Where there's smoke
by Jon Worley
Grilling season has arrived with a vengeance, and I figured it was time for me to try on my "absolutely not an expert" hat once more and dish some tasty roasted morsels.
There are plenty of grilling standbys. A lot of folks only do steak. I've never been much of a steak eater, but that's because I was raised in a well-done household. I have enjoyed a couple of tasty rare steaks since then, but since my wife is a "the only steak we need is the one you'll put on your eye after I slug you when you bring it home" type of person, I'm not sure the day will ever come when I plunk down $25 for a decent-to-good slab of beef. I'll simply have to keep mooching off my friends.
A lot of people do ribs, though I maintain that the best ribs are slowly cooked in a regular oven, with just the final few minutes on the grill for tightening up. Of course, I once baked a slab so slow for so long that the bones dissolved. Really. And thems was some good eatin', too.
Chicken is also common, though it tends to be tasteless and dry if you put those boneless, skinless cuts on on the grill. If you want some cheap and easy good chicken, get some leg quarters and cook 'em low and slow for a couple of hours. Now that's chicken!
Pork chops are probably the most popular grill item around, and they mostly suck. Unless you've got a chop that is at least one inch thick, has lots of bone, some nice marbling and a good rim of fat, chances are you're going to have a crappy chop. And a crappy chop is not quite as good as a tender Frisbee.
So what's good, you ask? Easy. Anything with the word "butt" in it is always good on the grill. There's always plenty of fat in a butt cut, and good slow grilling will tenderize the meat and leave the juices intact.
As far as veggies go, almost anything is good on the grill. But instead of low and slow, you want fast and hot. Been marinating that asparagus in olive oil, salt and balsamic for an hour? Throw it directly over the coals for, say, three minutes, and you're set. Peppers do very well with the same recipe, as does broccoli and any of the summer squashes. One of my little secret specialties is to stuff poblano peppers with a slice of cheddar and roast them for ten minutes on indirect heat. Spicy and tasty.
But one of the big hits off my grill in the past few years has been eggplant. Eggplant is a lot like tofu (which can also be fantastic on the grill) in that it doesn't have a lot of taste on its own, but it's more than happy to appropriate whatever you throw on top of it. My mainstay is eggplant coated in Gates barbecue sauce (extra hot, if I have the correct houseguests). I just slice the eggplant up like steaks, coat the slices with sauce and then throw them on the grill for ten to fifteen minutes of indirect heat. The eggplant roasts into a creamy texture, and the sauce is just amazing. Slap a slice of cheese between two of those and you've got yourself one hell of a grilled eggplant "burger."
The most important ingredient in any grilling event is, of course, good beer. And since we live in America, the greatest beer nation on Earth (even the Belgians have beer envy of the U.S. these days), there are plenty of choices. When I'm around a grill, I want something that is tasty and not too heavy. A wheat beer, in other words. Bell's Oberon is always welcome in my non-spatula hand, but there are plenty of other brews that will work well in a pinch--including a couple of my homebrews. The key to grilling is to stay relaxed. Disaster is always a moment away, but if you're having a few beers with friends, it doesn't really matter if you completely botch the grill.
Watching an entire meal pitch facedown into the yard and being able to laugh about it then and there is the true beauty of grilling season. Even if everything goes wrong, folks are still happy and you've got a great story for the next time at the next grill--preferably tomorrow.
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