Barbecue season is once again upon us. Millions of people across North America will be grilling hot dogs, burgers, steaks, and shish kabobs while sipping cold beer, sangria, and lemonade under the warm summer sun. Yes, this sounds amazing. It sounds like a good time right? How could it possibly be any better? Let me tell you. Here is my list of the…
Top 10 ways to up your BBQ game
1. Brine – Ladies and gentlemen, brine your meats! Pork ribs, beef ribs, chicken, wings, pork shoulder, whatever your meat of choice, brine it. “Why?” you ask. Well, let me tell you. A brine is a salt and water solution (3-6% salt to water) sometimes containing sugar and usually containing flavourings such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, chilies, lemon, thyme, rosemary…pretty much anything. You brine meats, usually pork or poultry (tougher cuts of beef can benefit as well) as a way to retain juiciness, add flavor, and tenderize. What the brine does is expands the protein molecules in the meat allowing them to retain more moisture preventing them from drying out. The brine also breaks down the structure of the protein causing the meat to be more tender.
Making your brine:
Take 4 tbsp of salt and 4 tbsp of sugar add it to 2 L of water. Add any flavorings you want. For one rack of pork ribs I would add:
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 4 cloves
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 10 pepper corns
- 1 lemon cut in half
- 1/2 an onion thinly sliced
- 2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
Put all of this in a pot with your water, salt and sugar solution. Turn on high heat and wait until it comes to a boil. Once it begins to boil, shut it off and cool in the fridge over night uncovered. You want to make sure it is completely cool before adding your meat. Once cool, submerge your meat and let sit over night. The next day remove the meat from the brine and rinse. Pat dry and cook as you normally would. Discard the brine.
2. Sauce – For a lot of people, myself included, sauce is one of the most important components of barbecue. If you have a shitty sauce you have shitty barbecue. When I say sauce I am not just referring to what we know as BBQ sauce. You know, it’s kind of reddish, sometimes sweet and spicy, sometimes vinegary. Yes, that sauce is important for barbecue but it is not the only sauce. Grilling some steak? Get rid of the “Bull’s Eye” and make yourself a chimichurri:
- 1/2 c chopped parsley
- 1/2 c chopped cilantro
- 2 tbsp red chili flakes
- 1/3 c chopped roasted red pepper
- Juice from 2 limes
- 2 chopped garlic cloves
- 1/2 a small onion finely chopped
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 c oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Mix it all together and let it sit for an hour. Spoon over grilled steak and enjoy.
3. Low and Slow – You have heard this before, even if you don’t remember. Somewhere deep in the recesses of your mind it’s there. Low and slow. Over the past decade or so this has been sort of a mantra for cooks of every ilk. This phrase has begun a movement. Before farm to table, before 50 mile diets, there was low and slow. What does it mean? Low and slow refers to cooking large pieces of meat. You cook them on low heat for a long time in order to extract the best texture and flavor possible. Doing this on a barbecue only enhances the overall experience and the finished product. How do you do it? Take a pork shoulder. Brine it for two – three days. Rinse it, dry it, cover it in salt, pepper, and other seasonings. Heat up your barbecue and turn it down as low as it will go. Put the pork shoulder on the barbecue. Leave it alone for the first hour or two. After the second hour flip it over. Leave it alone for another hour or two. After the fourth hour begin to generously add your favorite barbecue sauce. Continue to do this for the next hour or two. When the meat is falling apart it is done. Take it off the barbecue rip the meat apart, cover it in sauce, mix it in, and you have incredibly tender, flavorful, juicy pulled pork.
4. Vegetables – It used to be that when I thought about barbecue all I thought about was big pieces of flame kissed meat, sausages, hot dogs, burgers, you know, meat. Now, that is still what I think about, but because I don’t want to die of a heart attack at 35 I also think about grilled vegetables. Vegetables, like meat, benefit from the direct flame cooking method of the barbecue. The high heat of the grill and flames cause the natural sugar in vegetables to caramelize resulting in a sweet delicious flavor. What vegetables should you grill? Corn, in or out of the husk is great grilled (if grilling the corn still in the husk soak in water for an hour before cooking to prevent the husk from catching fire). Zucchini sliced and brushed with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Grilling peppers really brings out their sweetness and like zucchini all you need is some olive oil and salt and pepper. Asparagus with…yup, olive oil salt and pepper grilled and finished with a little lemon and Parmesan. I think the point is that you can grill just about any vegetable, add a little olive oil and salt and pepper and you are laughing.
