Southerners have long enjoyed the tradition of the barbecue as a form of social gathering. Historians believe Native Americans may have initially introduced barbecuing to British colonists as early as the 16th century. There are several theories about the etymology of the word “barbecue.” It is thought to have come from the Spanish word barbacoa, which, in turn, was derived from the language of the Tainos – pre-Columbian Indians located throughout the Caribbean.
The Southern barbecue has often been a venue for South Carolina political entertaining and rallies. According to Charleston author Robert Moss (Barbecue: the History of an American Institution), in the 1920s, Columbia played an important role in the launch of this country’s commercial barbecue. He says S. E. Perry began selling “Bucket Barbecue” during Fourth of July and Labor Day parades at 60 cents a pound and 30 cents for hash. Prior to that, Columbians would bring a bucket from home and fill it with meat at barbecue stands. Lamb and mutton were almost as popular as pork.
Barbecuing is practically a year-round sport now. Some cooks focus on grilling; others say it’s all about the barbecue pits and smoke. Everyone has a preference for a barbecue style and plenty of strong opinions on how to go about it. Few foods inspire loyalties and rivalries like barbecue.
People wonder about the difference between grilling and barbecuing. Grilled foods (veggies, burgers, steaks, firm tofu, pizza, fruit) cook quickly over the direct heat of hot coals. The outer surfaces become seared, creating a caramelized crust that helps seal in juices and flavor. The recipes in this article are focused on easy grilling techniques. Try not to char the foods since cancer-causing compounds on the blackened areas can create serious health risks.
Authentic barbecuing is a long, slow cooking method that can take hour after hour over the low heat of smoldering charcoal or logs. Soaked aromatic hardwood chips, often hickory or pecan, add a rich smoky flavor. “Low and slow” is the barbecue pit master’s mantra.
The intricacies of barbecue have been vetted in cookbooks, magazines, TV cooking shows and during cooking competitions. Consult these sources for in-depth explorations on barbecuing versus grilling, equipment, how to build and maintain a fire and cooking techniques. Along the way, enjoy the mouthwatering aromas and flavors offered in the tried-and-true easy grill recipes showcased in this article.
GRILLED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH SWEET-HOT CHILE GLAZE
Versatile chicken thigh meat stays moist on the grill, is economical and a good source of zinc, selenium and B vitamins. The thighs are marinated in yogurt and South Asian spices, then grilled and brushed with an addictive glaze of flavorful sweet-heat. The chile garlic condiment is sold in eight-ounce plastic bottles decorated with a rooster and green lid. The chicken in the photo is paired with Golden Rice, Cucumber Raita and grilled naan (leavened flatbread). Available at local markets, naan can be warmed over a hot grill and brushed with melted butter or olive oil. The other recipes are given below.
- 1/2 rounded cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 rounded teaspoon lime zest
- 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
- 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced almost to a paste
- 1 tablespoon finely minced gingerroot
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground dried red chiles
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 8 to 10 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 4 1/2 pounds), rinsed, patted dry
- 1/3 cup Huy Fong Vietnamese Chili Garlic Sauce
- 4 tablespoons honey, or to taste
- fresh minced cilantro leaves
Combine yogurt, zest, 3 tablespoons lime juice, garlic, gingerroot, cumin, turmeric, ground chilies and salt in a large plastic food storage bag. Add chicken thighs; coat well with the mixture. Seal bag and refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. In a small bowl, combine chile garlic sauce, honey and remaining tablespoon lime juice. Divide between 2 small bowls; set aside. Set up your outdoor grill. Wipe excess marinade from chicken and coat it lightly with cooking spray. Place chicken, skin side down, over direct heat. Cook about 10 minutes then turn chicken. Brush with the chile glaze in one of the bowls. Cook 10 to 15 minutes more or until skin is crispy and slightly caramelized, the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear. Remove to a platter; garnish with cilantro. Pass the second bowl of glaze on the side. Makes 4 to 5 servings.
