By Dr. BBQ, Ray Lampe
Photo by Norman Johnson
No matter how much you get involved in barbecue as a lifestyle, summer is still the king when it comes to grilling, slow smoking, and the parties we call barbecues. The days are longer, the sun is shining, the weather is generally nice, and we're all in a good mood. That sounds like a good reason to have a party to me. I'm certainly no domestic goddess, but I do have a few ideas for summer barbecue theme parties. You'll have to interpret them on your own.
- An all-barbecue pot-luck, or hot-luck, if you add chiles to these recipes.
- A neighborhood party, where you wander around the neighborhood as a group, and eat a course, and have a special drink at each house.
- A sauce tasting party. You cook a bunch of ribs and chicken, then use it to sample many sauces, brought by all the guests. These can be homemade or store bought. There are endless options available on the Internet.
- Bikini party. (This idea comes from my younger days. I lived with three other guys in sort of a frat house situation. We had a New Year's Eve Party and told all the girls they had to wear dresses or skirts. I still can't believe they did.)
- Cookoff team practice party.
- Exotic beer sampling party.
- Ride 'em Cowboy party.
- Margarita party
These ideas can all be combined with the special celebrations I'm suggesting here. You can have a bikini party on 4th of July. See how that works? I've hosted parties with most of these themes, but I must admit that I made a couple of them up just for you. Let me know how the Ride 'em Cowboy party works out.
The granddaddy of this concept is the barbecue vacation. There are some who think my life has become one big barbecue vacation. They might be right. This has become a popular thing to do, kind of a search for the Holy Grail, or maybe it's the perfect rib. Kansas City is a popular destination with its legendary old joints, same with Memphis. North Carolina is often thought of as the birthplace of American barbecue and of course you can't leave Texas off the list. You really don't need to limit yourself to the hot spots though; there are gems all over the country. I recently spent a couple weeks in Albuquerque. I found three great barbecue joints, and I heard about at least one more. Who knew? On more than one occasion I've driven 100 miles out of my way to try a barbecue joint that I heard about. I also have stumbled across little barbecue places that are not very famous, but should be. I can find some good in just about any barbecue, so it's always worth the drive. Barbecue cookoffs, or barbecue dinners at churches and VFW's and such can be wonderful events too. If you see a sign for one, by all means stop by. Even if the food isn't great, I bet the experience will be.
Some other things to include when planning a barbecue vacation are visits to national and state parks, where you can prepare some barbecue of your own if you bring your cooker. I once was touring South Dakota with my big trailer cooker in tow, when we decided to go to Bear World. It's one of those drive-through zoos. When I drove up to pay they recommended that I leave my trailer in the parking lot. They figured the bears would be climbing all over it. I was on a barbecue vacation with my sister and my nephew. We were taking the long way to the cookoff in Frisco, Colorado. It was a great trip.
Of course, cookoffs are always a great destination to include on your vacation. There is a great list on the Internet at National Barbecue News. Pick one out and start planning a vacation around it.
There are endless reasons to barbecue in the summer. I've even invented a new one for you. Well, that new one has been celebrated at my house for years as my birthday; we just renamed it National Barbecue Day.
Memorial Day: Remembering the '50s Post-War Grilling
Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday in May, traditionally kicks off the summer season, which means it just has to be a major BBQ day. It was first known as Decoration Day and was inspired by the flowers being placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers after the end of the Civil War. On May 5, 1868, General John Logan, who was Commander in Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially declared that May 30th was to be known as Decoration Day. In 1882 the name of the day was changed to Memorial Day and in 1971 the day was moved to the last Monday in May and was declared a national holiday.
I've long been interested in the origins of backyard grilling in the states and have some interesting books in my collection of BBQ cookbooks. One is the Sunset Barbecue Cook Book, and I have the second edition, printed in May, 1951 with a cover price of $1.50. It's all over the place with the definition of "barbecue," including "skillet and kettle cooking," "oven roasting" and even "firepit cooking" that requires a permanent cooking pit in the backyard! There are grilled burgers, franks, steaks and the like and instructions for grilling chicken, venison, lamb, and turkey. The sauces are actually pretty good.
