Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Light My Fire

Oh Man!!!! Do you feel that!? The sun is out! The smell of fresh cut grass is in the air! Sprinklers are filled with children and sidewalks are covered in multicolored chalk! Yes, ladies and gentlemen: summer is here. And along with summer comes grilling and bikinis. And since no one wants to see me put on a bikini, lets talk about what to put on the grill. Sound good to you? AW will thank you. My children will thank you. And my neighbors will thank you.
     First we'll chat about the method. Now, there is a great debate between charcoal and gas. "Taste the meat and not the heat," is what my brother, a proponent of propane, says. I personally would rather cook on charcoal. I enjoy the smells and smokey flavors that get added to the food. It's like adding extra seasoning to your food. However you choose to grill is up to you but there are few things to keep in mind: Be patient, don't press or poke, be safe, and don't be intimidated.
     Be patient: Don't rush things on the grill. If the grill is too hot you'll burn your food and end up at McDonald's. If you pull the food too soon, you may end up eating undercooked food. Just be patient and keep an eye on things. If you're using charcoal, let your coals get a layer of grey ash on them before you start cooking. If using gas, preheat the grill for an even temperature. Leave the lid closed unless you are flipping or checking for doneness. Follow recipes carefully until you become more familiar with which method is best for that particular dish. Once you are comfortable preparing different cuts of meats and poultry, feel free to experiment with fish, vegetables and fruits.
     Don't press or poke: We've all seen it and most of us have even done it. We want that burger now, so we take our spatula and press down on that burger and get the big flare up that causes oohs, aahs and second degree burns to your face. That flare up was caused by all the flavorful juices you just squeezed out of your food. Spatulas are made for flipping, not pressing. When you press your food, you dry out your food. Same goes for poking. When you jab your steak or chicken with a fork,  you leave holes in it for the juices to escape. Use tongs to turn your whole pieces of meat. The only time you should poke the food is when using an instant read thermometer to check for doneness.
     Be safe:  Nothing ruins a good cookout like a trip to the ER. Make sure you move your grill far enough away from your house so that the "one in million" ember doesn't light your house up. Also, while smoke is good to torment the neighbors, it may not be good for it to all go in your house so make sure nearby windows are closed. Make sure you use mitts and long handled grill tools to protect your hands from the heat. Be especially careful with propane. Many a people, including myself, have lost eye brows, eye lashes and even some hair due to a build up of gas in the grill while trying to light it. Keep a spray bottle handy with water in it (or a beer in your non-spatula hand) for small flare ups and perhaps an extinguisher for larger ones. One more thing: Don't wear flip flops or sandals while cooking on a grill. Nothing sucks more than dropping a hot coal or even hot food on the tops of your feet. Yes, I've done that, too.
     Don't be intimidated: If you spend too much time worrying about ruining the burgers or burning the chicken, you're going to get so worked up that you end up doing both. Grilling is super simple. There are so many TV shows that try to make it way too complicated. BBQing can be complicated because of methods, timing, materials, using whole sides of beef, etc. but grilling in the back yard can be pretty easy. Just relax and keep an eye on your food but you don't have to be overbearing like a dad with a teenager.
     So just take your time, don't molest the meat, be safe, and relax and everything should be just fine.
     Now, my "go-to" grill favorites are ribs and burgers. There are different ways to make ribs that usually depend on geography. There is Carolina style, Memphis style, Kansas City style, and you know that Texas is there, too. There's dry ribs (just a spice rub and maybe a basting spray) and wet ribs (with a lot or a little BBQ sauce). I personally like my ribs dry with my homemade spice rub and sauce on the side. The natural flavor of the meat enhanced with the rub hits the palette just right. I will never turn down "wet" ribs but if I make them, they're dry.
     Now lets briefly talk about another mainstay to the back yard grill: burgers. Pretty simple, right? Go to the frozen food section and grab a pack of beef bricks and toss them on the grill, right? Rhetorical question, Farley. Make them yourself. It's easy and satisfying. Fresh beef tastes better than "previously-frozen-for-God-knows-how-long" patties. It's also usually cheaper to make your own as well. They can be as simple as salt, pepper and bread crumbs or an egg (to hold it together) or you can add all kinds of stuff from apples and sausage to Worcestershire.Once you make a good burger in your kitchen, you'll never buy them again.
     So (finally) I present to you my famous ribs and burgers just in time for the Fourth of July. I hope you enjoy the food you eat and the company you keep. Please be safe this holiday week(end), put aside differences, celebrate the independence of this great country, and have a drink for those that are protecting it. Now I'm off to the store for charcoal and a new banana hammock. For some reason AW keeps hiding mine.

Shep's Famous Ribs
2 Rib Racks (full or baby back)
1 Recipe Dry Rub

Dry Rub:
2 Tbs Onion Powder
2 Tbs Garlic Powder
2 Tbs Dried Thyme
2 Tbs Oregano
2 Tbs Paprika
2 Tbs Coriander
2 Tbs Seasoning Salt
1/2 Tbs Cayenne
1/2 Tbs Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and store in an air tight container. It'll stay fresh for about 4-6 months.
Rubbed and ready to grill

Lay your ribs out on a board or counter top and massage a generous amount of rub onto both sides,
ensuring that you get into all the cervices. Place your ribs bone side down on a grill at medium heat (about 350) set up for indirect cooking.* After about 20 minutes turn the ribs over. Wait 15 minutes and check for doneness with an instant read thermometer. It should read 160 when it's time to pull them from the grill. Cover them loosely with foil and let rest for 15 minutes. Make sure you use a sturdy knife and separate the ribs by cutting between the bone. Serve as is or with sauce on the side.
After the resting period.

*Medium heat is easy on a gas grill but on a charcoal grill you can get an oven thermometer and put it inside the grill. Indirect cooking on a gas grill means turning off the center burner and just using heat from the outside burners. For charcoal grills, make two piles of briquettes when first putting them in the grill. One pile on the right and one to the left leaving the center empty. Don't put the ribs directly on the heat source.

Ranch Onion Burgers
3 lbs Ground Beef (80/20 fat ratio)
1 packet Ranch Dressing Seasoning
1 packet Lipton Beefy Onion Soup Mix
1 packet Italian Dressing Seasoning
1/3 Cup Bacon Pieces
2 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce
1 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 Eggs
3/4 Cup Bread Crumbs
12 Slices Sharp White Cheddar Cheese (optional)
Ready to mix

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand. Once fully combined, Using your hands, loosely form eight patties.  Do not overwork the meat, otherwise the burgers will turn out tough.  Try to make your patties a little bit larger than your bun as they will tend to shrink while cooking. Once formed, make a dent with your thumb in the center to prevent the burger from plumping in the center. Cook over medium high heat. Your want to sear the meat and keep those juices inside. About 4 minutes on one side and 3 on the other for medium/medium rare. Remove from grill and let rest 2-3 minutes under tented foil. While meat the is resting, lightly butter your buns and place butter side down on the grill for 45-90 seconds. Move patty to toasted bun and top with cheddar cheese. Continue to top with whatever toppings you choose. I suggest green leaf lettuce, beef steak tomato, red onion, horseradish mustard, and mayo but the possibilities are endless.
Ready to eat!