The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the rich, smoky aroma of sizzling grills fills the air. What better time than now to fire up the grill for a tasty BBQ. While nothing compares to the crispy, savory taste of a steak or burger right off the grill, this is a great summer to add additional flavors and ingredients to your barbecuing repertoire. So, grab your apron and tongs, and prepare to learn about this summer’s hottest (no pun intended) flavors.
Welcome to the world of barbecuing, where food meets fire and magic happens! At the heart of barbecuing is the choice of grill. While barbecue purists may tote the benefits of a charcoal grill, and insist that it’s the only grilling method capable of producing the distinct smokey flavor and sear that we associate with barbecues, the truth is, gas grills are more than capable of outputting delicious, evenly-cooked meats. Gas grills are hardy, reach their desired temperature quickly, and as opposed to charcoal, where the temperature can’t be regulated, offer temperature control, ensuring that your hamburger gets seared to perfection. A great hack for indoor, or in-restaurant grilling is to pair a countertop charbroiler, with grilling briquettes that ensure an even sear and impart that unique smoky flavor profile. Another indoor option is to grill rotisserie style, using a special rotisserie oven, and a bird slathered in barbecue sauce.
You will also want to invest in essential barbecuing tools. Spatulas and tongs for turning and moving meats on the grill should be long-handled to keep your hands safe from the heat. Skewers are your best friend when it comes to grilling veggies or creating mouthwatering kebabs. A reliable meat thermometer is important for both flavor and safety. Measuring the internal temperature of your meat lets you know when it’s been cooked to the point where it’s safe to eat. And, of course, to maintain your grill in tip-top shape, you will need brushes and scrapers.
What is a Barbecue?
Many cultures have unique barbecuing methods that use different types of meats, grills, and flavors. So what unites them all as barbecues? It’s not an easy question to answer. Many disparate cooking methods fall under the barbecuing umbrella including grilling, smoking, campfire roasting, and rotisserie. In addition, the word “barbecue” sometimes refers to the cooking method, while other times it refers to the gathering, where family and friends come to share grilled foods. And, at other times, it can just mean the grill itself. Barbecue gatherings, flavors, marinades, meats, and methods mean different things for different cultures, and the American barbecue is no exception to this trend.
Barbecue – All-American Style
Depending on where you live, barbecue may mean something different. Here are some examples:
Kansas City-style barbecue tends to use the “low and slow” method of caramelizing meat. Barbecuers following this method typically glaze and marinate their meat (often beef, bacon, or chicken) in a sweet barbecue sauce that turns crispy, rich, and brown after hours on the grill. To create this smoky, sweet flavor at home, apply a sweet barbecue sauce rub to your meat, or glaze them with brown sugar and paprika, and roast over a wood-fed fire that is roughly 300 degrees for two to three hours depending on the size of the meat cut. Serve alongside baked beans, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and other Southern-style comfort foods.
Memphis Style barbecue is totally different. It involves slow-cooking meat (often ribs or pulled pork) in a pit. Ribs are either prepared “wet,” or brushed with a ketchup-y sauce in advance, or “dry,” coated in a sweet and spicy dry rub that features sugar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. Memphis ribs can smoke on a grill for up to four and a half hours! They are typically served alongside barbecue spaghetti, hush puppies, corn on the cob, and french fries. Memphis-style barbecue is a popular offering at chain barbecue restaurants and features in the world’s largest pork barbecue contest in the world — Guinness Record winning World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest.
If you’re ever invited to a Carolina-Style barbecue, you can expect to taste the smoky, tender flavors of pork roasted slowly and carefully over the course of 12-24 hours. Carolina-style barbecuers brush their meat with “mop sauce” as it cooks. The sauce is thus named because it’s “mopped” onto the meat. In North Carolina this sauce is usually vinegar based. In the West (also called Lexington-style barbecue), you can expect a ketchup-y sauce called Piedmont sauce, whereas in the South, mustard provides the “mop sauce’s” base. If you are asked to bring side dishes to a Carolina barbecue, go with Carolina-style coleslaw, black-eyed pea salad, or potato salad.