I also have a copy of Retro Barbecue, with amazing '50s grilling and lifestyle illustrations apparently taken from magazines of the time. The author re-creates the spirit of the time with Reuben Burgers, Drunken Ham, and Maui Wowee Luau Ribs. Those two books inspired me to come up with my own "retro" menu for a Memorial Day cookout. For me, a retro barbecue involves the memory of my Dad sipping a martini and cooking some giant steaks. That still seems like a pretty good start to a barbecue. Some things are just timeless.
Beefeater Martini, Straight Up
Photo by Norman Johnson
This one's for my Dad. Martinis will never go out of style. And regardless whether you prefer gin or vodka as the liquor of choice, it's difficult to just drink one.
2 ounces Beefeater gin
1/2 ounce dry vermouth (optional)
3 chile-stuffed olives
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour the gin and vermouth over the ice. Shake well. Pour into a martini glass. Garnish with the olives on a skewer.
Yield: 1 serving
Garden Salad with Homemade Roquefort Dressing
Many people don't realize that some salad dressings don't come from a jar. In the spirit of authenticity, I am calling for iceberg lettuce here, but if you substituted romaine or spinach, I won't tell anyone.
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, pulled apart
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt to taste
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese
In a bowl, combine the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and carrot and toss. In another bowl, mix together the garlic, mustard, salt, and vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil in a steady stream until the dressing is thick. Stir in the cheese. Serve at room temperature on the side of the salad.
Yield: 4 servings
Grilled Porterhouse Steaks
Here's another classic from the post-war era. Of course, my rub wasn't invented then and people didn't eat serrano chiles, so I guess we can say that this is an improved version. Heh, heh.
2 Porterhouse steaks, USDA Choice grade, at least 1-1/2 inches thick
2 tablespoons Dr. BBQ's Steak Seasoning (see following recipe)
Prepare the grill direct and hot. Sprinkle the seasoning evenly on both sides of the steaks. Place the steaks directly on the grill. Cook for 4 minutes. Rotate the steaks 90 degrees. (This helps make the nice cross hatch grill marks). Cook another 4 minutes. Flip the steaks and repeat the process. Check for doneness. I like mine pretty rare, so I take them off at 125 degrees, but you may want to go to 135. Remove to a platter and serve.
Yield: 2 servings
Dr. BBQ's Steak Seasoning
This seasoning can be rubbed on steak immediately before grilling.
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and store in an airtight container.
Yield: 1/2 cup
Here is a perfect topping for the Porterhouses.
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup beef broth
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 pound button mushrooms, left whole
1/4 cup dry sherry
Prepare the grill hot and direct.
In a saucepan, heat one tablespoon of the butter, add the parsley, garlic, and onion and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in the flour and then the stock. Add the nutmeg.
Thread the mushrooms on skewers or place them in a grill basket. Put them on the grill and cook for 5 minutes, turning often. Add the mushrooms to the saucepan, add the sherry, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Yield: 2 to 4 servings
Dr. BBQ's Better Baked Potatoes
I think there must be a federal law requiring steaks to be served with baked potatoes. Russets are the best baking potatoes, so use them in this dish.
4 medium russet potatoes, scrubbed and dried
1 stick butter, softened
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
1/2 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Bake the potatoes in the oven for about an hour, or until they are easily pierced by a fork. While the potatoes are baking, combine in a bowl the butter, chives, and parsley and mix well. Remove the potatoes from the oven, cut them in half lengthwise, and score the flesh with a knife. Top with the chive butter and sprinkle the bacon over the top.
Yield: 4 servings
Peach Blossom Pie
So named because the halved peaches resemble flowers, this dessert is a classic from the '50s. It can be served with ice cream or whipped cream.
3 to 4 peaches, depending on size
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell, chilled
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
3 drops almond extract
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Peel the peaches, remove the pits, and cut them in half. Arrange them cut side up in the pie shell. In a bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, flour, and almond extract. Pour this mixture over the peach halves. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees and continue baking for about 35 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted into the custard comes out clean. Serve either warm or cold.
Yield: 6 servings