Note: Chicken quarters (thighs and drumsticks) are also tasty prepared this way.
GOLDEN RICE WITH OKRA
Green cardamom pods add a warm spicy-sweet flavor and aroma to rice. Purchase at gourmet shops or Indian markets. Skewered, grilled whole okra is called for in this recipe, but it can also be cooked in a foil package over the fire for 15 minutes. Scattering crispy fried okra pieces on top of the rice can add special flavor and textural contrast.
- 1 tablespoon each olive oil and unsalted butter
- 1 small chopped onion
- 1/2 red bell pepper, cut in small dice
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (or big pinch of crushed saffron threads, if available)
- 3 green cardamom pods, gently crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon each sea salt and white pepper
- 1 1/4 cups long grain rice
- 2 cups chicken broth or water
- grilled okra (see the recipe, Smoky Grilled Vegetables)
- 2 minced green onions
Heat oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic; cook until nearly tender. Stir in turmeric, cardamom, salt and pepper. Add rice; stir mixture 30 seconds. Pour in broth and bring to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to low. Cook 15 minutes. If rice is tender yet still moist, remove cover and cook a couple of minutes until mixture is dry. Grill the okra, as directed. Cut in thin diagonal slices and stir into the rice, along with the green onions. (You can make the rice one day ahead then grill the okra along with the chicken thighs the following day.) Makes 4 servings.
- 2 cups Greek yogurt
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, cut in small dice
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- pinch white pepper
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Refrigerate until serving time. Serve as a side dish or as a dip. Makes about 3 cups.
GRILLED TUSCAN STEAK
Tuscan steak (Bistecca alla Florentina) is an uncomplicated dish offering maximum flavor. A thick porterhouse steak is traditionally grilled over a wood fire until rare. Beef fillets, New York strip and T-bone steaks would work too. The only absolute is to use the finest choice or prime beef, preferably aged and dry. (You can improve your meat by air-drying it in the refrigerator a few hours.) Sautéed wild mushrooms and a salad of peppery arugula with balsamic and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano make a fine accompaniment.
- 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary or other herb
- 2-inch thick porterhouse (about 2 1/2 pounds), removed from refrigerator 1/2 hour before grilling
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound mixed fresh mushrooms (choose from shiitake, crimini, morels, oyster, chanterelles, portobello or champignon)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine pepper, salt and rosemary. Rub mixture on both sides of steak. Set up your outdoor grill. Sear steak on each side over direct heat about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until rare (125 degrees) or to a desired degree of doneness. Let the meat rest; keep warm. Heat a cast iron skillet with 2 tablespoons olive oil over direct heat. Sauté mushrooms 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and vinegar; cook 30 seconds more. Off heat, add seasonings to taste. Carve steak off the bone; top each portion with some mushrooms. If desired, drizzle on a little extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter. Makes 4 servings.
Variation: Paniolo Cowboy Steak
For a Hawaiian-style coffee-rubbed grilled steak, omit seasonings listed above. Coat both sides of the meat lightly with Chinese hoisin sauce, then sprinkle each side with 2 teaspoons Coffee Spice Rub (recipe follows). Marinate 30 minutes, then cook and serve as directed above.
COFFEE SPICE RUB
Ask any cowboy – coffee, grilling and barbecue go hand-in-hand. Rubs are a type of marinade that add concentrated flavor. One hundred percent pure Kona coffee and Hawaiian sea salt are recommended, but your favorite quality coffee and salt will give good results. Make sure the spices in your pantry are fresh.
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons finely-ground 100% Kona or other quality coffee
- 1 tablespoon Ancho chile powder (McCormick’s Spice)
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons Hawaiian pink salt, coarse sea salt or kosher salt
In a small skillet over medium heat, stir cumin and fennel seeds 3 or 4 minutes, until toasted and aromatic. Grind seeds finely with a mortar and pestle (or process in a spice or coffee mill). Blend with remaining ingredients. To use the rub, sprinkle 1 to 2 teaspoons on each side of steak, baby back ribs, pork tenderloin or even sashimi-grade tuna. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes up to 6 hours. Grill meat over direct heat to the desired degree of doneness. Also good for slow-cooking barbecue recipes. Makes about 1/2 cup seasoning.
