It’s a proven fact: Most Southern men are happiest when warm weather arrives and they can spend quality time over a hot bed of coals. Grilling is the true Southern way to cook meat — it’s outdoors, it’s casual and it delivers great food.
Even Southern ladies consider grilling 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 their part and it’s the perfect way to keep cool.
Best of all, everyone wants to be a part of the grilling action, often gathering around the grill-meister as the griller performs his (or her) magic with the meat of choice.
There’s no denying the lure of the coals, especially to 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 to keep from upsetting his Memphis in May grilling team, which closely guards their secrets) claims his grilling skills have evolved through years of perfecting his craft, not to mention a dry rub made with 16 different “secret” herbs and spices.
The group of grillers annually participate in barbecuing competitions around the state, precursors to the famous Memphis event. While the group regularly takes first place and overall championship awards for their ribs and pork shoulders in Mississippi, they have never placed in Memphis. However, this fact doesn’t deter them from continuing to try their luck each May. And there’s a good reason why: They simply enjoy being part of the excitement and look forward to meeting other grilling teams at the event that draws some of the nation’s top grillers.
Here are a few tips from John and a national grilling expert, just in time for the start of grilling season and arrival of Memorial Day weekend:
1. Go old school — John admits that gas grills are easier and quicker to operate, but the group prefers a charcoal grill with “about 700 square inches” of cooking surface. They are also particular about charcoal, using Kingsford brand along with an electric starter and chimney.
2. Don’t skimp on quality — When it comes down to a perfect steak or rack of ribs, it’s all about the quality. The first rule is to select a good grade or cut of meat, as there’s “no sauce or rub that will disguise a lower grade of meat.” Sometimes, it’s worth it to drive a little extra to purchase good meat that’s on sale. Start out with the best possible meat, season it well and most likely you will end up with a great meal from the grill.
3. Another grilling guru, Steven Raichlen, who wrote “The Barbecue Bible,” a comprehensive cookbook containing over 500 recipes for the grill, classified grilling as “live fire, high heat and direct cooking. Barbecuing is long, slow heat, indirect cooking, and lots of smoke. The beautiful thing about grilling is that it’s outdoors and it’s public,” Raichlen said.
Below are more abbreviated excerpts from Raichlen’s 10 commandments of perfect grilling:
1. Be organized: Gather everything you need for grilling: food, marinade, basting sauce, seasonings, equipment grill-side before you start.
2. Gauge your fuel: When using charcoal, light enough to form a bed of glowing coals three inches larger on all sides than the surface area of the food. With a gas grill, make sure the tank is at least one-third full.
3. Preheat the grill: High heat — at least 500 degrees — is key to great grilling. When using charcoal, hold your hand about six inches above the grate. After three seconds, the force of the heat should force you to snatch your hand away. When using a gas grill, preheat to high for 10-15 minutes.
4. Know when to baste: Oil, vinegar, citrus and yogurt bastes can be brushed on meat throughout cooking time. (If you baste with a marinade you used for raw meat or seafood, do not apply it during the last three minutes of cooking.) Apply sugar-based barbecue sauce toward the end of cooking time because it burns easily.
5. Keep it covered: When cooking larger cuts, such as prime rib, keep the grill tightly covered. Every time you lift the lid, you add five to 10 minutes to the cooking time.
The steakhouse burger recipe below allows you to “see” and control what’s in your burgers instead of relying on the supermarket. Next week I’ll share some of my favorite homemade grilling sauces and toppings, as well as a couple of never-fail dip recipes.
TASTY STEAKHOUSE BURGER
1-pound boneless chuck roast, round or short ribs
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
4 hamburger buns
Swiss cheese slices
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons ketchup
2-3 tablespoons pickle relish
■ Preheat the grill to medium-high. Chop beef into 1-inch cubes, place on a plate, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Place half the beef in a food processor or blender. Pulse (do not continuously run the food processor) about 15 times. Season the meat with half the Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper and pulse an additional 10-12 times, until meat is finely chopped but not overly fine. Remove and repeat the process with 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 each burger during last two minutes of cooking.
■ Place ketchup, mayonnaise and relish in a cleaned food processor or blender and pulse to combine. Spread on the buns, then add the burgers with lettuce and tomatoes.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at [email protected]