Dormant tree buds are unfurling, yawning and stretching open. The pesky black flies are hurling, swarming and attacking. That can mean only one thing, spring has sprung and the grilling season is upon us. The upcoming Memorial Day weekend often marks the onset of outdoor gatherings, the safe season to plant the garden and the inauguration of the beloved barbecue grill.
Memorial Day historically was known as Decoration Day in honor of those who fought for our country and gave their lives to protect our freedom. The custom of decorating the deceased graves with an American flag has evolved to also include ceremonies and parades often followed by gatherings with family and friends to ‘grill and chill’ and enjoy great weather and great company.
The process of cooking meat slow and low over a source of fire to impart as much smoke flavor as possible is called Barbecue. As Chinese chef Martin Yan, host of the long-running show Yan Can Cook, put it, “Man discovered fire. Five minutes later, he invented barbecue.” This process has some history and can be serious business. Barbecue has a global appeal. From Argentinian Asado Steak to Jamaican Jerk Chicken, the roots of barbecue are not purely American (don’t tell the Southern States that though). Did you know that the barbecue world has their own Grillers Hall of Flame located in Orchard, MA? There are so many different techniques combined with hundreds more of favorite spice rubs, finger-licking marinades and secret sauces that are all treasured for their final flavor. Grilling, as a technique, is a close cousin to the barbecue. It is the quicker method of using higher heat to cook the meat faster and with little smoke. Most serious barbecuers and grillers have their own “tried and true” method.
A serious griller I am not, though we do enjoy a well seasoned and grilled piece of meat or slow-cooked pulled pork. This weekend, whether you’re prepping a smoker or lighting a grill, the merits of mixing up smoke, heat, meat, sugar, and spice is undeniable. And let’s not forget our veggie family and friends. What’s good for the brisket or thigh can work just as well for some tofu or Portabella mushroom. Below is some of what we’ll be cooking up this weekend when friends and family gather at our home to grill-n-chill while the kids run wild.
Spice Rub for Beef or Chicken
1/4 C Sweet Smoked Paprika
3 Tbsp dark chili powder-if you like heat make it Ancho Powder
1 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper–balance with the chili powder for heat
1 Tbsp white or maple sugar, can also use honey
1 1/2 Tbsp Oregano, use Mexican Oregano for a truly south of the border flavor
1-2 Tbsp Salt to your own taste–applewood or hickory smoked salt here works wonders for a richer flavor
2 Tbsp ground Cumin-can be pan roasted for a deeper taste
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
2 tsp Garlic powder
2 tsp Onion powder
1 Tbsp each black and white peppers.
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. You can massage right onto the meat or I like to add a few tablespoons of tomato paste/ketchup, an ounce or two of apple cider vinegar and a splash of olive oil to the rub right before grilling to turn it into a sauce–either way tastes fantastic.
For Pork Chops:
1 Tbsp Cumin
1 Tbsp Tarragon–ground in mortar and pestle for freshest, sweetest flavor
1 tsp white pepper or lemon pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 Tbsp basil
1/2 tsp salt or to taste
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
Combine and massage as above. If possible rub onto meat and refrigerate for 1-3 hrs before grilling. No additional liquid for this one.
*This article was written by Melissa Spencer for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript