Playing With Fire...BBQ Tips & Tricks

Summer is here, and now is the time to enjoy some serious backyard entertaining.

In our home, I am the one who likes to play with fire. Whether grilling salmon on cedar planks, sizzling some steaks doused in a dry rub, tossing veggies in a slotted metal pan, or daintily creating grill marks on fresh peaches, it’s all great fun. Here are a few things I have gleaned over the years that may improve your summertime success. And, for those who might think “grilling is just not me,” I do have two creative restaurant options with stellar BBQ menus.

Entertaining. I think I have finally solved the dilemma of enjoying our company and trying to grill, a next to impossible task. And, to make matters worse, our grill is far away from the action of conversation and beverage sampling. So, here’s what I do… the chicken, fish or meat has been marinating. After appetizers are on the table and everyone has a drink, my hubby sneaks away to turn on the grill. Then, about 10 minutes later, I slip away for a very short stint. I grill the items on both sides, or, if using the cedar planks, set those on the grill for a total of about 10 minutes. Then, I place these items in the oven to be finished off there. I use an instant-read thermometer, and, with a trial run at this, you will master the timing as well.

Marinating. I decide days ahead whether I will be applying a dry rub or liquid marinade. I like to marinade my chicken one day ahead, and, if doing so, just make sure to not include any citrus or acid in the marinade. My favorite is to use a buttermilk ranch dressing with some olive oil and garlic. It turns out so moist. For steaks, I do those the day of, and, for fish, two hours before go-time.

Grilling Accessories. Here are my three favorite items for grilling: For fish, there are thin cedar wraps that I soak in water ahead of time and then wrap the fish in them. It is similar to using the cedar planks, which I also use. For vegetables, there are metal bowls with handles on both sides and slits on the bottom. By placing this on the grill, it is perfect for tossing veggies, and they don’t fall through the grates. I prepare an oil and herb mixture to brush on the veggies and I always cook them ahead of time and reheat. Onion slices, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, asparagus, golden beets, and, so forth, all marry nicely on the grill, giving them a roasted flavor. And, for pitted fruits, I use a flat, slotted metal tray with handles on both sides. I brush the peaches or plums lightly with oil and place on the tray. I do this ahead and reheat when the dessert course is on-deck.

BBQ. Don’t be fooled by the pictures you may see that suggest you apply the BBQ sauce while grilling. I have found that it burns. I suggest it is better to use a light rub or marinade and then apply the barbecue sauce after the items come off the grill. I apply the BBQ sauce when finishing it in the oven. There are a plethora of sauces right off the shelf that are excellent.

Dining out is also an option, and this summer some of our local restaurants have created some inventive, value offerings. Every Sunday during summer, the Oak Grill at the Island Hotel is featuring their Slow Smoked Sundaze BBQ. Chef Marc Johnson spent some time in the South, and his cornbread and sauces will make any Southerner a bit homesick. Guests can select from one of four entrees, two sides and dessert for $34. Another choice is The Bungalow in Corona del Mar. Wednesday evenings, all summer long, guests can order a two-course, prix fixe menu with choice of five different sumptuous BBQ entrees, numerous sides, and, best of all, complimentary corkage (one bottle) for just $35.

Deirdre Michalski is a travel and culinary writer covering topics near and far. You can read more about her adventures on her website