5 Ways to Take Your BBQ from Meh to Epic

While July is National Grilling Month most people will keep firing up those grills all Summer long and we have some tips to take your barbeque to the next level:

1. Marinating is the technique of soaking food, especially meats, in a seasoned liquid before cooking. Like brining, it is commonly used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meat. The liquid used is a 'marinade' is often acidic with ingredients such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine or an enzymatic such as pineapple or papaya juices. The acidic ingredient softens the food, allowing it to absorb the flavors of the sauce. Along with an acidic liquid, a marinade often contains oils, herbs, spices, and vegetables to further flavor the food items. For cutting difficult vegetables like peppers, onions, carrots, and celery, we highly recommend using a ceramic knife like the T-fal Zen. We are relative newcomers to ceramic knives but are wildly impressed with the intensely sharp edge they maintain. Just remember to always keep the knife in a sheath to prevent chips and cracks.

2. The technique of rubbing meat almost always involves the dry heat method of cooking where almost no water-based liquid is used in cooking. A spice rub is any mixture of ground spices that is made for the purpose of coating raw food before cooking. The food can be marinated in the spice rub for some time for the flavors to incorporate into the food or it can be cooked immediately after it is coated. The spices are usually coarsely ground. In addition to spices, salt and sugar may be added to the rub, the salt for flavor and the sugar for caramelization. If you wish to have a smoky flavor to your meat, but are using a gas grill, try substituting smoked salts like the ones from SF Salt Co. in place of the salt in your rub.

3. Smoking is the process of flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering wood. According to Andy Brunning in his book Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell?, “The compounds produced in the smoke are subject to a wide number of factors, such as the type of wood, the temperature and the amount of oxygen.” He explains that “Some compounds have been specifically highlighted as major contributors to the overall flavor and aroma of the meat. The compounds are generated by pyrolysis, which is the thermal decomposition of the organic compounds that make up the wood in the absence of an adequate supply of oxygen.” Over the years, we have tried many different types of wood for different flavors. Experiment to find your favorite.

4. Flavoring your grilled meats with barbecue sauce is a universal practice. There are thousands of recipes for homemade barbecue sauce. That is likely because everyone has a different preference for saucing their grilled proteins. The best homemade sauces usually start with vegetables that have been cooked to bring out their natural sugars: onions, peppers, and garlic are popular. (Here again, we recommend using the T-fal Zen or other ceramic knife.) Once the veggies are golden brown, it is time to deglaze the pan with broth, beer, wine or our favorite Four Roses Bourbon! If you decide to use a high-alcohol spirit, use extreme caution so as not to flambé your eyebrows.

Below is our recipe for awesome homemade BBQ sauce which we adapted from Chef Kevin Gillepsie’s fabulous cookbook, Pure Pork Awesomeness.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Four Roses Bourbon
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook for 2-3 minutes and add in garlic and cook for another minute more. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and bring to a simmer and reduce until thick and light brown, about 15 minutes. You can store unused sauce in the refrigerator for up to a month or freeze for up to 6 months.

For those who like an extra kick to their Q, we sing the praises of Tabanero Hot Sauces. Tabanero is gluten free and low in sodium and has a unique flavor profile from the combination of key lime juice (in place of the vinegar used in other hot sauces), carrots, onions, garlic, red habanero peppers and agave nectar which is used to balance the heat of the habaneros and adds a hint of sweetness. And, while nothing can replace the intensely smoky flavors that come from cooking for hours over wood in a pit, you can replicate the taste by using chipotle or smoked-infused salts. We highly recommend the smoked salts from San Francisco Salt Company which are available in four amazing flavors: Cherry-Smoked, Alderwood-Smoked, Applewood-Smoked, and Hickory-Smoked.

 5. To baste or not to baste… Allowing the meat to fully cook before adding sauce brings out its natural flavors and highlights the nuances of the smoke. However, basting meats (especially pork) in the goodness of your favorite concoction helps the meat retains its juiciness, lends a sweet spiciness and contributes to those caramely-crusty burnt ends that are so cravable. So the next question becomes what is the best method of basting: spray bottle, bulb baster, brush, or sauce mop?

While the spray bottle is certainly the easiest and least messy, it has many limitations. Your basting liquid must be thin and smooth to work properly; even ground pepper can clog the nozzle. A baster can be slow and drip excess liquid on the coals and again uses a thinner liquid to work properly. A brush works reasonably well to cover the full surface, but the handles are usually short making them difficult to use on large and very hot grills and they drip sauce everywhere! The same problems arise using mops with the added issue of the cotton catching fire while in use.

Alas, T-Fal to the rescue! They have developed a new barbecue tool that will up your grilling game to new heights. Their new Ingenio 2-in-1 baster and basting brush combines a bulb baster with a silicone BBQ brush which gives pitmasters all the advantages of a baster and a brush with the added benefit that you can use a thicker sauce. This new invention even includes a built-in cleaning tool. This is a must-have for barbecue fanatics.

Lastly, as many Southerners already know, Big Red, America’s bestselling red soda, is the perfect complement to BBQ (especially if you add a splash of Four Roses Bourbon – just saying). Big Red is celebrating summer grilling season with 100 Days of BBQ contest which will continue until Labor Day on September 5th. Big Red will reward drinkers with a variety of BBQ-related prizes, including a 3-day trip to visit iconic BBQ joints in Austin, Texas as a grand prize. To participate in the nation-wide campaign, be sure to look for unique codes found under the caps and cardboard wraps of specially marked Big Red, Big Red Zero, Big Blue and Big Red Vanilla Float bottles and packs. Codes can be redeemed at www.bigred.com/bbq for a chance to instantly win one of over 1,000 instant prizes and enter the “The Ultimate BBQ Tour Experience.”

But wait, to inspire all fans of barbecue and grilling, Big Red is offering a special prize pack to one lucky We Like to Cook! reader including a Big Red Soda and Koozie, Weber’s New American Barbecue Cookbook, and Meat Church's Honey Hog BBQ Rub which is excellent on everything from pulled pork to poultry and vegetables. Enter below for your chance to win!

Disclosure: While we received samples of various products for this post, all opinions herein are honest and unsolicited.