VENISON COCKTAIL MEATBALLS
Susan Brill gets rave reviews for her venison meatballs. Her husband, Dr. Alan Brill, hunts on his property in Fairfield County and supplies the meat. Susan says sausage adds flavor and moisture to low fat deer meat and mustard enhances the flavor. If you don’t have venison or venison sausage on hand, use beef or bison and pork sausage. The meatballs are cooked outdoors in a cast iron skillet but you can use a meatball grill basket.
- 1 pound ground venison
- 1/2 pound venison sausage or pork sausage
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
- 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped herbs, or green onion
- toothpicks or small warm buns, if desired
In a large bowl, gently combine venison and venison sausage with eggs, salt, pepper, onion, Worcestershire and mustard. Shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs or 8 even-size patties. Set up your outdoor grill. Heat a medium cast iron skillet with half the oil over direct heat. Cook a portion of the meatballs until lightly browned; turn to cook the other sides. When done, remove and drain. Keep warm while cooking second batch. Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with minced herbs or green onion. Serve with toothpicks or buns. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
This flavorful recipe is adapted from Susan Slack’s cookbook, Mexican Medley: The Best of Old Mexico & the Modern Southwest (American Cooking Guild). The recipe calls for spatchcock chicken, which means it is butterflied and the backbone is removed. The chicken is then flattened for quick, even cooking. If you prefer, use chicken pieces.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 or 7 3-inch sprigs fresh sage, plus extra for garnish
- 1 large garlic clove, smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon pure chile powder
- 1 crushed chile pequin or 1 teaspoon dried hot chile flakes
- 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 3- to 3 1/2-pound whole broiler/fryer
In a small skillet over low heat, combine all the ingredients except chicken. When the mixture sizzles, remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. To prepare chicken, remove wing tips with poultry shears. Remove backbone by cutting through the ribs on either side of the backbone, from the neck to the tail. Turn chicken over, breast side up. To break the breastbone and flatten chicken, firmly strike breast with the heel of the hand.
Baste chicken all over with seasoned oil. Set up your outdoor grill. Cook chicken on grill, turning and basting several times, 25 to 30 minutes or until juices run clear. Remove from grill and cut into serving pieces. Garnish with sage. Makes 4 servings.
ANDY’S GAME BIRD MARINADE
Professional forester Andy Slocum is an avid hunter who enjoys cooking game birds. Because game birds are naturally less fatty, marinating them and serving them rare or medium-rare helps prevent dryness. Andy uses the marinade below to soak duck, dove and quail.
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup quality soy sauce, like Kikkoman
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- Blend the ingredients.
Andy shares this tasty method for preparing duck: After boning out and trimming the breasts, marinate them several hours in the marinade. Cut a deep vertical pocket in each piece to stuff with a mixture of cream cheese, minced jalapeño and minced onion. Secure pockets with toothpicks. Season the breasts, then grill them to the desired degree of doneness.
CHEF SCOTT HALL’S CAROLINA MUSTARD SAUCE
Chef Scott Hall shares his recipe for mustard barbecue sauce, the preferred “slather” for a Midlands pig-pickin’. This tasty sauce is good on chicken, pulled pork, ribs and succulent pork belly. Chef Scott’s food truck/catering business, Bone-In, is Columbia’s first artisan barbecue truck on wheels -– a hot new culinary concept that is sweeping the country. Scott’s barbecue -– pulled pork and Texas smoked brisket -– is a cornerstone for his special brand of Southern cuisine and so popular that dedicated fans keep up with his truck movements on Facebook and Twitter.
