Barbecue season is here, and the experts insist you don’t need a backyard or fancy equipment to join in the fun.
It’s not the same as grilling.
While grilling involves direct exposure to heat, barbecuing is a process of slow cooking, where the meat is cooked using smoke from an indirect heat source for prolonged periods of time. “It’s a style that originated as poor man’s food. Slaves would have to make do with the cheap cuts of meat, so they would build a pit and the heat generated would smoke the meat hung above,” says Hira Mulchandani, who runs the Mumbai-based delivery service, Death by BBQ. “In the past, smoking was done to preserve meat, not cook it. The lower classes would preserve the tougher cuts of meat for the next day by smoking them. This would cook the meat and also make it tender and flavourful,” adds Siddharth Kashyap, chef and partner at the Mumbai restaurant The Boston Butt. There are several different styles.
“In North Carolina, you see whole hogs being smoked, then dismantled and pulled to serve with mustard BBQ sauce. Kansas City would have more sauce, whereas in Maryland, they don’t smoke the meat. In St Louis, they use a lot of ketchup, while Texan barbecue doesn’t even have herbs sometimes. It could just be meat rubbed with salt, pepper and maybe some garlic or onion powder,” offers Kashyap.
Mulchandani adds that while Texas sticks to beef and avoids pork, the latter is more commonly seen in Kansas City or Memphis. And while the BBQ sauce we buy commercially is meant to be Kansas-style, it’s not actually that sweet if you try the authentic version. Meanwhile, in Texas, folks don’t even believe in sauces, and would rather have their meat dry.
Not all cuts of meat are suitable for barbecuing.
“The technique is all about using tough cuts of meat, where it takes time to break down collagen and fat,” says Mulchandani. “You’d rather grill a chicken breast, because it’s lean and cooks fast, while a thigh is better slow cooked. Similarly, filet mignon is better grilled, while brisket has tough muscles that will break down well when barbecued. If you try cooking them fast, they’ll become like rubber.” When it comes to pork, ribs are a good cut vis- à-vis a pork chop. Pulled pork comes from the shoulder, which is a tough cut that lacks flavour. “But when it is slow cooked and then pulled, it becomes magical.” Kashyap recommends brining chicken thighs for best results, while lamb chops — marinated for as long as three days – can offer great flavour.
Keep your rubs and marinades simple.
In fact, don’t even bother going to a store — you can easily make them at home. “Salt, sugar and black pepper is the basic rub. In Southern style barbecue, its job is not to impart flavour, but to give the meat a crisp layer on top. So you can add pretty much anything, like paprika, chilli or garlic powder. In terms of sauces, I’m personally happy with just mustard. Adding a bit of garlic and apple cider vinegar makes another great sauce.”
Kashyap recommends more ingredients you can pick up at a good grocery store to make rubs — onion powder, dried rosemary, tarragon and oregano are his top picks. And while he doesn’t recommend manufactured sauces, American Garden or Nando’s are among the better options you could consider.
Side dishes are important too.
Mac N Cheese and baked beans are commonly served, while mayo and mustardbased potato salads are another staple. Since barbecues were initially considered peasant food, the dishes were usually no-frills offerings of meat served with cole slaw and a slice of bread. Refried beans, Texas toast or Hawaiian king rolls are also served in different regions.
Invest in good equipment.
Weber barbeques are a popular and reliable choice among amateurs and professionals alike. While Mulchandani has one that is six feet tall and requires a huge exhaust system, since his kitchen is indoors, he recommends that beginners start off by converting a basic grill into a smoker. “Just push the coal to one side and the meat to the other, place a pan filled with water below the meat and cover it. That’s a makeshift smoker for you,” he says. If you must buy one, Weber’s Smokey Joe is a sturdy buy that will stay with you for years.
At his family’s backyard barbecue parties, Kashyap got acquainted with kettle grills, dome shaped barbecues and the commonly used sigdi and tandoor. His brand of choice is also Weber, the Smokey Mountain bullet smoker being the recommended purchase. “Don’t forget to buy a kit with spatulas, tongs, brushes, skewers and more. It only costs Rs 1,500 or so,” he adds.
Backyards aren’t the only suitable places for barbecuing.
Try a large window or balcony, setting up a pedestal fan nearby to blow the smoke out. Your building’s terrace or common garden are both fantastic options, if available. “Use a small unit and place it under the exhaust of the stove on top. This is a practical way to fire up a barbeque. You can also use a lava stone grill that can mount on your home gas stove, to give a charcoal flavour,” suggests Sarfaraz Saifuddin Delhiwala, owner of the Mumbai restaurant The Yard.
WHAT TO KEEP IN MIND
- Marinate or brine your meat. Brining evenly distributes seasoning and moisture.
- Be careful with meats with a high fat content – the fat may burn and cause flare-ups. Be especially careful when barbecuing at home, since you have curtains and furniture.
- Don’t over-season your meat.
- Ensure that your barbecue is not too hot. Get probe thermometers to keep a check on the meat.