The Secret to Great Grilling

Make that summer cookout a little more spectacular with these helpful insights from Pete Lentz, the pro behind 640 Meats in Rockford.

Pete Lentz

Pete Lentz sacrifices his holidays in the name of flavor.

For almost 30 years, the owner of 640 Meats, 6410 E. Riverside Blvd. in Loves Park, Ill., has been showing up to work so the rest of us can enjoy the delicious fruits (or meats) of his labor on our days off.

“On holidays I get here around 5 in the morning,” says Lentz. “On a normal day I can sleep in and get here at 7.”

Newcomers to the full-service meat market and deli might be overwhelmed by the huge selection of meats, salads, sides, spices and rubs, but Lentz and his staff are happy to help narrow down their choice. If someone’s too hungry to cook, there are fresh deli sandwiches and a variety of specials to enjoy in-store.

Weekends at 640 Meats are especially abuzz, with customers showing up for Lentz’s mouthwatering smoked meats, compliments of his Big Green Egg located in the outdoor seating area every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“That’s really taken off,” Lentz says. “I’ll do tri-tip, brisket, pork belly, salmon and all kinds of other meats. I sell about 100 pounds of salmon a week because of it.”

In honor of Lentz and the many butchers in our region whose hard work makes our summertime more delicious, Lentz shares his wisdom on how to prepare some common meats for the best-tasting results.

Just think of Pete while you’re digging into the deliciousness.


If you want it medium rare, you’ll want to pull it out of the heat at 120 degrees, then let it rest until it gets up to 135 degrees. Some people move the meat around on the grill, but I like to let it get a bit of crust, then flip it. When it comes to burgers, don’t squeeze out those juices. Let them come to the top of the burger, then flip it.


Chicken is one of those meats that really benefits from extra flavoring. You have to season it for it to taste good. You can also marinate it for at least a couple of hours before you cook it. Chicken thighs are getting popular because they don’t get as dry as a chicken breast. I like to smoke chicken leg quarters, with the leg and thigh. The skin gets nice and crispy, and the chicken stays moist. Temperature is important. You’ve got to get it up to 165 degrees.


The biggest misconception about pork is that you have to cook it to death. You can have a little pink in your pork. The way they’re raised these days, with antibiotics, is a lot safer. Smoking is a good way to cook pork. You can buy some nice thick pork chops and do them low and slow at around 250 to 300 degrees.


I always keep fresh salmon on hand, but if someone wants a fish that’s more exotic, I can help with that. We make a brown sugar rub here. I put it on right before I put the salmon in the smoker and then run it between 225 and 250 degrees for 25 minutes, skin side down. Don’t flip it. It’s a little more forgiving if you keep the skin on. The skin might get well done, but not the meat itself. Fish is a lot quicker than most meats, so it’s good to cook if you don’t want something time-consuming. Salmon should never be too fishy. If it’s fishy, then it’s old.