Big Easy Barbecue

Memphis chef Diego Velasco shares his secrets to the perfect backyard summer feast

It's also easy to use those propane-powered stockpot burners. They sell them at Smart and Final and have two large burners side by side attached to a propane tank. It's basically an outdoor stove and gives you a lot more control over the heat so you don't have to keep adding coals. Use the same vegetables as you would for crawfish—garlic, corn and whole onions, and maybe some kielbasa sausage—anything that isn't too spicy.

If you have some vegetarian company or just want something light on the side, what would you recommend?

A classic caesar salad is always good for a barbecue. It's light and simple, and it goes really well with seafood. So does a Crab Louie salad. It's more old-school. Just mix iceberg lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and crab-leg meat with a Thousand Island dressing, either homemade or store-bought. You can make a cold grilled-vegetable salad with a mix of peppers, onions, zucchini and asparagus. Grill them ahead of time, cool them down, chop them up and serve them in a light vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a little hint of garlic. Then just shake it up, and serve with watercress or something like that on the side.

Diego Velasco. Photo by Matt Otto
Diego Velasco. Photo by Matt Otto

Did I say no summer barbecue is complete without burgers? I meant liquor.

At Memphis, two of our favorite beers were from New Orleans—Dixie and Blackened Voodoo—but we lost that source because [Hurricane] Katrina wiped out their facility. Now we serve Abita; it's from another New Orleans brewery and is dark like the Blackened Voodoo. If you're doing a clambake, white wine is excellent. We're also a big fan of mint juleps and mojitos.

But in the summer, there's an abundance of blackberries, which are great for margaritas. I like to muddle, so I put the syrup and lime juice and ice together and add two to three blackberries at a time and pound out the juice and make a mush. It's easy to make simple syrup and tastes better than store-bought lime juice. It's just equal parts boiling water and plain white sugar. You dissolve the sugar in the water and chill it, and that's your syrup.

What music goes great with a Southern-style summer barbecue?

It depends on the atmosphere you want. Jazz is usually a good bet—especially New Orleans jazz, although my friends and I are also really into French music, café-style music from the 1960s. Oh, yeah—and anything by Led Zeppelin.

Sample Velasco's fare at Memphis at the Santora, 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064; memphiscafe.com.

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