It’s not surprising, given the Lone Star States reputation, that you can expect a Texas style barbecue to feature large cuts of meat. Where, “everything is bigger” you can expect larger than life portions of smoky ribs, brisket, and beef. Texans will smoke a huge cut of brisket, seasoned only lightly, over a 200-degree low flame for 18 hours or more, until the outside is charred black, but the inside is crispy, tender, flaky and absolutely delicious. Texas barbecue meat is served alongside spicy Texas pinto beans, okra, and Texas-style potato salad.
Those four methods represent a handful of the major American-barbecue style methods. But, Americans also love simple bbq’s that they can prepare on the spot with neighbors and friends who don’t want to wait around for 24 hours until the rich cuts are fully caramelized. Hot dogs and hamburgers are synonymous with the United States, and are popular barbecue staples, served alongside ribs, chicken, steaks, and other grilled cuts, salads, and grilled sides, such as corn, veggies on a kabob, and fire roasted baked potatoes.
Korean BarbecueIf you want to go exotic, you may be able to ditch the grill and its paraphernalia altogether. Korean barbecuing, abbreviated KBBQ, is the latest exotic barbecue trend. KBBQ differs from “American-style” barbecuing in a few ways. Firstly, the meat is usually marinated in tangy Asian sauces. Secondly, and somewhat surprisingly, the meat is grilled right there on the table. It’s the perfect setting for camaraderie and dinner with friends or a romantic grill-lit meal with a loved one.
To get started with Korean grilling, you will need a special Korean grill, something that you can usually find at Asian food stores or on Amazon. Place the grill in the center of the table on top of an induction cooker or a butane stove. The heating element you use will depends on the size and style of the Korean grill that you have chosen. These grills typically come in dome, square, and round shapes, and most have a channel that collects the grease that runs off the meat making it easier to clean.
After you’ve set up your grill, it’s time to start cooking. A Korean grill warrants KBBQ meat cuts, which you can find at a Korean butcher, or at an Asian grocery store. If you don’t have access to either option, try asking your local butcher to make specialty cuts of meat for you.
The exact cut you need will depend on the recipe you are making. Bulgogi is a popular KBBQ staple made with thinly sliced ribeye or sirloin. If you can’t find this type of meat cut, you can partially freeze a steak and slice it yourself into thin strips with a sharp knife. Bulgogi is juicy, smoky, tender, and delicious. It owes its flavor to the sweet-and-savory marinade made from soy sauce, brown sugar, asian pear, garlic, ginger, pepper, and sesame oil. Get together with friends or family and grill the bulgogi until it’s done. Wrap the dish in lettuce leaves and serve with ssamjang – the Korean version of barbecue sauce – kimchi, and white rice. Depending on the exact seasonings you used, bulgogi tends to be a high-protein dish with around 330 calories per serving.
Kalbi is another beef KBBQ dish that is made with specially-cut short ribs. Your butcher may refer to this cut as flanken-style, but, if you can’t find the right cut attached to the bone, you can substitute boneless short ribs. Kalbi is marinated for 24 hours in a sauce similar to bulgogi, and then seared on high-heat over a tabletop Korean grill. It should take less than ten minutes to achieve a rare, but fully cooked meat, with a light surface char. Use kitchen shears to cut the kalbi off the bone, wrap it in lettuce leaves, and serve with ssamjang and rice.
If you prefer chicken, gochujang chicken is a delicious and savory KBBQ dish made from chicken thighs marinated in gochujang sauce and then grilled at the table. Four ounces of gochujang chicken has about 200 calories, most of them from protein. Just be careful, because gochujang can be spicy.
