It’s grillin’ time
Serious BBQ cooks flame with intensity
Sociologist John Shelton Reed wrote that "barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe's wines or cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes." For most people, cooking on the barbecue is, at its best, a social and even cultural encounter. But for those who really know what they're doing, it's also about marinades, flavors and patience, said Staff Sgt. Daniel Newcomb, a Kaneohe-based Marine who is one of 10 finalists for the $5,000 Command of the Grill award to be announced tomorrow in New York City's Times Square. "People who love the grill put a lot more attention into it."
Even if you can't talk for 45 minutes about why charcoal grills are superior to gas (more flavor, the experts report), it's time to dust off those barbecue mitts and family recipes. May is National Barbecue Month, and Memorial Day typically kicks off the beginning of the season that invites outdoor grilling, a fun contest or two and tips for improvement.
So if you're an amateur, there's hope that you, too, can invite friends over and share something that will earn compliments -- or at least keep guests from running to Burger King after they leave your house.
One important element is the marinade. "I want the flavor to be tasted but not to overwhelm," said Newcomb, who douses his steaks 30 to 60 minutes before cooking. "If it soaks into the meat too much, then you lose what the actual meat tastes like."
Honolulu resident Brett Uprichard, who owns three grills and two smokers, added that barbecue sauce, spread over the meat during cooking, should be used judiciously. It often contains brown sugar, which tends to burn. A charred exterior and raw interior indicate that "you're hanging out with an amateur," he said. Therefore, he recommends basting the meat toward the end of the cooking process.
Uprichard joked that back yard grilling "is caveman DNA rearing its ugly, primal head. That's why it's so much fun." But Newcomb takes his cooking duties seriously. When stationed in Iraq for nine months, he grilled for his fellow Marines and managed to turn a hostile desert environment into his backyard for a few hours. Newcomb, who learned to grill while working as a cook in a steakhouse in Omaha, Neb. as a youngster, also takes his reputation seriously. "When I do cook, I want the same (positive) response all of the time. The whole thing is watching the reaction of people when they eat."
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Newcomb barbecues a couple of steaks. His "Portobello Mushroom Steak" made him a finalist for Weber's Command of the Grill award.
Brett Uprichard, an editor at Honolulu Publishing Co. and a self-described foodie, offered a few suggestions:
» Make sure flames have died down and coals are white hot. If you weren't patient enough to accomplish this and allowed your dinner to become a training exercise for the local fire department, pour beer on the meat, said Uprichard. It will douse the flames and add flavor.
» Don't turn the meat 16 times. It's unnecessary. Depending on the thickness, monitor the cooking time on each side. Turn the meat once. Twice, if you must.
» Don't press the meat with a spatula --this squeezes out the juice. If you're pressing because you're trying to avoid charred edges or raw centers, a better approach is to put dimples in the centers of your burgers before you start cooking, so the exterior is about 3/4 inch thick, and the center is about 1/2 inch.
» Chicken takes a long time to cook properly. Uprichard recommends putting it in the oven at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes before grilling. Breasts are the easiest to cook on the grill; thighs take the longest. Plan accordingly.
» Ribs should be cooked slowly (anticipate two hours). Brush on barbecue sauce only at the end or you'll get a blackened exterior and uncooked pork in the center. Along the way, spray occasionally with a solution containing 50 percent water and 50 percent balsamic vinegar (Cattlemen's recommends a spray bottle filled with vinegar, olive oil, fresh lime juice and honey). Toward the end, Uprichard removes the ribs from the grill, wraps them in foil with barbecue sauce, and completes the cooking in the oven.
» As a rule, the barbecue lid should be left closed. Every time it's lifted, heat escapes, adding to the cooking time and eventually drying out the food.
On the mark, get set, grill ...
» If you think you're hopeless at the grill, enter the Cattlemen's Barbecue Sauce and Rick Browne search for America's Worst Barbecuer. You can win a "barbecue makeover" from BBQ master Browne, host of the TV show "Barbecue America," and prizes worth $4,500. Nominate yourself or a friend by writing in 100 words or less why this person is impaired at the grill. Send to "Chump to Champ" BBQ Makeover Contest, care of BHGPR 546 Valley Road, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043. Or enter online at www. cattlemensbbqsauce.com. Deadline is Aug. 1.
» Calling all ladies who tame the flame. Enter the National Pork Board's "Ultimate Grill Gal" contest. Five grill goddesses will be recognized nationally -- one each month from May through September. Submit a statement in 25 words or less that explains why you should win a Weber Q 300 Series gas grill and accessories. For details, visit www.TheOtherWhite-Meat.com, or send your essay on a 3-by-5-inch postcard to Ultimate Grill Gal Search Contest, care of National Pork Board, P.O. Box 9114, Des Moines, IA 50306. Deadline is Sept. 30.
Beyond burgers and ribs
Spice up the barbecue experience with something new:
» How about pizza on the barbecue? Make or buy pizza dough, press out a 1/2-inch thick crust, brush with olive oil and place on the grill. After two minutes, check crust and flip over. Add sauce and toppings. Close grill for a few minutes until cheese melts.
» Marinate chopped or halved vegetables and place directly on the grill, or thread on bamboo skewers. Vegetables can also be chopped, marinated and wrapped in foil.
» Cut red potatoes into bite-sized pieces and marinate in olive oil and 2 tablespoons barbecue seasoning blend. Cut onion into thin wedges. Arrange potatoes evenly over onion, and place everything in foil on the grill for 15 minutes. Turn half-way through. (Consider starting the potatoes in the oven to speed up grilling time.) When using foil, place nonstick (dull) side toward food.
» Grilled stone fruit makes the perfect dessert. Halve peaches, plums, nectarines or apricots. Place on the grill for 3 to 4 minutes until lightly charred. Serve warm with ice cream.
» Try a professional injector to infuse marinade deep into the meat while it's cooking. Visit www.cajuninjector.com for the $11.99 marinade kits. Start with the original plastic injector ($4.99), and work your way up to the 6-inch commercial "Fat Boy" ($24.99).
» Consider investing in Viking's relatively new Gas TruSear Infrared Griller. It sears in juices before you transfer meat to the barbecue to complete cooking with perfect results, said Al Lum, regional sales representative for Viking Range. For details, visit www.vikingrange.com.