personal favorite are the hickory ones because it imparts a sweet yet strong bacon flavor profile that works really well with any pork product.”

Patrick Russ of Seven Lions

Labor Day recipes: Seven Lions' Patrick Russ
Patrick Russ (Photo by Jeff Schear Visuals.)

The Recipe: Char Siu Glazed Pork Chops with Grilled Corn Succotash


  • 4 bone in pork chops, 1 1/4-inch thick

For the marinade:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons hoison
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice


1. Combine all ingredients for the marinade and marinate the pork for at least 4 hours, no more than 24.

2. Place pork chop on part of the grill that is a medium heat. You don’t want to have you flame too high for this recipe because of all the sugars in the marinade. Once all the sugars begin to caramelize on the chop, move it to a cooler part of the grill.

3. Once each side has cooked for about 4 minutes, check the temperature using a thermometer. Internal temperature should read 135 degrees. This will allow the meat to rest off the grill and continue cooking with carry over heat to 145 degrees.

For the Grilled Corn Succotash:

  • 4 corn on the cob
  • 8 scallions
  • 1 summer squash, halved lengthwise
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Salt


1. In a mixing bowl, combine the corn, scallions, summer squash and jalapeno. Toss with a little vegetable oil and salt.

2. Find a spot on the grill that is medium heat and place vegetables nicely over the grates. Do not touch the vegetables once they are on the grill — moving them too early might prevent them from getting nice grill marks.

3. Once they begin to get nice color, flip them and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from grill and let cool slightly.

4. Slice the summer squash and scallions 1/4-inch thick. Remove the grilled corn from the cob and place in a bowl. Add sliced scallions and summer squash to the corn.

5. Mince the jalapeno and add to mixture. Toss all ingredients with fresh chopped cilantro and season with lime juice and salt and serve immediately.

Pitmaster Tip: “Whether you are using a gas grill or charcoal grill, make sure it’s cleaned properly. The last thing you want is residue from last year’s ribeye burning off onto that nice piece of fish you are having for dinner. Be patient! Especially with charcoal grills. Give your grill time to heat up properly so that your vegetables and meat have a nice sizzling surface to cook on. And lastly, use a thermometer. There is no pride in overcooking a steak. Learn your temperatures, perfect them, then practice without a thermometer. To this day I still use a digital thermometer at home and my steaks come out perfect.”

John Manion of El Che Bar

The Recipe: Chimichurri Chicken

Labor Day recipes: El Che Bar
Chimichurri Chicke (Photo courtesy of El Che Bar.)


  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 8 ounces oregano
  • 1 1/2 cups vinegar, white distilled
  • 1/4 cup cayenne chilis, crushed
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken thighs


1. Cut off parsley stems right underneath where leaves form. Rough chop garlic and pick the oregano. Mix all garlic and herbs in a large bowl and thoroughly coat with olive oil.

2. Run through 1/8-inch die in the grinder. When finished grinding, add vinegar and chilis and mix olive oil to coat. Season with salt.

3. Season chicken cuts (quarters or thighs work best) with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Grill on high heat (400 degrees or more) until chicken is charred and cooked through.

4. Pour on chimichurri sauce and cover until hot. Plate and serve.

Pitmaster Tip: “Use this recipe on thighs and breasts. Whatever cut you like. Slather bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with chimichurri and marinade overnight. Remove excess chimichurri from thighs, season with salt and pepper and place on a hot grill, skin-side down. Make sure the grates are hot enough so that skin will not stick. The thighs are done when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees (put the thermometer right next to the bone). Let rest, then toss with more chimichurri for best results.”


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Nicole Schnitzler

Nicole Schnitzler is a freelance writer who covers​ ​food, drink, ​travel and ​lifestyle. When she is not planning her next adventure​​, she can be found​ ​commuting between bakeries, yoga classes,​ live music shows, and libraries ​in her hometown of ​​Chicago. She is most comfortable with a pen in one hand and a fork in the other. Follow her on Twitter (@Write_To_Eat) or on Instagram (@WriteToEat).






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