It’s a proven fact: most Southern men are happiest when warm weather arrives and they can spend time over a hot bed of coals. Grilling is the true Southern way of preparing meat – it’s outdoors, it’s casual, and it delivers great food.
Even Southern women find the barbecue one of, if not the, best way to entertain during a hot Mississippi spring and summer. Main reason? Grilling requires very little kitchen work on your part and is the perfect way to cool off.
Best of all, everyone wants to be part of the grilling action and will often gather around the grill master while the griller works his (or her) magic on the meat of his choice.
There’s no denying the lure of coals, especially for an outdoor chef like my friend John, who has received his fair share of accolades for expertly grilled ribs, steaks and pork shoulders.
John (I’ll omit his last name so as not to upset his Memphis grill team in May, who are tight-lipped about their secrets) claims his grilling skills have evolved through years of perfecting his craft, let alone making a dry rub by the time he was 16 various “secret” herbs and spices.
The group of grillers competes annually in statewide barbecue contests, precursors to the famous Memphis event. While the Mississippi group regularly wins first place and overall for their ribs and pork shoulders, they’ve never placed in Memphis. However, that fact doesn’t stop them from continuing to try their luck every May. And with good reason: they just enjoy being part of the excitement and look forward to meeting other grill teams at the event, which attracts some of the nation’s best grillers.
Here are a few tips from John and a national grilling expert, just in time for the start of grilling season and the arrival of Memorial Day weekend:
1. Go old school – John admits that gas grills are easier and quicker to use, but the group prefers a charcoal grill with “about 700 square inches” of cooking space. They also place a special emphasis on charcoal and use the Kingsford brand along with an electric starter and chimney.
2. Don’t skimp on quality – When it comes to the perfect steak or ribs, it’s all about quality. The first rule is to select a good quality meat or cut of meat as there is “no sauce or rub to disguise a poor quality meat”. Sometimes it’s worth driving a bit more to buy good meat that’s on offer. Start with the best possible meat, season it well, and you’ll most likely end up with a great grilled meal.
3. Another grilling guru, Steven Raichlen, who wrote The Barbecue Bible, a comprehensive cookbook with over 500 grilling recipes, classified grilling as “live fire, high heat, and direct cooking.” Grilling is long, slow heat, indirect cooking, and lots of smoke. The beauty of grilling is that it’s outside and public,” Raichlen said.
Below are further abbreviated excerpts from Raichlen’s 10 commandments of perfect grilling:
1. Be Organized: Gather everything you need to grill: groceries, marinade, gravy, spices, equipment at the grill before you start.
2. Assess your fuel: If using charcoal, light enough to create a bed of glowing coals three inches larger on all sides than the surface of the food being grilled. With a gas grill, make sure the tank is at least a third full.
3. Preheat the grill: High heat – at least 500 degrees – is the key to great grilling. If using charcoal, hold your hand about 6 inches above the grate. After three seconds, the force of the heat should force you to pull your hand away. If using a gas grill, preheat on high for 10-15 minutes.
4. Know when to baste: Oil, vinegar, citrus, and yogurt basting can be brushed onto the meat throughout the cook time. (If you’re basting with a marinade you used on raw meat or seafood, don’t use it in the last three minutes of cooking.) Use sugar-based barbecue sauce toward the end of cooking, as it burns easily.
5. Keep Covered: When preparing larger pieces, such as B. Prime rib, keep grill covered tightly. Each time you open the lid, you add five to ten minutes to the cooking time.
The following steakhouse burger recipe allows you to “see” and control what’s in your burgers instead of relying on the grocery store. Next week I’ll be sharing some of my favorite homemade BBQ sauces and toppings, as well as a few must-try dip recipes.
DELICIOUS STEAKHOUSE BURGER
1 pound chuck roast boneless, round or short ribs
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
4 hamburger buns
Swiss cheese slices
2-3 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons of ketchup
2-3 tablespoons cucumber relish
■ Preheat the grill to medium-high. Cut beef into 1-inch cubes, place on a plate, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Place half of the beef in a food processor or blender. Pulse about 15 times (do not run the food processor continuously). Season the meat with half the Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and pulse an additional 10-12 times until the meat is finely but not overly chopped. Remove and repeat the process with the remaining beef. Divide into four equal portions and shape into four patties.
■ Place the patties on the grill and cook until brown and cooked to your liking. Place a slice of cheese on top of each burger during the last two minutes of cooking.
■ In a cleaned food processor or blender, combine ketchup, mayonnaise, and relish and pulse to combine. Spread on the buns, then place the burgers with lettuce and tomatoes on top.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer based in Mississippi. Email her at [email protected]