If you can’t stand the heat …

Henri braves the sunlight and tosses his meat on the grill

Although Henri has donned aprons in some of the finest kitchens around the world, it’s only been of late that he’s ventured outside to cook—mostly due to his recent relocation to California, where outdoor grilling, he has observed, seems to be a virtual requirement for chefs both amateur and master.

And Henri has definitely caught the grill bug. In addition to coaxing wonderful flavors from a wide range of foods, cooking outside helps keep the house from heating up on these hideously hot summer evenings. Steaks, chicken and fish, as well as vegetables, are all easy to cook to succulent perfection on a gas or charcoal grill, as long as you keep in mind Henri’s First Culinary Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Overcook.

Or: It’s better to take the food off the grill too soon than too late—you can always throw it back on and cook it a bit longer.

A current favorite—and absolutely divine summer meal—is grilled country-style ribs with mixed vegetables, the latter to which I’ve gotten shamelessly addicted thanks to a recent discovery: a square little grill-top wok-type pan that I found at Collier Kitchen Supply ($12.99). With its angled sides, you can toss the vegetables as they cook without losing them to the grill itself or to the fire below.

Note: Despite how they’re labeled, “country-style ribs” or, sometimes, “boneless pork ribs,” they’re not actually ribs at all. Usually, they’re pork-shoulder slabs, about 2 inches wide, 2 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches long. But they’re much meatier than true ribs, and less expensive, and cooked right they’re absolutely delicious.

Henri’s famous grilled country-style pork ribs
Place ribs in Tupperware or other sealable container (or plastic bag) and cover with a mixture of equal parts apple juice and balsamic vinegar and half as much Worcestershire sauce. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove ribs from marinade and rub with a pre-mixed meat rub or mix one up yourself (try equal parts ground black pepper, salt, cayenne pepper, paprika, brown sugar and dry mustard). Keep the marinade. Wrap meat in foil, two or three slabs to a package, and grill slowly on a low fire (on my Weber, I use two of three burners, on low, keep the top pried open about an inch with an old garlic press, and try to keep the temperature at about 250). Cook until meat pulls apart when you poke it with a fork (check from time to time by pealing back foil), at least two hours, depending on how low you can stabilize the temperature. Remove from grill, and let stand in foil while you cook the vegetables.

Henri’s famous grilled mixed-vegetable medley
Gather a wide range of fresh vegetables, preferably from one of the local farmers markets or even your own garden. I like to use two or three bell peppers (in various colors for a festive presentation), an Anaheim or other spicier pepper, summer squash, zucchini, a couple of onions (at least one red), broccoli crowns, Swiss chard or spinach. Other possibilities: green beans, snap peas, eggplant or carrots.

Cut veggies into bite-sized pieces and place in large bowl. Toss with fresh herbs (rosemary, sage, oregano, basil) and about a half-cup of olive oil. Grill over moderately high heat, while continuing to toss occasionally. You can also add more oil, soy sauce, stir-fry sauce, or salad dressing while you cook, but be careful that it doesn’t drip through onto the flames and flare up into the veggies. Cooking time: about 15 minutes.

I also like to add chicken, shrimp or tofu to the medley. If you add chicken, use boneless skinless thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces and grill until nearly done before adding the vegetables; if you add shrimp or tofu, stir it in during the last five minutes of cooking.

When the veggies are done, transfer back to bowl, and toss again with a bit more olive oil, and add salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste. Remove pork slabs from foil and pour about a tablespoon of marinade over each one. Serve veggies and ribs together with a good pinot noir, Syrah, or even a riesling.