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Simply Entertaining: Tips for barbecue prep chefs

Thursday, June 14, 2001

By Mary Miller

When I think of Father's Day, I picture a toque-and-apron-wearing dad wielding a large fork and spatula, standing next to a barbecue grill. Somehow, grilling has picked up a manly reputation -- maybe it stems back to caveman days when the men brought back animals to be cooked over the fire. Me Tarzan, you Jane, and all that.

Although it would be frowned upon for Mom to cook on Mother's Day, I don't think that Father's Day carries the same stigma. It really isn't hard work for Dad to grill some burgers or hot dogs if someone else has completed the rest of the preparations.

So before your Barbecue King fires up the grill, let's go over some basics for successful backyard entertaining.

The act of tending the grill demands attention, as some foods can go from raw to crispy in just minutes. The trickiest part of grilling is getting the entree to be ready with the rest of the meal. Assign one adult to grill duty and don't let him stray away from the task at hand.

Prepare side dishes early in the day. If you're short on time, store-bought accompaniments such as coleslaw, potato salad or macaroni salad can be updated with the addition of a little horseradish, chopped red pepper or fresh herbs.

Set the table and prepare drinks ahead of time. And have plenty of napkins handy -- barbecues can be messy.

For maximum flavor, immerse the food in a marinade or spice rub for at least 12 hours before grilling. Use a zippered plastic bag to seal the whole mixture. This provides both easy storage and cleanup. An exception to the 12-hour rule is a tender food such as fish. For these items, 2 hours is the recommended marinating time.

Assemble your tools before you begin. Oven mitts, a basting brush and metal tongs or a spatula are essential. Avoid using a fork, as it pierces the flesh and allows juices and flavor to escape. It also causes the fire to flare. (Trimming excess fat before cooking can also control flare-ups.)

Start with a clean grill. Then use a nonstick spray on the grilling racks, especially when cooking low-fat meats. Just don't spray the grill once it has been lit. Allow enough time to heat the charcoal to a high temperature or to preheat the gas grill.

When basting chicken or other meats with a sugar-based sauce, wait until the last few minutes of cooking to brush with the sauce. The sugar in the sauce quickly burns, giving a charred crust that is bad for your health and for your taste buds.

Turn foods only when necessary. Gently lift up one end of the food. Once you can see slight black grill marks, it is time to flip.

Most people, including grilling guru and "The Barbecue Bible!" author Steven Raichlen, tests doneness by the poke method. When pressed with your finger or a fork, the thickest part of the meat will feel soft and yielding when rare, resistant and springy when well done.

To test a chicken for doneness, insert a skewer into the thickest part of one thigh -- the juices should come out clear. There should be no redness at the joints. Fish, when done, should flake easily.

Of course, you could be scientific and check the internal temperature with a thermometer. For chicken, 170 degrees is well done for chicken; 160 degrees is the ideal temperature for cooked burgers; large roasts should be 145 degrees for medium rare and 160 degrees for medium well done.

Finally, remove the cooked food from the grill to a clean plate to avoid contamination with bacteria from raw foods.

Sometime it is easier to grill the meat first, then dip each bite into a zesty sauce before eating. This easy sauce is perfect for dipping pieces of grilled beef and pork.

Hoisin-Chili Sauce

2/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup chili sauce of your choice, see note

Combine ingredients in a bowl and whisk to mix. Transfer to tiny bowls to serve. Makes 1 cup.

Note: We prefer a Thai chili sauce like Sriracha, found at Oriental markets in The Strip.

"The Barbecue Bible!"

Mary Miller is a Fox Chapel-based registered dietitian and food writer. Her column appears twice monthly. For questions or comments, she can be reached at marymar333@home.com

Thursday, June 07, 2001

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