Local chef offers tricks, tips for summertime outdoor cooking

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By ANTHONY FLORES

One of the summertime essentials in Texas is grilling and barbecuing. Whether it’s in the backyard with the family, for the whole neighborhood, or while visiting one of Texas’ many parks, coming together around the grill or fire pit is tradition.

Chef Michael Biggs, co-owner of Malted Grains, has some tips for those looking to work the grill this summer.

But first, there is a clear distinction between grilling and barbecuing. Even though many use the terms interchangeably, they are two different methods of cooking.

“I think people get mixed up when they say barbecue and think of the charcoal grill in the backyard,” said Biggs. “That is what grilling is. It’s direct heat over coals and fire, whereas barbecue is through your typical low and slow, smoker type of equipment.”

For those looking to go the low and slow route and smoke their meat for 6-12 hours, there are many options for different types and cuts of meat. The traditional Texas cut of beef is the almighty brisket. When it comes to brisket, Chef Biggs suggests keeping the seasoning simple.

“With brisket, I usually go with granulated garlic, granulated onion, salt and pepper,” said Biggs. “I usually smoke them for about four hours and then wrap them in foil for about six hours or so.”

Brisket being a much thicker cut of meat with often a lot of fat, it requires more time on a smoker, while with poultry and pork the time for smoking is much less. As with his brisket, Biggs still keeps the seasoning simple, using brine to instill flavor in the meat.

“With poultry or pork, I usually brine it first in a mixture of water and seasonings to let the flavor really get in there,” he said. “I like to leave them in it for a few hours or overnight, if possible.”

When it comes to pork, Biggs believes the ever-popular baby back ribs are overrated, suggesting a meatier alternative.

“I personally prefer to use St. Louis style ribs,” he said. “The way they’re cut leaves a lot more meat on them than baby back ribs. One trick I do is I take the skin off the back of the ribs. I stick the knife in at one end and slice in a bit, then it’s pretty easy to tear it right off. I like to give them a nice glaze and use salt and pepper when I make them. With pork ribs, it’s always easy to tell when it’s ready because the bone will slide right out of the meat.”

The point of barbecuing and smoking meat is the flavor the meat takes on from the wood.

The choices for different kinds of wood to use range from Alder, Apple, Cherry, Hickory, Lilac, Maple, Mesquite, Mulberry, Oak, Orange, Peach, Pear, Pecan, Plum and Walnut.

Avoid using evergreen or sap heavy woods like Cedar, Cypress, Elm, Eucalyptus, Fir, Liquid Amber, Pine, Redwood, Spruce, or Sycamore. These tend to produce too much smoke and can create a bitter taste in food.

Chef Biggs suggests trying to stick with wood found in the area to save money. However, wood can be bought online or from various stores that sell grills and supplies.

“Personally, I like a mixture of mesquite and pecan,” said Biggs. “When I was living in San Angelo, that was what was predominantly out there. We had mesquite and a lot of pecan as well. That’s where I learned to smoke meat, so I’ve stuck with that 50/50 blend. Mesquite for a nice heat and flavor and pecan is nice and mild.”

While barbecuing may be too tedious for families trying to enjoy a meal on a beautiful summer evening, grilling is an excellent option. Whether it’s steaks, chicken, fish or sausage, grilling is the quicker option.

Getting good results on the grill starts with embracing the heat and not being afraid of how hot the grill gets.

“People are so afraid of burning their meat that they don’t let the grill get hot enough,” said Biggs. “You have to learn how to not be afraid of the heat. You want to let the charcoal get hot enough to where it turns fully gray and ash-colored. Then you spread it out and put the grill top on it. Let the fire burn for 20, maybe 30 minutes, and the grill gets hot.”

When Chef Biggs works the grill, steaks are his go-to choice. His preference is the tasty bone-in ribeye. Leaving the bone in is a must to get all of the great flavors the cut of steak has to offer.

“When I’m grilling steak, I usually sear each side over high heat,” said Biggs. “What people don’t know is that the hotter it gets, the tighter the fibers get until it gets too tough. Of course, if you cook it long enough, the fibers tighten until they snap, and it can get really tender.”

For a more natural flavor, if possible, avoid using charcoal briquettes and go with lump coal, Biggs’ preferred method for grilling.

“When I grill, I prefer to use lump coal instead of charcoal briquettes,” he said. “They burn better, have a better taste, and don’t have chemicals as charcoal has.”

While they are different in so many ways, grilling and barbecuing do share one thing in common. Sides and desserts.

One of the most popular sides to go with meat on the grill is potato salad. Chef Biggs keeps it simple and uses his grandmother’s recipe. One of the tricks he suggests is allowing the potatoes to cool to warm after boiling.

Mixing ingredients in when the potatoes cool too much creates a glaze on the outside. Mixing in while warm allows the ingredients to meld with the potatoes

“For sides, I keep it traditional most of the time,” said Biggs. “Usually a potato salad, which is just mayo, mustard, and the potatoes and seasoning of your choice. You can add tarragon, too, for some nice flavor.”

Coleslaw is the other classic side for Biggs, and one he wants people to understand can be done so many different ways.

“I also like to serve coleslaw, and the thing is people think there’s only one way to do coleslaw, but the truth is they can make it in so many different ways,” said Biggs. “Once you have a cabbage base, you can mix in different kinds of things.”

For those interested in adding a healthier option to the sides, salad is an easy and straightforward choice.

“A nice salad is always good with some meat off the grill,” said Biggs. “I like to mix romaine lettuce with some baby green because they blend together really well. Of course, cucumber and tomatoes as well. For the dressing, people can use whatever they prefer.”

As for dessert, Biggs doesn’t hesitate to share his preferred choice — peach cobbler.

“I like a good peach cobbler for dessert,” said Biggs. “Or you can even throw the fruit on the grill and have it like that for dessert, too.”

No matter what choice is made when it comes to outdoor cooking, Chef Biggs says it’s all about the opportunity to commune with family and friends.

“With the way things are now, grilling and barbecuing are such a great way to forget our differences and socialize with one another,” said Biggs. “It’s a good way to be part of the same team.”

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