Grilling Across the Globe
Different locales have different versions of what is considered a barbecue. Here are some examples:
Asado: Although Korean barbecue, like so many other facets of Korean culture, is currently trending, there are dozens of other exotic global barbecue flavors and techniques. For example, Argentina’s national dish is a hearty, tender, barbecued dish called asado. Technically, the word asado translates to “roasted meat,” however South Americans and Latin Americans often use it to mean the social event that surrounds the preparation of asado, similar to how, in America, barbecue both refers to the social party and also the method of meat preparation at a barbecue. At an asado, the asador is the chef tasked with monitoring the meat on the grill. Asado is prepared on a special grill called a parilla, which has a section for wood and one for the metal grill.
The meat is prepared “low and slow,” until it is fully tender and succulent. Asadors typically grill a variety of meat, flavoring the cuts only with salt, to let the meat’s umami, juicy flavors shine through. Asado is typically served with chimichurri, a rich and pungent pesto-like sauce.
Khorkhog: Another exciting and exotic barbecue technique is Mongolia’s khorkhog. Khorkhog owes its unique flavor profile to the totally unique method of cooking. Instead of using charcoal, gas, or even wood, khorkhog cooks via heated rocks. To make khorkhog, Mongolian nomads traditionally added fresh mutton, potatoes, carrots and cabbage to a metal milk container. The meat and vegetables are placed in layers, among heated rocks. Water is added to the container, which is then sealed tight, trapping the heat and allowing the food to steam to perfection. You can make at-home khorkhog in a pressure cooker or any tightly sealed pot. First, you will need to find stones, wash them very well, and superheat them on your grill. In Mongolia, khorkhog is served on special occasions. Often, feasters will hand around the still-warm rocks around the group for good luck.
Tandoor: Tandoor is a traditional method of cooking that originated in India, but is now somewhat widespread across central Asia. Tandoori is grilled and roasted food made inside a special oven called a tandoor. Traditionally tandoors were clay domes, but it’s possible to buy an at-home, metal tandoor on Amazon. Tandoors can be used to prepare tandoori flatbread and to barbecue meats. Tandoori chicken, for example, is a marinated chicken breast grilled inside a tandoor oven. As the meat cooks, the juices drip to the bottom of the oven and get burnt off, creating a smoky flavor infusion.
Peka: Peka is a barbecued dish native to Croatia. When using the peka method, meat is roasted over an open fire on a flat tray with a bell-shaped cast-iron lid on top, sealing in the heat and flavor.
Peka is a bit of an art because the lid obscures the food, and grillers need to know when and how often to lift it to check on the dish or turn the meat and potatoes. If you don’t have a peka pan, or an open hearth to grill on, you can make peka food in the oven with a cast iron dish or a casserole pot. Veal and lamb are the most popular Croatian peka meats. Before cooking them, salt the meat, grease the pan, add potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, onions, and garlic, and season with pepper, thyme, and rosemary. Add water and wine to the pot. It takes around two and a half hours for the peka to cook through.
Kalua: In Hawaiian, the word Kalua means roasted in an underground oven, called an imu in Hawaiian. Native Hawaiians would dig a four feet deep pit, build a fire inside the pit, and then add porous stones that retain heat. Next, they would place banana leaves on top. The goal of the banana leaves was to generate moisture so the meat steams slowly in the imu. A whole pig would be placed on top to slowly roast and steam. The meat is then covered to protect it from dirt and then the imu is filled in with loose dirt to insulate the heat. Since kalua cooks a large amount of meat, this method was generally used for celebrations and large gatherings. If you want the kalua taste at home, a slow cooker is a good substitute for an imu that still roasts and steams slowly. In addition to salting the meat, at-home kalua chefs can add smoky flavoring to mimic the taste of imu-steamed meat.
It seems like every culture has their own method of open-roasting meat, and each culture’s style of cooking is so unique and different from the other. Each culture also features its own seasoning blend, serving style, and food celebration. From American barbecues, to Argentinian asado, to Koreans grilling around the dinner table, barbecues are about more than just the food. They are a celebration of flavor, family, friends, and fun. Trying out new recipes and cooking methods from other cultures is a great way to up the flavors and the fun and create a good time with family and friends. Which of these new methods do you hope to experiment with this summer?