3hree Things: On Improving Your Summer BBQs
Summer officially starts next week, which means BBQ season is officially in full swing (although it could be argued that BBQ season is year-round in So Cal.) As a fan of grilled meats, adult beverages, the company of friends and/or family, and all of three of those things being in the same place at the same time, this makes me awfully happy. I've spent the last two Saturday afternoon's at my buddy Jason's house with some of my closest friends, exorcising our inner gluttons, sensibly imbibing, and being slobs bitter old cynics. It's been a good time.
There are a few things that have greatly improved our BBQing experiences, and in an effort to help improve yours, I thought I'd share them with you this week. (If it even needs improving...you could be competition-level BBQers for all I know) Basically, this is an excuse for me to tone down the snark this week, be positive, and talk about BBQs, food, beer, and how much I enjoy them. And who the hell doesn't like BBQing?
1) Tools of the Trade
My dad was a big fan of grilling, and shared a great deal of wisdom with me on the subject before he handed over the duties of the Breckenridge Family Grillmaster. And while taught me a lot about technique and grill maintenance, the best advice he ever gave me was that I needed step up my home grill (a semi-shitty gas grill) and get a Weber Performer. I know $250-330 sounds a bit steep for a BBQ, but if you're serious about home grilling, you've gotta step your game up. I've had mine for a little over over four years and it has repaid me tenfold in phenomenal dinners.
The Weber Performer combines the ease of a gas grill with the flavor that you can only get from a kettle grill, by using a propane-fueled gas ignition system for your coals. Rather than having to use lighter fluid or newspaper and a charcoal chimney (that ends up making your coals--and in turn, your food--taste like chemicals) all you have to is turn a knob and press a button to get your coals started. (This is very helpful if you've had one-too-many adult sodas and shouldn't be playing with matches.) It also provides plenty of workspace/food prep area, a convenient weather-protected pull-out home for your bag of charcoal, charcoal baskets for indirect-grilling (my preferred method), a built-in thermometer, and a hinged cooking grate for easy access to your coals. It's just a ridiculously convenient BBQ, and probably one of the top five purchases I've ever made.
2) Heaven On Earth
I got a call a few months ago.
"Dude, have you been to The Meat House?"
(First thought: Is he asking me if I've been to some horrible Sutra-esque nightclub?)
"Uh, no. What the hell is The Meat House? "
"It's on 17th & Newport in Costa Mesa. Just go. Trust me. You'll lose your mind."
So I went. And yes, I lost my mind.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the mind-blowingly fantastical Disneyland for meat and beer lovers, here's the gist: The Meat House is a butcher shop with case upon case of amazing cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken; an incredible array of sausages, marinated cuts of meat, and kabobs; prepared vegetables, salads, and sides; fine cheeses and wine; and an ample supply of imported and craft beers.
It takes every ounce of willpower (and the constraints of my bank account) to keep myself from buying EVERYTHING they have in stock. It's almost "option paralysis", like there are too many irresistibly good things to eat and not enough meals (or arterial fortitude) in a lifetime to eat them all.
3) Quality Suds
I'm a huge fan of beer, and have the mushy midsection to prove it. Long gone are the days of college BBQs where my friends and I would buy ourselves as much cheap swill as possible and try to drink ourselves into a coma.
These days, we try to tone it down a bit, actually enjoy what we're drinking, instead of shotgunning budget cans of loud mouth soup. And while I'm not enough of a beer nerd to get involved in the sort of detailed reviews that you'd read on a site like Beer Advocate ("a tasty malt backbone that tastes of toasted biscuits and light fudge...the breath of a sailor, the spice of a hobo's armpit...a bone-dry finish"), I have a few summer favorites that I thought I'd share with you in layman's terms.
The first is Dogfish Head's 60-Minute IPA, which, as IPAs go, is a really drinkable, hoppy and citrusy pale ale. I know it's not as fancy as Dogfish Head's 90 or 120-minute IPAs, but it's the kind of IPA you can have a few at while you're at a BBQ and not feel like you've sucked down a gallon of chilled pine sap.
Another current favorite is Firestone Walker's California Pale Ale. Like the Dogfish Head 60, it's a citrusy pale ale, but a little less hoppy, with a cleaner finish, and less alcohol-by-volume. It's a really nice, light compliment to some heavy BBQ and it's not going to turn your brain to soup.
Finally, I've really been enjoying New Belgium's Somersault. It's a crisp blonde ale with citrus notes, and while it's not as watered down and drinkable as some blonde ales, it's a great transitional beer if you're used to drinking The Big Three (Budweiser, Coors, Miller) and are looking to add a little flavor to your BBQ beverages.
My friends and I have a long summer of BBQs ahead of us, and I couldn't be happier about that. It's my favorite time of year. I'd love to have your help though. Please share some of your favorite methods for grilling, dependable butchers, and top beers in the comments. We can work together to make this one of the best summer BBQ seasons in recent memory.
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