Be the Daddy-O of the Patio
A few helpful hints to please a diverse
barbecue crowdóand keep it simple at the same time
By B.A. Nilsson
Memorial Day weekend looming, Iím already lugging patio furniture
out to where the patio would be if we had such a thing. By
autumnís arrival, this patch of grass will be scuffed and
threadbare and singed by depth charges of glowing charcoal.
But it recovers.
Which is more than I can say for myself after Iíve supervised
one of those weekend parties in which I turn into a one-man
burger-flipping assembly line. Itís great to be surrounded
by both friends and nature, but the kinds of menus Iíve come
up with in the past have made it impossible to spend quality
time with either.
For a list of
Outdoor Dining Establishments
year, however, I realized that all the extra effort was winning
me no points and wasting much time, so I simplified. Itís
still work, but Iíve spread it out and pared down the menus.
According to an informal canvas of some workmates, burgers
are still the monarch of the summer grill, and are colored
with much opinion. Iíve gone through phases of working the
meat with various additives, and have lately decided that
not much besides salt and pepper is really needed. But I prefer
burgers to remain a reasonable size so thereís room for slices
of tomato and onion.
some like the simplicity of frozen patties, recent massive
recalls have provoked uncertainty about such meat. I donít
know if youíre much better off at many retailers, but as long
as you cook the stuff properly you shouldnít have any problems.
So it is, too, with chickens. They need a lengthy cooking
time. Keep the lid of your grill closed once the bird hits
the heat, and resist the temptation to peek in too often.
Even thatís too much for some stalwarts. ďI like chicken kabobs,Ē
says my friend Susan. ďI can make them a day ahead, and theyíre
mostly vegetable pieces, which saves money.Ē Shrimp, too,
are good kabob candidates if you donít mind doing some peeling.
Grilling and salmon were made for each other, and the fish
even has a built-in indicator to let you know when to flip
it: It stops sticking to the grill. Season the fish, then
start it pink side down for a couple of minutes. The natural
oils will cause it to let go when itís hot enough. Flip it
and donít forget to take it off the heat.
While considering seafood, consider clams. ďSpread them across
the top of the grill,Ē says another friend Heather, ďuntil
thereís no room. Grill them until they open, and then dab
each one with butter and garlic. Your grill will smell like
clams for a long time after that.Ē
If your budget is more generous, grill a load of oysters,
touching them with a little barbecue sauce as they finish.
Or get some sushi-grade tuna and sear the outside as quickly
as possible. Serve it with grilled new potatoes tossed in
kosher salt and your best olive oil.
Salads can be day-ahead items. Toss some fresh tomato slices
with slices of onion in an oil-and-vinegar dressing with some
chopped basil leaves and let it sit for a day to intensify
Oil and vinegar are great summer meal companions. Add some
seasonings and you have a vinaigrette, just the thing to brush
on squash or eggplant or any other vegetable youíd care to
grill. (Work a little ahead with the eggplant and you can
turn the grilled slices into babaganouj, a savory Middle Eastern
dip.) Vegetarian friends tend to get short-shrifted by the
typical American grill, so keep veggies on hand and explore
the complex flavors that grilling will elucidate. Soak ears
of corn in water, husks intact, for half an hour before putting
them on the grill. Rip the husks off and watch the steam escape.
Boiled corn never tasted this good.
Marinate asparagus in oil and vinegar for a couple of hours,
and if youíre handy with the tongs, you can quickly cook them
over the grill-top. As with all vegetables that hit such high
heat, the sugars caramelize quickly and give it a deeper flavor.
I reserve a relatively cooler grill area for a medley of onion
and pepper slices, which then can be applied to any sandwich.
Although mayonnaise-based dressings are most common for summer-entertaining
salads, keep in mind the risk of having mayo out in the sun
for too long. Doesnít hurt to have a cooler nearby in which
you can store the potato salad during meal lulls.
According to the Weber Grill company, the latest trend in
outdoor dining is the dedicated entertainment center, where
your grill (or grills) and prep area converge upon seating
for guests. You get the feeling of camping without actually
Iím all for anything that puts creative food preparation in
the spotlight; with the approach suggested here, you will
reap ironic praise for your master touch when all you did
was incur Thoroeauvian approbation by keeping it simple.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.