Is there any aroma more enticing than that of a barbecue in progress, the hints of smoke and spice wafting through the air on the gentle breeze? Although certainly embraced and enjoyed throughout the cool, crisp and colorful months of autumn, nothing symbolizes summer across the entire geographical span of our nation better than the American backyard barbecue.
Grilling has become a popular culinary tradition in America, offering several benefits that come with cooking in the great outdoors. A barbecue can be conducted in a number of venues, from our backyards to the parks and beaches; such vast expanses of space allow for a larger guest list. A barbecue provides a social scene for cooking, as everyone conglomerates around the patio or deck. While the barbecue chef is the star of the show, guests mingling with a drink in one hand usually have their other hand free and willing to be of assistance in this casual affair. Grilling outdoors also plays a significant role in barring the heat of cooking out of the kitchen during those sweltering summer months.
The act of barbecuing involves cooking the food over a grill that has been heated either with the use of gas or charcoal, preferences leading to a heated topic of debate among barbecue chefs. Purists prefer charcoal, claiming that to light up a pit of flames is how grilling was traditionally done and that gas grilling does not impart the authentic blackened flavor of barbecue. Gas grill enthusiasts revel in the instant gratification of the quick warm up of a gas grill as it responds to the simple press of a button.
When planning a barbecue menu, plan for appetizers and sides that can either be made in advanced and chilled, such as salads, or entirely cooked on the grill, such as corn. This will allow for more socializing for the grill chef and it will keep guests’ focus outdoors rather than scattering them because you have to run into the house to check on the oven.
The original barbecue meat was pork, leading to southern barbecue traditions like barbecued ribs, pulled pork and pork chops. Beef joined the scene in the forms of hot dogs, burgers and steaks. Brisket is another popular choice in the south. As grilling has evolved, the repertoire of foods featured at a barbecue has exploded to include just about everything, from all of the aforementioned to fish, seafood, chicken, vegetables and even pizza and fruits. Appetizers now include such delicacies as grilled shrimp cocktail, barbecue chicken wings and chicken satay. Yes, we now infuse the best of international flavors to our grilling masterpieces, utilizing spices and marinades from Mexico, Asia and Morocco. Salads are no longer limited to the ubiquitous Cole slaw, potato salad and macaroni salad.
If you are contemplating a barbecue party that promises to be different and fun, one idea is the pizza party. Set up a buffet with a colorful array of possible toppings and hand each guest a ball of dough. Assign everyone to create a pizza. You could give out prizes for the best combination and the most uniquely creative combination. For those living along the coast, try a clam or seafood bake at the beach and have each guest arrive with something to add to the communal fire pit.
Charcoal or gas, cheeseburgers or blackened tuna steak, the barbecue is all about being casual, relaxed and having fun with your guests. Pour another drink, throw some more shrimp on the barbie, and enjoy the aromatherapy of smoke laced with the sweet tang of barbecue sauce.