Paradise by the BBQ Grill Lights
Barbeques are one of the time-honored traditions of the summer season. Getting together with friends and family to relax outdoors and enjoy freshly grilled food with delightfully cool beverages, falls somewhere just short of paradise. To make the most of your BBQ entertaining, learning the basics of BBQ grilling and how to tie everything together is key.
Before you can start hosting BBQs, you need a grill. BBQ grills are available in gas versions that require propane to burn, and charcoal grills that use charcoal briquettes as a heat source. Gas grills are quicker as you don't need to wait for the charcoal to burn down, but many people swear that gas grilled food doesn't taste as "authentic" as food cooked over a charcoal grill. Of course, some BBQ enthusiasts even debate calling BBQ grills actual barbeque, as traditionally barbequed food is slow cooked in a pit and never grilled at all. Whatever your grill situation, the basic facts remain the same. Call it a Grill or a BBQ, in either case it's good cooking. Before ever grilling, you will need to "season" your grill by letting it burn at a medium temperature for about three hours. Doing this will remove any impurities in the metal or paint that comprises the grill.
Where's the Meat?
Deciding what to grill is largely a matter of personal taste. Hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, steak, chicken breast, fish and pork chops are all excellent grilled. Having a selection of meats available is a great way to make sure everyone gets something they enjoy.
- Hamburger -- Grilling burgers is one of the easiest types of outdoor cooking. For medium well hamburgers, you'll want to make ¼ lb patties and grill them for approximately 5-6 minutes on each side. As each grill is different, you'll want to keep an eye on cooking times the first few times you use your grill. Mixing Worcestershire sauce and onion soup mix into the hamburger before making patties adds a little zing to your burgers. For cheeseburgers, add cheese slices when the hamburgers are 1-2 minutes away from being done for properly melted cheese. Hamburgers should be cooked over a medium hot fire.
- Hot Dogs/Brats -- It doesn't get any easier than grilling hot dogs or bratwurst sausages. As they go directly from the package to the grill, all you have to do is make sure they don't get burnt. Providing diced onions, grilled peppers and even chili along with the standard condiments can turn ordinary grilled hot dogs into something special. Hot dogs and brats should be cooked over a medium hot fire.
- Steak -- There's nothing better than a well grilled steak glazed with BBQ sauce, but there's no easier way to ruin a great steak than by grilling it too long. How long to cook your steak will depend on your personal preference, as well as the cut and thickness of the meat. Until you become familiar with your grill, use a meat thermometer to gauge a steak's doneness. 145°= rare, 160° = medium and 180°= well done. Using seasoned rubs and marinades on the meat prior to cooking will add new dimensions of flavor. Steak should be cooked over a hot fire with the goal being to have a seared outside and a juicy inside.
- Chicken Breast -- Grilling on a BBQ really brings out a great flavor in normally bland chicken breast. Seasoning the meat underneath the skin will insure that the flavor is well distributed throughout the meat. As undercooked chicken may contain bacteria, make sure the meat is thoroughly cooked. Fully cooked chicken will register at 165° on the meat thermometer. Chicken should be cooked over a medium fire and turned once to brown both sides.
- Fish (Whitefish) -- Whitefish (trout, perch, bass, etc) can get a little tricky on the grill. Be sure to brush the fish with olive oil on both sides before grilling or else it will stick to the grill. Fish will grill quickly over a medium fire and should be turned several times to insure even cooking. Sprinkling lemon juice and black pepper over the fish while it's grilling will bring its flavor to the forefront. Fish will flake easily when it is done.
- Fish (Salmon/Tuna) -- Heavier fish such as salmon or tuna steaks will take a little longer to cook on the grill. Olive oil should be brushed over the fish and for an extra measure you might spray a non-stick cooking spray onto the grill. Over a medium fire, salmon and tuna steaks will cook in approximately 10 minutes (5 on each side).
- Pork Chops -- Cooking pork chops on the BBQ is similar to cooking chicken. The most reliable method is to sear the meat briefly over a hot flame and then reduce the heat and move the meat away from the fire to slow cook for an additional 4-5 minutes per side. Using a dry rub of garlic, rosemary, sea salt and ginger will add some spice to your chops. Pork also makes a tasty kebab.
It All Comes Down to the Sauce
BBQ sauce recipes are guarded more closely than family jewels, but if you don't have a secret recipe there are some quality sauces available commercially. In choosing a sauce, you'll probably want to try a few before deciding which you like best. Most sauces lean toward either a smoky or a sweet flavor and people generally have a preference for one or the other. A great way to make your own sauce is to find a restaurant that makes or uses a sauce you like. If they don't want to divulge the recipe, try search the web for a copy-cat recipe site that might lead you in the right direction. Contrary to popular belief, BBQ sauce should not be applied to meat the entire time it is grilling. The sugar and tomato components of the sauce will easily burn and blacken, taking away from the flavor of your grilled meat. Ideally, BBQ sauce should be applied about ¾ of the way through the cooking process, giving it a chance to glaze without burning.
Once you've mastered the art of grilling, you'll want to have some delectable side dishes to compliment your main entrée. Freshly grilled vegetables such as tomato, zucchini, summer squash and bell peppers are both delicious and easy to prepare. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, add ¼ cup olive oil and brush the mixture onto the vegetable before grilling over a medium flame. Add crushed black pepper to taste and you have a perfect side dish. Another grill specialty is garlic butter baked potatoes. First, cut tin foil squares large enough to wrap each potato. Next, leaving the skin on, quarter the potatoes without actually cutting all the way through. Nudge the potatoes open slightly at the cuts and add a teaspoon of whipped butter and freshly pressed garlic to each quarter. Wrap each potato in tin foil pushing it back into shape and grill with the cover closed for 45 minutes to an hour. The resulting baked potato is marvelous! Due to the extended cooking time, it's best to get the potatoes done before you start cooking meat. Other traditional BBQ side dishes include corn on the cob, baked beans and potato salad.
BBQ Beverage Bar
There are many beverages that complement BBQ fare, but if questioned, the number one choice for most people is beer. Providing a light, regular and dark beer selection will insure that most people will find something they like in the mix. Providing frosted beverage glasses is great for hot summer nights. Pitcher drinks, such as margaritas and mojitos, work well in the BBQ atmosphere and allow the guests to serve themselves. Non-Alcoholic choices should include pitchers of ice tea or lemonade along with assorted soft drinks.
To elevate your BBQ from fun to fantastic, adding some subtle decorative touches to your outside dining area will create a festive mood. As many outdoor parties carry on well into the night, provide light sources other than an intrusive porch light. Tiki torches, party lights and Chinese lanterns will all work to provide soft lighting that really enhances the atmosphere. While BBQ is delicious, it can also become a messy experience so be sure to cover your table with a vinyl cloth and provide plenty of napkins or wet wipes. Lightly playing music can add to the overall mood, but you don't want to drown out conversations by playing anything too loud. Nature itself provides a great backdrop for BBQ parties, so don't feel the need to add too much.
Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.