Backyard barbecue season officially kicks off
As National Barbecue Day ignites the outdoor cooking season this month, many purists are quick to remind us that true barbecue is all about low and slow—that thing you do in the backyard with hot dogs and hamburgers, that’s grilling not barbecuing. And of course, they’re right. But don’t for one flickering second feel bad about standing in your backyard, standing in front of your Weber grill with propane blazing and a spatula in your hand.
Real chefs burn brightest when they are outdoors standing in front of flames with plenty of meat at hand and all the tools of the barbecue trade at their side. But grillmasters don’t need complicated and time-consuming dishes like pulled pork and brisket. Sometimes, the simplest fare is the real anatomy of a barbecue.
But hold the hamburgers for just a moment—give the lowly hot dog some love by making it the focus of an upcoming backyard grilling party. Top dogs of the grill include Nathan’s beef franks with natural casing. The beefy, garlicky dog provides the perfect snap when grilled just right and the natural casing is gentler on the human anatomy. Hebrew National dogs are great if you’re looking for a reduced-fat frank that doesn’t skimp on flavor. For an organic option, grab a pack of Applegate Farms hot dogs for a more wholesome, yet surprisingly full-flavored weenie.
When it’s time to graduate from hot dogs, the natural next step is sausage. This plumper, more dynamically flavored cousin of the traditional frankfurter is loaded with fats that graciously melt and drip onto the flames, causing flare ups that impart a flavorful char on the sausage. A grocery’s meat department has plenty of freshly ground sausages to choose from, but go beyond the traditional and order some gourmet creations online.
Kreuz Market (www.kreuzmarket.com) out of Lockhart, TX, ships intensely smoked Texas sausage; D’Artagnan (www.dartagnan.com) offers wild game sausages including wild boar, rabbit and venison; and Fontanini (www.fontanini.com) provides that classically spiraled Italian sausage rope in both sweet and hot varieties.
Getting back to burgers, those pre-formed patties at the food store are best for massive cookouts when bulk is the name of the game. But if there is time, steer clear of that shortcut and attempt to grind your own burger. Buying a few pounds of rib-eye for grinding lessens the chance for nasty E.coli to take hold, while also ensuring that your hamburgers are the product of one or two cows, rather than an amalgamation of cattle.
A professional grinding machine can cost hundreds of dollars, but a less expensive option is a grinder attachment to your standard mixer. These range anywhere from $50 to $130 and do the job just as well. For a full demonstration on grinding your own meat for hamburgers, visit the barbecue wizards at www.weber.com.
As for the bread cradling your weenies, sausages and patties, you need buns strong enough to hold up to the juice, yet soft enough to yield lovingly to each bite. In this writer’s opinion, the boss bun for such a task is found at your local grocery store: Martin’s Potato Rolls, God’s gift to store-bought meat buns. The soft, buttery texture provides a pleasant bite, while hardily soaking up the moist essence of any meat. Martin’s Potato Rolls also toast spectacularly on the grill without falling apart into a shredded bread mess.
But when steak is the name of the grill game, buns aren’t necessary. In these cases, certain steaks fare better on the barbecue than others—cuts like flat iron, rib-eye, t-bone and strip sport enough fat to cause those all-important flare ups. The rib-eye is perhaps the world’s finest steak, with a tender combination of luxuriousness and a wallop of beefy flavor. Opt for the bone-in version for that nose-to-tail cowboy feel. No need to locate the best mail-order steak here—instead, take a trip to Center Cuts in Roslyn (382 Willis Ave.) and ask the butcher for a gander at their bone-in cowboy rib-eye, part of the store’s daily menu.
Don’t forget about chicken. This easy-to-overlook bird has a roost all its own on the grill. Each part of the chicken cooks at different temperatures and for different amounts of time on the grill—and, of course, flavors vary as well. While the breast does have a tendency to go dry, it is often a favorite among guests. To make it a more exciting bite, buy thick, whole chicken breasts and butterfly-cut them before marinating in your choice of sauce, like Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet Golden Mustard Barbecue sauce. It’s a unique take on the finger-licking spectrum, but it is most definitely worth a try.
When you’re in the backyard with grill tools in hand, keep it simple this summer—but don’t skimp on the outdoor flavor.