Kent "The Deck Chef" Whitaker knows his way around a grill.
He’s written a number of books on topics like Appalachian barbecue; tailgating at NASCAR races; and, most recently, "Bullets and Bread," a book about the nation’s sacrifices to feed troops during WWII.
Whitaker also won the Food Network’s "Emeril Live" barbecue contest and is a regular contributor to food publications, including his own website and blog. Whitaker also created a beach-themed website with his wife, Ally, that includes a radio station featuring tiki music.
He graciously offered his expertise and the following tips to Nooga.com readers in advance of Labor Day grilling activities.
Know your grill or smoker.
I grill on a Vermont Castings gas grill much of the time, but I know for a fact that my tips also work on charcoal grills and smokers. Before you even start to plan your big grilling or slow-smoke barbecue session, you should take a look at what your grill is capable of doing. Smaller grills might not be able to handle enough food for a large group of people. You need to take things like surface grill area, temperature control, fuel source, etc., into consideration when cooking for a crowd. You may need to start cooking earlier and use an oven as a warmer. Don't stress out; just plan ahead.
Add a cola glaze.
If you are grilling out a few chops and need a change of pace and some "wow" factor for your friends, try marinating your pork chops in a light coating of apple butter mixed with a few spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar. While the chops are cooking, you can make a quick glaze in a skillet for a fantastic topping. In a skillet, begin to reduce a can of cola. Add in a few spoonfuls of butter and pecan pieces. As the cola begins to foam, stir and reduce the heat. When the chops are done, top with your glaze. Don't overcook the glaze, as the sugars in the cola may become bitter.
Rubs are not complicated.
My wife, Ally, is a lover of barbecue ribs, and she's convinced that my spur-of-the-moment rub combinations are often the keys to flavor success. That's a bunch of pressure when I'm tweaking my rub recipes. But I think people stress out on making rubs. If you are just starting on your grilling and seasoned-rub journey as you travel the road to ultimate neighborhood grill master status, then try some simple rubs to start off ... or cheat. Salt and pepper is actually a rub; add some other spices, and you just have a different rub with more ingredients.
The secret to rubs is to find the flavors you feel best complement your style of cooking and the items you are grilling. Until you stumble across your own special blend, try out some store-bought versions. There's nothing wrong with that in these days of tighter kitchen budgets and rising prices. And if you are in a pinch, grab a pack of 99 cent taco seasoning, along with some cumin powder, and rub down some ribs. Add a splash of beer if you wish. You just made Tex-Mex pale ale grilled barbecue pork ribs.
Create foil packets.
If your meal is getting close to done and your guests are not ready to eat, then I suggest the foil method. In fact, I use it on just about all of my grilling sessions. It's great for chicken and pork. Start to cook your meat as you normally would. Instead of finishing it off, simply wrap it up in foil for the last few minutes of cooking. Reduce the temperature of the grill if you are using gas like my Vermont Castings grill, or move to a cooler area of a charcoal grill. Close the lid and let it rest and finish off in the lower temperatures. This keeps much-needed moisture in leaner cuts of chicken and pork and helps render fat and tissues in tougher meats such as ribs and butts. I can't recommend it for a steak, but foil wrapping and dropping temps is a great way to avoid charred food and grill flare-ups!
Keep cold food cold, hot food hot and everything clean.
Here's a simple tip that I tell people all of the time: The idea is that you want your friends to remember the great party and grilling or barbecue session and not a trip to the emergency room later that evening. Here are the basic Deck Chef grill safety tips:
—Keep cold foods cold.
—Keep hot foods hot.
—Keep clean ice for putting into drinks separated from ice used to cool cans or bottles. That means a clean cooler for drinks with something as a scoop.
—Wash your hands. Remember the days of disposable cameras at every table at a wedding? Put containers of clean wipes scattered about at every table.
—Watch for cross-contamination. Don't make the salad on the same counter that you cut the raw chicken up on. Clean, prep, clean, prep, clean, prep ...
—Have the game or race on ... I'm not sure how this improves flavor or keeps your guests safe, but I am a sports junkie.
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