Nothing says summer like a casual backyard barbecue. However, nothing evaporates the joy out of a summer soiree faster than overly-charred ribs, flavorless chicken and dry hamburger patties.
If you’re the one hosting, the first steps are easy.
You buy food, pick up some drinks, light up the grill and voila! You’re well on your way.
Still, there are cooking techniques to keep in mind if you want to transform your outdoor kickback into a festive affair that’ll have your guests begging to take home leftovers — if there are leftovers.
Break out your tongs and hone your skills with these BBQ tips from a grilling expert.
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Create your rubs and sauces from scratch.
Lots of people love a plain grilled hamburger and hotdog with store-bought barbecue sauce, but when you want to spice things up, choose ingredients that you love rather than just going with basic sauces.
“A lot of people … follow a lot of traditional recipes and they might not even like that flavor profile,” said Phil “The Grill” Johnson, championship pitmaster and owner of Barbecue Trap House in Phoenix. “I say cook with love. Cook with what you like.”
Johnson, who was a contestant on Food Network’s “Chopped Grill Masters,” woos customers at his fast-casual barbecue restaurant with bold flavors he enjoyed while growing up in the Bronx.
He uses cumin to give his meat a jerk-like sting, and also Sazón, a type of seasoned salt found in Spanish and Mexican markets, along with other sweet and savory spices.
After winning awards for his barbecuing skills, he said people started calling him the “Jay Z of BBQ.”
“You don’t have to be from Texas, you don’t have to be from Kansas City, you don’t have to be from Memphis to have great barbecue,” he said. “Don’t follow these traditional recipes. Come up with your own flavor profile.”
Be careful with butter and salt.
If you use butter in your rub or sauces, it could burn quickly if it’s going over direct heat, so you may want to use grapeseed oil or avocado oil instead, Johnson said.
“You want to stay away from butters, sugars and syrups,” Johnson said. “Those things will burn on you.”
He said that if the heat source is indirect, those ingredients are fine on the grill, “but you’ll need to just keep an eye on them,” as they cook, he said. Adding sauces later on in the cooking process can also help prevent over-charing on the outside.
You should also save salt for the end when you’re serving the dish, Johnson said.
“A common mistake is people add salt automatically. You can never take away the salt after it’s been added, but you could always add salt if it’s needed.”
“Don’t be skimpy on the seasoning,” Johnson advises.
When you’re searing or smoking a large piece of meat, don’t be afraid to over-season the outside of the meat. Large cuts need a generous coating to help develop a crust. Try to season the meat all the way to the center because some will naturally fall off during the cooking process, he says.
Don’t ‘squeeze’ the meat.
It happens all the time in movies and on TV — the cook takes the spatula and presses it down on the patties as they sizzle, releasing a fury of spit and smoke.
But this is a big mistake.
“They mash down whatever they’re cooking to squeeze all the juices out, and it becomes just a dry hockey puck,” Johnson said.
Have BBQ tips? Let Dalvin Brown know on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.