King of the Coals

Taking it outside with Jim McLain, executive chef at TidePointe.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff

Executive chef Jim McLain oversees the culinary program for TidePointe on Hilton Head Island, including menu creation and food preparation. He will grill just about anything.

Jim McLain spent decades honing his craft as a chef before he took over as executive chef at TidePointe. Transforming the menu to one that reflected the Lowcountry aesthetic and the farm-to-table possibilities that exist here in the rural South, he raised the culinary profile at the celebrated senior living facility.

And that’s just what he can do indoors. Set him loose on a grill, and you’ll see what happens when his culinary acumen is applied to the ancient art of barbecue.

“I’m fearless when it comes to the grill. I’ll grill anything; I just love being outside,” he said.

And unlike some, he’s decidedly non-monogamous when it comes to fuel. To him, gas, charcoal and wood are just different options available to him in preparation of anything from the classic hamburgers and hot dogs to Cornish game hens, London broil and brisket.

“If you’re cooking low and slow, wood is awesome. Charcoal is great because of the constant heat. If I need really well-controlled heat, I’m going to go with gas because it’s predictable,” he said.

For seafood, he’ll opt for charcoal to get a nice smoke to it. For brisket, it’s six hours on a wood fire. “You let the food earn it and let the marinade do its job,” he said. “It gives you a flavor like no other.”

Ultimately, it’s about what you need the heat to do. Then it’s just a matter of biding your time. “The grilling process, unlike any other cooking style, is about patience,” he said. That even applies to the simple things. “Everyone thinks a burger or hot dog is just wham, bam, done. If you like hot dogs crispy but not burned, or your burger medium but not well, don’t be in a hurry.”

Wet and dry

“You can do almost anything on the grill, but you start with early prep work,” said McLain. That means starting out with the right marinade. Each chef has to find their own, but it comes down to a few key ingredients. You can never go wrong with extra virgin olive oil, fresh crushed garlic, fresh herbs and some kind of acid to soften the meat, be it citrus juice or vinegar.

“The fun thing about a marinade is that if you take the time to do it, it makes a big difference in the moisture of the food later,” he said.

From there, he offers a tip that might seem counterintuitive – let it dry out. After draining and discarding the marinade, Chef McLain recommends putting the meat on parchment paper to dehydrate in the refrigerator for about an hour. “The effect the fridge has on meats and seafood is that the typical fridge dehumidifies air,” he said. “A dry surface will give you a crisp outside so when you grill, the searing effect happens faster and more completely.” As with the art of grilling, this secret of drying out meat has ancient roots, with our ancestors curing ham by hanging it in a bag for 21-30 days so the meat brines itself.

Seared seafood

For most of us, seafood on the grill never goes beyond a cedar-plank salmon. But when done right, McLain says, there’s simply no substitute for a well-grilled fillet.

“If you scale it really well and let it dehydrate, the effect is called baconing,” he said, describing the delightful crispness of skin-on grilled fillet. “Most people wouldn’t think of going to the grill because they’re worried about sticking. The only reason why that would really happen is if your grids aren’t clean, or more importantly, well seasoned.”

McLain recommends seasoning your grill with soy oil, which has a much higher smoke point, applied with a spray bottle to even out the amount of oil distributed.

Find your hot spots

Every grill ever made, no matter if it’s the five-figure gourmet model or the Coleman camping stove, has hot spots. “There’s no such thing as a grill with no hot spots,” said McLain. Beyond any minute imperfections in the grill itself, these hot spots can be caused by the amount of oxygen present near the burners, something that can shift with the tides.

Overall, though, these currents form recognizable hot spots, making each grill its own challenge to master. Naturally, McLain has some tips on mastering your own.

“Get a big roasting pan that will fit on the surface and put a half an inch of water in there,” he said. “Then turn the grill up all the way to high and see where the bubbles form. Those bubbles will tell you where your hot spots are.”

While these tips can get you started, it’s ultimately on you, the grill master, to discover your own path to al fresco excellence.

“Food is an education. I’m still learning and I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” he said. “But the rewards are well worth the wait.” LL

TidePointe – Fire-grilled churrasco sirloin

(Serves 6)


2 pounds trimmed, center cut New York sirloin (butterflied)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons ground black pepper

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

2 tablespoons garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon sriracha sauce

