1. Begin building the flavor by firing up the grill to medium-high and adding the wood. Start grilling the corn and other vegetables. “The kernels are not only getting roasted and caramelized for added sweetness, but are also absorbing the smoke,” McHugh says.
2. Only good things come from roasting garlic over mesquite wood. “Roasting sweetens alliums by bringing out the natural sugar,” McHugh says. “It tones down the bright, ‘I’m going to stink all day’ flavor of garlic.”
3. After taking the charred chile off the grill, sweating the skin off, peeling and seeding it, give it a chop, but not too fine. “One of the important things about a wellmade salsa is that it’s not chopped so finely that it’s soupy,” McHugh says. “You want it to hold up and not lose the individual characteristics of each ingredient.”
4. Carefully shear the kernels off the cob after it has cooled down. It’s a nice textural touch to allow some kernels to stay together in a row. This absolutely says, “Real corn here in this salsa!”
5. Grill the tomatoes for a shorter time on a lower heat. Fresh heirloom tomatoes deliver a sweetness that’s incomparable. McHugh says better-quality canned tomatoes could work here, too, in a pinch. Grilling the lemon also makes the flavor that much better.
6. Serrano seasoning salt and fresh cilantro finish off the salsa. When chopping cilantro, McHugh makes sure to use some of the stems—not just the leaves—where flavor is concentrated.
7. The finished product. While there are some extra steps, it only took McHugh about 22 minutes to create this salsa. “It’s worth the effort,” he says. “You’re looking for a balance of sweet, smoke and acid, and when all those things are in balance, that’s the definition of a good salsa.”