It’s barbecue season and Memorial Day weekend was the kickoff. Here’s a few helpful hints to achieve great barbecue and a few recipes to get you started.
The rub. This is an all important ingredient for great barbecue. Each cut of meat lends itself to different spice rubs. The one I’ve included here is called Magic Dust, from the legendary pit-master Mike Mills. and is perfect for pork and to add to sauces.
Grill to smoke. Only a charcoal grill can give you the effects of smoking over coals and wood. While you can approximate the method using smoker boxes on a gas grill it’s not nearly as good.
Build a fire. Use a mix of briquettes and hardwood. Whole Foods has great hardwood at a reasonable price, and Trader Joe’s has excellent briquettes, also well price. Create a layer of briquettes first then add the hardwood. To start the fire either use a chimney starter or a charcoal grill like Weber’s with a gas ignite, which gets the coals going. Do not use charcoal lighter fluid. It has a bad taste.
Wood Smoke. Once the coals are hot, add chunks of wood (preferably hickory, apple, maple or oak), which have been soaked in warm water for 30 minutes. These are available in supermarkets, home supply and hardware stores and online at Maine Grilling Woods. Maine Hardware has an excellent selection of wood chunks (avoid the chips), in hickory, maple, pecan and cherry woods.
Indirect cooking. For slow indirect heat, let the coals burn down so the internal temperature stays at around 300 degrees when the cover is placed back on the grill and a thermometer registers 300 degrees. If you’re going to be smoking and grilling for over an hour, you’ll have to replenish the coals and soaked wood.
Direct heat. For steaks, pork, lamb, chicken and fish, direct high heat is what you want to get that great char. Generally grill with the cover off and you can also cover the grill if you’re cooking thick cuts of meat.
Adapted from “Peace Love and Barbecue” by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe; use this spice rub on all cuts of pork for the barbecue as well as chicken. Store in an airtight container.
Servings: about 2 1/2 cups
1/2 cups sweet paprika
1/4 kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1/4 cup Ancho chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup granulated garlic
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until completely blended, breaking up any large lumps of ground spices. Transfer to a covered jar with tight-fitting lid such as a Mason jar. Will keep several months.
You can vary the amount and types of ribs, but this is what I used for my Memorial Day barbecue.
Servings: 6 to 8
l large rack of St. Louis ribs
2 small racks of baby backs
2 thick cuts of country style pork ribs (shoulder)
Magic Dust (see recipe above)
Apple juice in a sprayer bottle
Barbecue sauce (see below)
Generously dust both sides of ribs with the Magic Dust. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Any longer, refrigerate.
Prepare the grill as directed above and grill the ribs over indirect heat, pushing the coals to one side. Cover the grill, and about every 20 minutes spray the ribs with apple juice to keep them moist. Check the ribs and make sure they’re not over hot spots. You don’t want them to burn. Smoking/grilling time is a minimum of 2 hours, preferably 3 hours, at 300 degrees, plus or minus. You may have to replenish the coals and wood. Cook for an additional 30 minutes by slathering the ribs with plenty of the barbecue sauce (see recipe below). Cover the grill and continue grilling until the sauce is glistening and coats the meat like a saucy glaze.
Remove to a cutting board. If you’re not serving right away cover with foil. These are fine served at room temperature.
Adapted from “Peace Love and Barbecue” by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe, this sauce has incredible flavor and will make your ribs really special. Apply to the ribs in the last 30 minutes of smoking in a covered grill.
Servings: 3 cups
1 cup ketchup
2/3 cups seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 packed brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons prepared yellow mustard (such as French’s)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cups bacon bits, ground fine in a spice grinder
1 medium apple, peeled and grated on a box grater
1 medium onion, peeled and grated on a box grater
1/2 green pepper, grated on a box grater
In a large saucepan combine the ketchup, rice vinegar, apple juice, apple cider, brown sugar, Worcestershire, yellow mustard, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne and ground bacon bits. Stir until well combined. Over high heat bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Add the apple, onion and green pepper, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes until slightly thickened, stirring often. Allow to cool or apply to the ribs straight from the pot. Otherwise store in a sterilized jar. It will last 2 weeks refrigerated. Double the recipe for more servings and increase the cooking time to about 25 minutes.
