Food & Drink

Here’s the rub: Grilled food depends on proper seasoning

BBQ Beer Can Chicken: Just place the bird on the grill, and let the beer escaping the can keep it moist while cooking.
BBQ Beer Can Chicken: Just place the bird on the grill, and let the beer escaping the can keep it moist while cooking. TNS

Holidays are all about tradition. so little surprise that July Fourth remains the most popular day of the year for grilling. Close to 70 percent of us will be cooking our beloved beef, chicken and fish over gas, charcoal or an open fire on Independence Day, cementing the cookout’s reputation as America’s favorite — and perhaps only — way to celebrate the Fourth.

Where backyard chefs differ is in how they choose to season the proteins they’re about to throw on the grill.

Some let the meat speak for itself, with little more than a sprinkling of salt. But if you really want to transform chicken, beef or fish from something ordinary into a dish that sings, consider a tasty marinade or sauce.

Marinating before grilling infuses meat with flavor while basting it with a complementary sauce while cooking — typically during the last few minutes of grilling or after slicing — gives it sheen and helps build the crust that makes your tastebuds shout “Wow!”

It’s also good to have a really great spice rub in your grilling arsenal, especially if you want delish, tender meat on a budget — rubs permeate tough cuts, creating complex layers of flavor.

“They help meat taste and look delicious and they’re crucial to the formation of a tasty, crusty bark,” writes Texas pitmaster Aaron Franklin and co-author Jordan Mackay in Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto (Ten Speed, $30).

What sets a great rub apart from a lesser competitor depends on the whims of the cook. Standard rubs include salt, pepper, granulated garlic and onion and often paprika or dried chilies for a bit of heat. The goal, notes the authors, is to “complement a nice piece of meat, not to obscure a crappy piece of meat. All spices should react well with one another. No one spice should stand out or be too recognizable.”

Restraint and balance also are the name of the game when stirring together sauces and marinades. You want to dress up the meat or fish, not drown it.

Some tips before cooking:

▪ Always apply a rub to meat about 1 hour before cooking, letting it come to room temperature before placing on the grill. This allows the seasoning to “sweat” into the meat, Franklin explains. Also, try to get an even coat of rub over the surface of the meat to allow for even cooking.

▪ Pay careful attention to marinating times; leave it on too long, and it can turn the surface mushy. Poultry takes 30 minutes to three hours; delicate fish and seafood shouldn’t swim more than 30 minutes in a marinade.

▪ Never reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless you boil it first to destroy harmful bacteria.

▪ Sauces should be brushed on the last 5 to 15 minutes of cooking. Keep a careful eye on the fire — most barbecue sauces have sugar in them and you don’t want it to burn.

PICKLED JALAPEÑO CREMA

1/2 cup creme fraiche

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 pickled jalapeños, seeded and chopped, or 1 heaping teaspoon pickled jalapeño slices, chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Stir together all ingredients in small bowl. Serve right away or refrigerate for up to an hour for flavors to meld. Spoon onto fish or shrimp tacos before serving or pass the sauce at table. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Source: “The Barbecue Lover’s Big Book of BBQ Sauces” by Cheryl and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press, $18.95).

FIRECRACKER GRILLED SALMON

6 (6-ounce) salmon filets

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

2 teaspoons dried crushed red pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Vegetable cooking spray

Place salmon fillets in large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Whisk together vegetable oil and next 9 ingredients. Pour over salmon, reserving 1/4 cup mixture. Seal and chill 30 minutes.

Coat cold cooking grate of grill with cooking spray, and place on grill. Preheat grill to 350 to 400 degrees (medium-high). Remove salmon from marinade, discard marinade. Grill salmon without grill lid 4 to 5 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork, turning occasionally and basting with reserved marinade. Remove and discard skin. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Source: “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” (Oxmoor House, $24.95).

BONE DUST BBQ RUB

1/2 cup paprika

1/4 cup chili powder

3 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons ground coriander

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons curry powder

2 tablespoons dry hot mustard

1 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon ground basil

1 tablespoon ground thyme

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon cayenne

Mix all ingredients together and store in a jar until ready to use. Rub on chicken, beef or pork before barbecuing.

Source: “Gastro Grilling” by Ted Reader (Penguin, $29).

BEER-CAN BBQ CHICKEN

4-pound chicken

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 tablespoons BBQ Chicken Rub (see recipe)

1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

12-ounce can pilsner or other light lager beer

Remove neck and giblets from chicken, and reserve for another use. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Brush cavity and skin with vegetable oil. Stir together BBQ rub and salt; sprinkle mixture inside cavity and on outside of chicken. Chill chicken 30 minutes to 12 hours.

Let chicken stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Light 1 side of grill, heating to 350 to 400 degrees (medium-high). Leave other side unlit. Open beer. Place chicken upright onto beer can, fitting can into cavity. Pull legs forward to form a tripod, so chicken stands upright.

Place chicken on unlit side of grill. Grill, covered with grill lid, 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until golden and instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 165 degrees. Carefully remove chicken from can. Cover chicken loosely with aluminum foil and let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Source: “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” (Oxmoor House, $24.95).

BBQ CHICKEN RUB

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground red pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground thyme

1 teaspoon ground oregano

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Stir together salt and remaining ingredients. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Source: “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” (Oxmoor House, $24.95).

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