Posted June 7, 2020

8 Grilling Tips from Denver’s Newest Grill Master

Eat + Drink

Lauded Chef Christian Graves has been working with Kimpton restaurants for 11 years, and he’s especially fired up about his latest project in Denver. Although the concept for Citizen Rail is tricky to describe, Christian envisions it as a “live fire” restaurant, serving “awesome” American food.

Citizen Rail’s Chef Christian Graves

Christian recently moved to Colorado from San Diego, where he spent the last decade at JSix—and was once declared by Eater the city’s “hottest chef.” Before that, he was in San Francisco working at esteemed restaurants like Farallon and Aqua.

Christian explains that being a grill cook “has always been in his wheelhouse,” and his resume shows serious chops working with live fire. That’s why he’s especially excited about the restaurant’s dry-aged room and butcher’s room, as well as two grills in the exhibition kitchen. This means one grill is focused on bringing out mesquite/hickory and the other pulls out oak/fruitwoods (like apple and peach). Christian clarifies that—while they don’t necessarily want to be labeled as a steakhouse—they do want to serve the best steak in town.

Citizen Rail’s Tomahawk Steak

Whole sides of animals and larger cuts will be possible thanks to the dedicated butchering room, something the average restaurant can’t pull off. Christian says he doesn’t want to only prepare dry-aged red meat; “I also want to do a lot of pork, duck…You name it, we’re going to mess around with it.”

An array of appetizers and crisp craft brews and cocktails go hand in hand

At home, Christian’s go-to side typically involves sliced potatoes tossed with rosemary, garlic and olive oil. Citizen Born will serve shareable items including grilled asparagus with aioli and preserved lemons on top, mashed potato and cauliflower dishes, duck fat fries with slow-roasted garlic and roasted veggies like a smoked carrot dish (with almond puree).

Veggies like artichokes get some love on Citizen Rail’s menu


  1. Spend money on quality meats—the thicker the better. Christian says, “there’s nothing worse than a thin, wimpy, sad steak.”
  2. Keep it simple: Season with kosher salt, large cracked pepper, olive oil and perhaps some balsamic.
  3. Use lump mesquite wood (hickory chips) for more smoke and flavor
  4. “Get it moving,” and crank the grill up to a “super hot” temperature (up to 700 degrees for mesquite).
  5. For a two-finger-thick cut: Cook one side for two to three minutes, flip and do two to three minutes on the other side, then flip back for an additional two minutes on the first side, then do the last side for one minute. The whole process should take 15 to 20 minutes. (For three-finger cuts, add 90 seconds to each side.)
  6. Get the meat nice and caramelized – you can use balsamic to help with that.
  7. Let it rest in a warm spot and “hang out” (on a plate covered with tin foil, for three to five minutes).
  8. Eat, and enjoy!


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  1. Steven Solomon says:

    #5 the timing does not add up as I get only 9 minutes the way the chef is counting. Steaks should be room temperature before cooking not just out of the refrig and onto the grill. Grill top should be left open or steak could burn or dry out. Chef could also talk about natural tenderizers like plain yogurt, and the skin from a papaya. Why does the picture show lemonds?

    • Faith Yi Kimpton says:

      Hi Steven,

      Great questions and comments. This is from Chef Christian: There are many other ways to tenderize meat. I like the papaya trick for some marinades. You can allow it sit and in a bag and breakdown too. In my opinion, the best and most concentrated flavor of meat is the Dry Age process. Regarding the time, it does include the resting period. It should start off room temp. It’s easier on the steak to go through temperatures that way. The times are just loose numbers. They’ll vary on room temperature, gas or coal, grill temperature and so on. The goal is feel it out and get close to the temp that’s good for you. Baking is more exacting in terms of measurement and timing; grilling needs to come from your soul. Thanks for reading!

  2. Margo Elizabeth Doty says:

    Yes he is the hottest chef