Another adaptation from “Peace Love and Barbecue” with a few changes, this is an incredible bean dish using 5 kinds of canned beans. The best cooking vessel for these is a large (12-inch) black iron skillet or an enamel-coated cast iron casserole dish such as made by Le Creuset. They can be cooked in the oven, covered, and then uncovered for an additional half hour to crisp up the beans, thicken the sauce and brown the top pieces of bacon. I like to do the second stage on a moderately hot charcoal grill that has good smoking woods like hickory to flavor the beans. You can also do the entire operation on the grill, cooking it over indirect heat with the grill temperature at about 350 degrees.
Servings: 8 to 10
2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
3 cups ketchup
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons Magic Dust (see recipe above)
28-ounce can baked beans
15.5-ounce can large red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15.5-ounce can chili beans
15.5-ounce can large butter beans, drained and rinsed
15.5-ounce field peas, drained and rinsed (or use any bean of your choice like white northern beans)
4 slices bacon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
In a very large mixing bowl, combine the mustard, ketchup, onion, green pepper, brown sugar, honey and Magic Dust, stirring well to combine thoroughly. Add each bean separately, stirring gently before adding the next. Do not over mix since this could cause the beans to break apart.
Transfer to a large cast-iron skillet or 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Lay the bacon strips on top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Put onto a large baking sheet to catch any spills. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, raise heat to 375 degrees and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes or until the sauce bubbles, thickens and the bacon has become crisp. Or finish off on the grill as described.
This is a simple slaw dressed in a very tasty sweet and sour boiled dressing. You can add finely grated carrots and onion if you like but it’s not necessary. The slaw has cubes of cucumber, a nice touch.
Servings: 4 to 6
1 medium cabbage
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 cucumbers, peeled and diced
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Salt, to taste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sour cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Shred the cabbage by cutting it into quarters and pulsing in a food processor until shredded. Turn out to a large strainer and salt the cabbage, tossing well. Add the cucumbers. Toss. After 15 minutes squeeze the cabbage and cukes in your hands to wring out water. Let the cabbage continue to drain for another 15 minutes and then squeeze out the water again, perhaps several times more if necessary.
Transfer the cabbage and cucumbers to a large bowl.
To make the dressing, in a small saucepan bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Lower the heat and keep at a medium boil for 3 minutes. Off the heat immediately whisk in the mustard and oil. Whisk until combined and creamy. Let rest for about one minute to cool down, then whisk in the heavy cream and sour cream. Pour over the cabbage and cucumber and stir well to combine. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
It’s preferable to use white cornmeal that’s been finely ground. But any yellow stone cut cornmeal will produce good results. The important ingredient here is bacon fat, and to achieve a crusty exterior, put the batter into a very hot pan.
Servings: 6 to 8
4 tablespoons freshly rendered bacon fat
2 cups finely ground white cornmeal
1 scant teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 cups local buttermilk (from Balfour Farm or Swallowtail Farm)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Add the bacon fat to a 9-inch black cast-iron skillet. Put in the oven and melt the fat until it’s very hot and just starting to smoke.
Meanwhile mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the buttermilk and egg and stir gently to combine. Remove the hot pan (it should be very hot) from the oven. With double potholders swirl the pan around to coat the sides of the pan with the grease. It doesn’t have to great all the way to the top. Pour the grease into the batter. It will bubble and gurgle if it’s very hot. That’s OK. Stir gently to combine. Pour the batter into the hot skillet. It will begin to cook instantly around the sides. Put in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until nicely golden on top. Brush the top with melted butter.
Note: For a special treat serve the cornbread with sorghum butter. Cream about 6 tablespoons softened butter with a heaping tablespoon of sorghum. A good brand is Sandhill Organic Sorghum, available mail order.