FOOD WISE: Annual LHLA BBQ Cook-off means start of grilling season in The Hill

Corn and Black Bean Salad

By CHEF RENEE MORGAN

Ohhh….this is gonna be a big deal, and I, for one can’t wait! I’m talking about the annual Liberty Hill Livestock Association BBQ Cook-off. It’s going to be a high time to be sure. If you’ve never been, you definitely are going to want to attend this year. It’s coming up this weekend at Indian Mound Ranch. There will be live music, fun carnival rides, and most importantly, fantastic Barbeque.

Last I heard, there were already over 130 competitors and these guys are serious. As a CTBA (Central Texas Barbeque Association) sanctioned competition, this cook-off is held to the strictest standards. It’s going to be an amazing time and a chance to taste some of the best barbeque in Texas.

All this talk about barbeque has me thinking about the beginning of summer, coolers of ice-cold beer, lazy afternoons in the hammock with my grandkids and many happy evenings of grilling every food known to man.

Yep, I love to grill and not just steaks, either. You know, just about anything can be cooked on fire and the smoke and wood (if you’re lucky enough to be using wood), really enhances the taste of most any food. I grill everything from the expected steak to romaine lettuce for salads, peaches or grapefruit (sprinkled with sugar afterward), bananas, pineapple, pound cake, mangos and melons. Be sure to spray any fruits with neutral flavored oil before grilling to prevent sticking.

As we start the grilling season (that’s just crazy talk, all year is really grilling season), I thought some grilling tips might be in order. If you haven’t used your grill in a while, she might need some dusting off and sprucing up. Granted, this is not my most favorite part, but a necessary evil. First, give her a nice bath. I use a scrub brush, bucket of suds and a garden hose. Just scrub away any dirt and gunk on the outside. Then, you can use steel wool or a steel brush to clean off the grill grates. Just be sure to rub a wad of paper towel soaked with vegetable oil over those grates before you start grilling food. Scoop out any leftover drippings or ashes in the bottom of the grill. If you have a gas grill, check the hose connection to the burner to make sure it’s properly connected and hasn’t worked its way loose. Then use a toothpick or the end of a paperclip to push into the burner holes to make sure those gas lines are cleared. Check your propane tank to make sure you actually have propane. Nothing is worse than getting ready to grill up a wonderful steak, your mouth is all set for its juiciness, only to find your tank is empty. Talk about a bummer!

When you run out of propane, stop by to fill your tank at P&R Propane, right next door to The Independent.

There are a couple of grilling tools that I find really indispensible. One is my magnetic grill light. Since it is attached with magnets, I can move it around wherever I want. It also has a flexible arm so I can direct the light properly. Also, the light is really bright so it works well if I’m in a dark spot.

Another tool I really like for a charcoal grill is a chimney starter. I love my gas grill for convenience, but nothing beats the flavor gained by using a charcoal grill, unless its ruined by the taste of lighter fluid. A chimney starter is easy to use and helps you avoid the lighter fluid problem. You simply stuff newspaper or some other kind of paper in the bottom, put the charcoal on top and light the paper in the bottom. Your charcoal will be ready to use in about 20 minutes.

My other essential grill tools include a long pair of spring-loaded tongs, a stem-style thermometer, a spray bottle for water, cedar planks for grilling fish, a big grill spatula and some kind of sturdy work surface to sit platters and stuff. It’s also a pretty smart idea to have a fire extinguisher close at hand, just in case.

Once you have a clean slate and have assembled all your tools, as well as the foods you’re going to cook, you have to decide how you’re going to cook, by direct or indirect heat. Direct heat is immediately over the heat source and is considered grilling. Indirect heat is inside the grill, but not directly over the heat. In this case, the grill is lit only on one side or the coals are piled to one side or the other. This is generally how barbeque is done. Sometimes both are used in one application. For example, if I were to cook a rack of lamb on a grill. I would sear it for five minutes or so on each side on the direct heat side and then cook it the rest of the way on the indirect side.

If you want to find out more about grilling or barbeque there are many good books on the subject. One of the best books I’ve read on grilling and barbeque is a great book by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe called Peace, Love and Barbeque, published in 2005 by Rodale. It is an excellent resource with how-to’s and lots of recipes from the superstars of the barbeque world. Another good basic cookbook to have in your collection, which includes lots of good grilling information, is Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

Now lest I get emails from all of you barbeque aficionados, of course grilling is different than barbeque. I guess they are really more like kissing cousins, but barbeque seems to be a much more involved craft, requiring a degree of finesse and a good understanding of how time and temperature affects protein. Since I am no pit master, I won’t even try to advise you about that. In fact, I’m hoping to learn a thing or two at the cook-off this weekend. Hope to see you there.

Chef Reneé is an award-winning, classically trained chef. She earned her culinary degree at the famous Le Cordon Bleu, as well as a bachelor of music degree from Hardin-Simmons University. She has an extensive background in events planning and management. Reneé lives in Liberty Hill with her husband, John, their dogs, cats, chickens and one ornery rooster.

Black Bean and Grilled Corn Salad

(One of the best things about summertime grilling are the sides.)

3 oz olive oil, or as needed

1 oz white Wine Vinegar, or as needed

4 cloves roasted Garlic (roast at 425 and paste)

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

1 cup grilled corn kernels

¼ red onion, chopped

½ cup roma tomatoes, diced

1/2 bunch green onions, chopped

2 teaspoons chopped parsley

1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

1 poblano pepper, blackened, peeled, deseeded and chopped

1. Prepare dressing as follows: Whisk together vinegar, salt, pepper and oil. Adjust seasonings to taste.

2. Combine corn, cilantro, tomatoes, onion, parsley, black beans, poblano and garlic. Add dressing and toss. Serve room temperature.