5. Compound Butter – “More butter, more better.” That is a pretty common saying in professional kitchens and it isn’t wrong. Butter is delicious. Adding flavourings to butter (making it a compound butter) makes it more delicious. What would you use this for? Well, add cilantro, lime, Worcestershire sauce, and jalapeno to softened butter, mix it up form it into a log and cool it to firm it up. Once it is firm cut it into medallions and use to butter grilled corn on the cob. Add roasted red pepper, parsley, anchovy paste, lemon juice, and brandy to butter. Put that on a grilled steak while it is resting and you will understand. Add any ingredients you want to butter and use it as butter. It is that simple.
6. Spatchcock – It’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds. All spatchcock means is to take the backbone out of a chicken so you can flatten it. Why is this important in terms of barbecuing? It’s important because you can cook a whole chicken in half the time it usually takes. It is also much easier to marinade or brine a flattened chicken as opposed to a whole chicken. To do this simply take a chicken and put it on a cutting board so that the back bone is down. Using a sharp knife or kitchen sheers starting at the back of the chicken, cut the ribs on either side of the back bone all the way to the wish bone. Remove the wish bone as well as the back bone. Flatten the chicken by laying it flat and pushing on it with your hands. That’s it.
7. Resting Meat – You should already know this. You really, really should. Resting meat is important no matter what. If you bake it in an oven, cook it in a pan on the stove, cook it on a barbecue, or over a campfire, rest your meat! Why is resting important? When something, anything, is heated it’s molecules being to move more and more rapidly. By resting meat you give it’s molecules a chance to calm down. If you don’t rest your meat it will bleed out all of it’s juice (which is it’s flavor) when you cut into it. If you want meat that is flavorful and juicy rest it.
8. Condiments – A condiment is anything used to add flavor to food after the cooking process has been completed. There are many different types of condiments, way more than I could ever cover in this article. That being said, I am going to stick with the big three. Ketchup, mustard, and relish; the classic barbecue trio. First of all, all three of these condiments are easy to make at home. Secondly, all three can be easily elevated with a few simple tweaks. Making ketchup, which is basically just tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, and spices can easily be elevated by smoking or roasting the tomatoes on the barbecue before cooking them with the rest of the ingredients to make your ketchup. To make a really basic mustard all you need is mustard powder, a little vinegar, and a bit of water. To make a really good mustard you just need to add some mustard seeds that have been soaked for ten minutes in water, some dark beer, a little honey, and a little turmeric. Relish is just as easy as the other two. All you need is a base ingredient, usually cucumber, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Easy. If you want to bring it up a bit try charring some peeled onions over high heat on your barbecue. Once the onions are very charred and cooled, chop them up and add the to your sugar, vinegar, and salt solution.
9. Drinks – Beverages are a very important part of a good barbecue and there are a few ways you can take classic barbecue drinks and up them a bit. Try sweetening your lemonade with muddled frozen blueberries. This will add the necessary sweetness and will up the visual appearance. Plus, it just tastes great. Flavor iced teas with fruit or berries as well. Honestly, take soda water, add a bunch of sliced citrus, and some fresh and frozen berries and you have a good time. Add a splash of rum or vodka to that and you have an even better time.
10. Dessert – Okay, you’ve done it. You and your friends and family have just gorged yourselves on delicious grilled meat and vegetables. You are all completely full. Well, you are all full but something sweet would hit the spot right? Well, I’ve got you covered. Let’s up the barbecue dessert game shall we. Everyone loves strawberry shortcake. Try marinading your strawberries in balsamic vinegar. Or, try grilling the strawberries. Why not roast a peeled pineapple on the barbecue and serve it with ice cream? Or, do the same with peaches. When it comes to dessert and barbecues just be creative and keep it light.