Vegetable cooking spray

Directions [1] Heat grill to 350 degrees. Spray well with the vegetable spray prior to heating. [2] Trim the sirloin completely, then butterfly. Blend together all dry ingredients and rub all over the sirloin, being very generous with the seasonings. Refrigerate (unwrapped) for three hours to seal in seasonings and dehydrate the sirloin, turn sirloin over one time at the 1 1/2 hour mark, for even dehydration and a greater sear on the grill. [3] Combine the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, brown sugar and sriracha until well blended. Spray the sirloin well with the vegetable spray and place the sirloin on the middle of the grill, and brush liberally to coat, being careful of the occasional flareup. [4] Grill the sirloin for 8 minutes squared up on the grill grates, rotating one turn and grill for an additional 8 minutes, for those all so wonderful grate marks, then brush again and turn sirloin over for another 8 minutes, then rotate one turn and continue grilling for the final 8 minutes, for medium rare, or until your meat thermometer reads 125 degrees. [5] Remove from the grill and place on the platter to rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing, to ensure the juiciest fire-grilled churrasco sirloin ever. Slice the sirloin thinly and fan out on your platter and serve with chimichurri sauce (recipe below).

Chimichurri sauce


1 1/2 cups picked Italian parsley

1 1/2 cups picked cilantro

4 cloves roasted garlic

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1 cup olive oil

Directions [1] Place all ingredients in the blender or food processor, except oil. Blend until well mixed. Then with blender running stream in the oil slowly till all of the oil has been incorporated. [2] Serve on the side with your tender, juicy churrasco sirloin and enjoy!

TidePointe – Curry & cilantro grilled pork loin

(Serves 6)


2 pounds trimmed pork loin, butterflied

1/2 cup soy sauce

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon ginger

1 1/2 tablespoons curry

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 1/2 tablespoon lime juice (Plus additional limes for squeezing over the sliced pork loin)

Vegetable cooking spray

Directions [1] Heat grill to 350 degrees. Spray the grill well with the vegetable spray prior to preheating. [2] Trim pork loin well, and butterfly cut the loin until almost the same thickness across the whole loin. Rub the pork loin with the curry and coriander and place in a large Ziploc bag. Blend the soy, garlic, ginger, and cilantro into a marinade and pour over the loin. Close bag well, lightly shake to coat. Refrigerate for six hours, turning over four times. [3] Remove loin from the marinade, discard marinade, and place loin on a parchment lined platter, and let air dry in the refrigerator for two hours prior to grilling. This will dehydrate the surface of the loin, locking in the marinade and providing a great grill sear effect on the loin while grilling. [4] While dehydrating the loin, combine the sesame oil, honey, brown sugar in a saucepan and cook over low heat just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and blend in lime juice. Keep warm. [5] Time to grill! Coat the loin well with cooking spray and place over the middle of the grill. Keep grill temperature between 325 to 350 degrees during grilling. While grilling, brush loin with the honey, lime juice, sesame oil and brown sugar glaze frequently. Grill for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until your meat thermometer reads 140 degrees. [6] Remove your cooked pork loin when done to a platter to rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing, to ensure the juiciest fire-grilled pork loin ever. Slice it thinly, and fan out on your platter to serve with additional limes for squeezing.

Chef’s note: If your grill has straight bar grates, use them to enhance the visual beauty of your pork loin by cross-hatch grilling your loin. Start with the loin squared up on the grill until you have nicely seared grill marks, then on the same side, rotate your loin one turn, which will create a nice checkerboard pattern. Turn it over and repeat. Oh and don’t forget to keep brushing on the glaze, Be patient, have fun and enjoy your day at the grill with family and friends.

TidePointe – Lemon basil thyme “baconed” fire-grilled salmon

(Serves 4)


4 center-cut (scaled) skin-on salmon fillets

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon basil thyme seasoning

1 teaspoon of light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

3 cloves slivered garlic

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (and lemons for squeezing over salmon)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Vegetable cooking spray

Directions [1] Heat grill to 325 degrees. Spray well with the vegetable spray prior to heating. [2] Rinse the salmon fillets in cooler water, to remove any excess scales. Then pat with paper towels to completely dry the fillets. [3] Combine the garlic, soy, lemon juice and half of the olive oil. Blend well. Place the salmon fillets in a Ziploc bag and marinate for 30 minutes. Then remove from the marinade, and pat dry with paper towels again. [4] Blend the turmeric, brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of the lemon basil thyme and liberally rub them all over the salmon fillets and refrigerate on a platter for 30 minutes (unwrapped) skin side up to dehydrate the skin and to assist in the “baconing” effect, for perfect crispy skin. [5] Lightly spray the skin side of the salmon fillets and place on the middle of the grill grates. Grill for about 5 minutes until skin is crispy, brush with remaining olive oil and turn fillets over and continue grilling for about 3 to 4 minutes longer or until your meat thermometer reads 120 to 125 degrees for medium rare, medium fillets. While finishing the second stage of grilling, if your salmon fillets start to get a little singed, move them to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking. [6] When cooking is complete, move the salmon fillets skin side up to a warm platter, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and half tablespoon of the lemon basil thyme. Then squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over each fillet and you are ready to enjoy.


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