- 1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)
- 3 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 medium yellow onion (liquefied in blender)
- 2 cups cider vinegar
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup spicy brown mustard
- 1 cup Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons Louisiana-style hot sauce 1 tablespoon fresh cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
In a large saucepan over high heat, melt butter with the oregano. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add the liquefied onions to the melted herb butter; cook and stir 5 minutes more. Blend in the vinegar and brown sugar until fully dissolved. Add spicy mustard, Dijon mustard, hot sauce, black pepper and soy sauce, stirring until thoroughly combined and hot.
CHEF SCOTT HALL’S MACARONI AND CHEESE
A scoop of luscious macaroni and cheese is the perfect sidekick for Southern barbecued meats. Hall Hospitalities is the parent company for Chef Scott Hall’s Bone-In and the exclusive in-house caterer for Columbia’s historic Big Apple, another location where you can enjoy Scott’s moveable feast.
- 1 medium yellow onion, cut in small dice
- 5 tablespoons bacon fat (or butter), divided
- 4 cups milk
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 16 ounces small macaroni or penne pasta
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 teaspoon Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, sauté onion in 1 tablespoon bacon fat until translucent. Reduce heat to low and pour in milk. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes then remove from heat and bring to room temperature. Pour milk mixture into a large bowl; chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour. Wash saucepan and keep nearby.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large stockpot, bring 1 gallon of water to a boil. Add 3 tablespoons salt and the macaroni; boil 10 to 12 minutes. Drain pasta; rinse with cold water then set aside. Strain onions out of the chilled milk mixture and discard them.
In the heavy saucepan, heat the remaining bacon fat over medium-high heat. Whisk in flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly add 1/2 of the milk, whisking vigorously until mixture thickens to a smooth paste. Add the remaining milk, continuing to whisk vigorously until sauce thickens again. Cook 1 to 2 minutes.
Add about 3/4 of the cheese and stir until completely melted into the mixture. Add the Sriracha sauce, kosher salt, ground pepper, nutmeg and garlic powder. Fold the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce until evenly coated. Pour pasta mixture into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top then sprinkle with panko. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes; serve warm. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
SOUTHWESTERN-STYLE FLAT IRON STEAK
Sometimes called patio or chicken steak, flat iron steak is a fairly economical cut from the top blade of the shoulder.
The lean beef offers a lot of flavor, similar to ribeye. The way this cut is butchered, with all the connective tissues removed, makes it very tender when grilled and sliced across the grain. The meat loves a good soak in a zippy marinade, which increases the flavor and tenderness.
- 2 tablespoons balsamic or sherry wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons Chipotle Mexican Hot Sauce (Bufalo® brand)
- 2 tablespoons minced cilantro
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- black pepper, to taste
- 1 flat iron steak (about 1 1/2 pounds), flank steak or tri-tip roast
Mix all the ingredients, except steak, in a large plastic food storage bag. Add steak to the bag, coating with marinade; seal and refrigerate. Marinate at least 2 hours or up to 8 hours. One half hour before cooking, remove meat from refrigerator. Discard marinade. Set up your outdoor grill. Cook steak over direct heat 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare (about 130 degrees F). Allow steak to rest off the heat for 5 minutes, then slice thinly across the grain and serve. Makes 4 servings.
SMOKY GRILLED VEGETABLES
Grilled vegetables can be served as a side dish or warm salad. A light coating of olive oil keeps them from drying out; salt enhances their taste, evaporating just enough moisture to concentrate the flavors. Experiment with herb or garlic infused olive oils and finishing salts like French Sel Gris or Himalayan Pink Salt. Prepare some of the veggies below the next time you cook meat or seafood on the grill.
- 1/2 pound small, fresh whole okra (put 4 okra side by side and skewer them together ladder-style with 2 soaked bamboo skewers, one running through pods at each end.)
