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Grilling Vs. BBQ (+ 20 Rapid Fire Tips)

June 16, 2020
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Let’s talk about BBQing and Grilling – there’s a difference.

BBQ is a passion, it’s regional and has very specific definitions and processes.

Depending on which state/region you’re in BBQ may mean pork or always beef. Ribs are cut differently, sauces are tomato based or vinegary and applied after cooking. BBQ implies time, low heat, and therefore slow cooking. Grilling done over hot open flames, quickly and is often charred on the outside and rare or just cooked through inside. 

Cooking over flames – more like grilling – may be the oldest culinary endeavor there is, but modern BBQ comes from the Caribbean.

European explorers “discovered” it on the Island they named Hispaniola and took the cooking methods North. Is that what you were taught? I was. Let’s take a moment to orient this story from a different perspective. Columbus didn’t discover Hispaniola or America. Native people were already living there and they were BBQing over a green wood that released a slow heat so you could both sear and braise large tough cuts of meat.

When the Europeans went North they took these smart culinary traditions with them and with distance, new techniques and flavors evolved. BBQ in North America is also strongly tied to enslaved communities. The cooking technique was affordable, celebratory (as much as that was possible), and fed a large crowd without waste. As highways were developed, slavery finally ended, and the diaspora out of the South began, Black men and women opened roadside stands and shared their various techniques with new communities along the way. 

There has been a conversation brewing in parts of the food industry about who gets to cook, share, and profit from culinary traditions of a specific region. Can a white chef build a brand around a curry recipe? How do we feel about (white, not-Latino chef) Rick Bayless having a very profitable career promoting Mexican food? Can (Korean) Chef David Chang put a shawarma in his restaurant without crossing a line? I don’t have the answers to these questions but I think we should all keep talking about them. I tell you the story about BBQ though, because a popular answer seems to be that: Yes, at home, we can all enjoy and share recipes, flavors, techniques, and inspiration as long as we’re coming from a place of curiosity and respect to the origin story and the people involved. 

That feels good, right?!

But now, add profit to the question and it becomes murkier. Let’s say a Black chef can’t get access to capital because of systemic racism but a hipster white chef can and does get a loan, so he opens a BBQ joint that does quite well financially. That’s not ok. But, let’s say the white chef is quite conscientious and respectful to the story of BBQ, past and present – is that better? What if the white chef is a woman – she also has a much harder time getting a loan and being respected in a male dominated industry. 

This debate doesn’t have a neat answer but, I do hope you’ll think about some of these questions as you cook and consume food media. 

Whoops, I actually didn’t set out to write any of that. I intended to talk about GRILLING, which is more likely what you’re up to out back on your propane grill if you do it in less than 60 minutes or there are hamburgers of any kind..

Here are my Top 20 Grilling Thoughts, Tips, + Ideas

  1. Clean your grill AFTER you’re done cooking so the grates are hot and it never sits with food on it
  2. Prep everything in the kitchen before heading out to grill
  3. Always have a cold beverage while grilling (beer, rose, or Topo Chico are my faves)
  4. Don’t forget that dry rubs and marinades with sugar or honey will burn so set the heat lower
  5. Bring a clean towel with the edge wet in case you need to wipe your hands
  6. Bring a landing surface for finished items – I like a clean sheet pan
  7. Grilled pizza is awesome! You can place raw dough directly on the grates, when it’s crisp and has marks, flip it, then add topping and it’s done when the cheese is melted
  8. I don’t like baskets or gadgets, if I’m grilling smaller things, I prefer to use metal skewers
  9. Don’t press your burgers (I’m looking at you, Dad!!), save the smash patties for when you’re cooking them inside on cast iron
  10. Cook twice today – grill a whole chicken AND burgers. Eat the burgers tonight and the chicken will be amazing tomorrow, either cold or reheated.
  11. Get your veggies on there! I love cooking large pieces of eggplant, peppers, zucchini, corn on the cob, whole portobellos, then chopping them up once you’re back inside the house. Toss with quinoa and some feta for an awesome salad, or chop more finely and toss with lemon and olive oil for a ratatouille style dish
  12. Have a good pair of tongs and a spatula for grilling – I like one in each hand. 
  13. Metal skewers are inexpensive, last forever, and don’t catch on fire! Skewer everything.
  14. Grilled potatoes are fun. Boil red skinned or baby yukon golds until mostly tender, then toss with salt and plop right on the grates until they’re crispy and have grill marks. Toss in a bowl with lots of salt and butter, chopped or torn basil.
  15. Marinades on meat, seafood, and veggies are great to add flavor…
  16. But sauces are even better because they don’t interfere with grilling. Favorites include: Tzatziki, pesto or chimichurri, red pepper sauce, green goddess, sriracha-mayo, hollandaise, hummus
  17. Do yourself a favor, grill a whole eggplant or 3 and make baba ganoush. (DM me for a recipe) 
  18. Cook fish on medium with the non-skin side first. You can lightly rub the grate with oil first and give it a couple of minutes to char – that will prevent it from sticking. Don’t try to flip or turn it too many times. OR, just cook the skin side down with the lid closed, you won’t get grill marks but the flavor is similar and when you remove it, the skin may stick but the filet will be intact. This is a good method if you’re worried about sticking
  19. Grill Romaine lettuce for a fun twist on caesar salad. Try avocados too.
  20. Grill pineapple, watermelon, peaches, apricot, or cantaloupe too! Serve fruit with a dollop of whipped ricotta and honey, or ice cream, or whipped cream and maybe a chocolate drizzle for a delicious dessert
Alison Mountford is the Founder and CEO of Ends+Stems, a meal planning service designed to reduce household food waste and stop the effects of climate change. Alison has been named a Rubicon Waste Fit Champion, was a finalist for the Spoon Tech Startup Showcase, and has appeared on many podcasts and radio shows, and works as a food waste consultant.

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