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The Sizzle Of Summer Grilling

The patio is an outdoor bistro. The host rolls out a glistening, brushed stainless steel grill cart - at center stage is a barbecue with bling. An array of accessories, sauces and spices surrounds the grill. They are props to make this barbecue snap, crackle, pop and sizzle.

Backyard patios and decks have evolved into outdoor kitchens, says Mike Kohn of Home Comfort Hearth and Patio in Phoenix. The barbecue grill these days is more like a full-service stove/oven combo than a hot dog cooking hibachi.

In addition to barbecuing, outdoor chefs can roast, bake, spin the rotisserie or shish kebab, slow cook, steam, stir-fry or smoke their favorite meat, seafood, vegetables or fruit. Deluxe features include spice racks, condiment trays, utensil holders, chopping boards, side burners, warming drawers and cabinets.

The convenience, efficiency and versatility of these "full outdoor kitchens" allow cooks to spend winter, spring, summer or fall at the backyard barbecue.

"More and more Thanksgiving turkeys are being cooked outdoors," says Kohn.

Many barbecues are built-ins, or "islands complete with bar, sink, refrigerator and compartments for things like wastebaskets," says Danny Kahler of Smokey's Stoves and Quality Barbecues in Medford.

"Some even have pizza ovens," he adds.

High-end barbecues outfitted in brushed solid stainless steel, tagged with a five to 10-year warranty and pumped with a high amount of BTUs (British Thermal Units) can run up to $5,000 or more, says Kohn. Most of the newer grill systems deliver 25,000 BTUs per burner.

Grills can be electric or fueled with propane or natural gas. While some gas grill masters still employ wood, charcoal or lava rocks, a popular cooking method uses infrared radiant energy.

"Infrared is what's hot" in grilling, says Kohn.

The infrared grills are gas-fueled. A stainless steel burner radiates heat to ceramic ports that emit intense, searing heat across the entire cooking surface.

Traditionally, "you get a lot of flame and a lot of heat, but only some of it gets to the meat," says Kohn. "It's just a lot of hot, dry air."

With infrared cooking, "there is more intense heat that sears in the moisture and juices, and that's where the flavor is," he adds.

Flavor is the name of the game.

Some grillin' gourmands cook the "new old-fashioned way" on their high tech units with seasoned wood chips or cedar planks to add spice to the life of their feast. In addition to the popular hickory and mesquite varieties, there are now cherry, alder and Jack Daniels whisky-laced wood chips, says Kahler.

The 24-inch non-treated cedar planks are available at kitchen shops or the meat section of your grocery store. They are fashioned after centuries-old devices for smoking salmon or other meats.

"The trick is to soak the planks fully submerged in water for five to six hours before placing them on the grill," says Steve at The Pot Rack in Jacksonville. This keeps the wood from burning during the cooking process. "You will get more than one use out of them. And, the planks offer a nice smoky, woodsy flavor to the meat," he adds.

"Must-have" accessories include vertical chicken roasters or "beer cans" (for beer can chicken), burger presses, metal skewers, spring-loaded tongs, digital meat thermometer probes, silicon basting brushes, long-handled spatulas and barbecue forks, grill screens and baskets. Also available are grill lights to clamp onto the unit. In addition, there are shelves of recipe books, sauces and marinades.

"It's all about more choices, more options to allow you to cook outside 365 days a year," says Kahler.

The Sizzle Of Summer Grilling