- 2 fennel bulbs, stalks removed, cut in half lengthwise
- 4 Belgian endive, cut in half lengthwise
- frozen, thawed artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes, alternately laced on 4 metal or soaked bamboo skewers
- 4 long thin Asian eggplants, each cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices, yet still attached at stem end
- 2 large red bell peppers, halved, seeded, stemmed
- tender ears of corn with husks and corn silk pulled back; brush with oil and sprinkle with seasoning
Set up your outdoor grill. Prepare 2 or 3 of the vegetables as instructed. Cook over direct heat, turning occasionally, until fork-tender and nicely browned. Grill fennel and endive only on the cut sides. Remove from grill; season and drizzle with Basil Dressing (recipe below). Grilling time takes somewhere between 4 to 8 minutes, depending on each vegetable. Brush with Basil Dressing, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Variation: Smoky Grilled Vegetable Salad
Select 2 or 3 veggies above and prepare, as directed. Line 4 salad plates with red leaf lettuce. Arrange a slice of soft, fresh goat cheese with a portion of the grilled veggies on each plate. Drizzle with Basil Dressing (recipe below). Serve Bruschetta on the side.
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons minced shallots
- 1 tablespoon thinly shredded fresh basil or other fresh herb
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
Combine the ingredients. Drizzle over grilled vegetables and salads or use as a meat marinade.
Grilled Italian-style garlic bread is as popular now as it was in ancient Rome when citizens grilled thick rustic bread slices over wood fires. A crusty Italian or French peasant-style loaf, cut in 1-inch-thick slices, works best. Lightly grill both sides of bread over direct heat until crispy and golden brown. Rub crushed fresh garlic over one side of each slice; brush with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with salads or as an antipasto or first course topped with cheese, sliced cured meats, white beans or grilled vegetables.
GUAVA-GLAZED GRILLED SALMON
The tropical flavors in this fruity glaze complement grilled salmon, shrimp, scallops, pork tenderloin and chicken. Look for Margie’s all natural fruit spreads in area markets. If unavailable, melt guava jelly or cubes of Goya-brand guava paste, a dense concentrated fruit puree with a rich flavor. Heat the cubes with a little guava nectar, orange juice or water over low heat. The salmon can also be plank grilled.
- 1/4 cup guava or mango fruit spread
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or chile garlic sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- olive oil, as needed
- 4 salmon fillets with skin (5 to 6 ounces each)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- 2 firm ripe mangoes, peeled pitted, sliced
In a small bowl, blend guava spread, mustard, lime juice, red pepper flakes and horseradish; set aside. Set up your outdoor grill. Brush salmon fillets lightly with oil. Grill, flesh-side-down, over moderate heat 3 to 4 minutes. Turn fillets over to the skin side. Brush tops with glaze as the fish continues to cook about 6 minutes or until done. Garnish each portion with sesame seeds and sliced mango. Makes 4 servings.
Quick Barbecue Tip: In a heavy saucepan, melt some cubes of guava paste into your favorite commercial barbecue sauce over medium-low heat. To adjust the flavor, stir in brown sugar, lemon juice and red pepper flakes, to taste. Cook and stir for 5 minutes.
CAMPER’S CHOCOLATE FONDUE
Hot coffee, chocolate bars and marshmallows are all you need to create this tasty dessert over a campfire or outdoor grill. Dip fresh or dried fruit pieces, cookies or cinnamon grahams into the yummy fondue. The recipe is from Fondues & Hot Pots by Susan Fuller Slack (HP Books – The Berkley Publishing Company).
- 1 strong, hot coffee, flavored or plain
- 1 packed cup small plain marshmallows
- 4 3 1/2-ounce bars Swiss milk chocolate (plain or with orange filling), broken in pieces
In a medium heavy saucepan over indirect heat, heat coffee. When hot, add marshmallows and stir until almost melted. Add chocolate and stir until blended and smooth. Don’t allow mixture to become too hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Visit www.columbiametro.com for grilling tips and more information on how to grill with wood planks.