Barbecue: A noun, an adjective, a verb.
I love a good barbecue attended by friends and family that carries you from hot sunny daytime to cool, Smores-mandatory fire pit nights. I love a good barbecued piece of meat that holds smoky goodness and leaks tasty juice that runs down my arm. I love to barbecue marinated slabs of zucchini, olive oil brushed red peppers and butterflied butter-soaked prawns.
Now that a handful of warm weather days have come and gone, it's time to get serious with my goals for summer cooking. You see, I am an apartment dwelling owner of two fairly awesome, large barbecue grills; it takes a truck to move them. I share outdoor space with another owner of a tabletop grill and an above-ground, moveable fire pit. All in all, the petite courtyard retreat has enough fire-capability and meat-handling potential that neither of us should turn on our stoves or ovens till October.
This year I'm looking to cook outdoors as much as possible and earn greater bragging rights for owning those two grills. Regarding gear, there are divided camps on whether propane grilling beats wood, and charcoal bricket-fueled barbecuing. Barbecuing as a method is typically done outdoors due to the smoke factor, while simple grilling can easily be done indoor year-round depending on your oven set-up or outdoors as well. My gear is solid, yet my skill at the grill is another matter entirely. Truth be told, I'm no pro. Mostly I employ the "pass it off to the most capable looking male as quickly as possible" method of cooking outdoors because I'm loathe to be stuck standing in one place. Due to that I've missed out on some of the finer nuances of grilling.
Rub the grate with oil before touching food to it? Should you mist the meat or vegetables with water while they cook? What about basting, and how often do you turn things? Turn the temperature up to burn off stuck on food or use elbow grease and the bristly brush to do the job? Tim Davis of Federal Way swears by his slow-cooking wood-fueled barbecue, but says his fast-cooking, propane grill is more practical for getting food on the backyard patio table in a timely fashion. As a single father of three boys, Davis assigned each a task appropriate to their age; the 6-year-old carries paper plates and more to set the table, 12-year-old is in charge of the skewered onions and bell peppers and the oldest brother flips the steaks and bastes them with herbed butter.
"I want my young guys to know how to cook a good meal," Davis said.
He's teaching them how to put meat in the barbecue in the morning and maintain it over the hours it can take while tending their yard.
"We're multitasking in a very easy way and get great meat out of it," he said.
Davis shares the real secret to good grilling, barbecuing, smoking and cooking.
"It's all in the meat you choose. Get a good cut. It needs some fat, some marbling. Tenderize it, use a little seasoning, but don't go crazy. With good meat you want to let the natural flavor shine, not cover it up."
While standing in the meat department at Top Foods, Gillian Lifton of east Tacoma shares that she does her own grilling, but parks her chair next to the grill and then just enjoys her guests. Her secret?
"Don't fuss with things," she said. "The easiest way to do that is not to stand in front of the grill in the first place. Brush some type of oil on your meat or veggies and then leave it alone."
I ask about a timer and Lifton nods repeatedly.
"Use one until you get the feel for it," she said. "Once it looks about halfway done, turn it. Then take them off before you think they're done and let it rest. That's my grilling for dummies secrets."
Lifton's words ring true; just like with cookies and breads, meat will continue cooking a bit after being removed from the heat source, and vegetables need time to cool slightly. Regarding the rest, I've found personal preference is what will win your barbecue day.