I’m not a grill master.
The last barbecue I attended my friend advertised as ribs and salads, but turned into overcooked burgers and Coors Light.
So instead of drawing from my shallow puddle of knowledge, fresh off the Fourth of July holiday, I went out in our fine borough to get tips from grill aficionados on how to cook meat, as well as rounded up recipes from others here at the Chronicle office for the best side dishes. I wanted to talk to people I knew who knew their stuff.
After all, barbecue is a family-and-friend affair, where the best tips usually (but not always in my case) come while standing around the grill.
Mike McRae (Chronicle reporter Tess McRae’s father) is a Queens Village resident who prides himself on his grill knowledge. Grilling is not just about a pack of Coors (though he does have a unique beer trick) to him.
He means business.
“You have to TLC your barbecue. You have to stand around and watch it, otherwise it will burn,” he said. “Some people will laugh, but you can’t walk away. If you choose to be the grill guy or girl, that’s your job. You can talk afterwards.”
My second insider is Werner Lehner. His family opened the German restaurant Zum Stammtisch in Glendale 40 years ago. Two years ago they expanded, opening Stammtisch Pork Store and Imports, a store chock full of steaks, brats and salads (not typical healthy salads, but delicious potato and pasta salads and one cucumber salad using German vinegar).
“Always put bratwursts on a lower flame,” Lehner said, but “I’m not going to tell you my currywurst recipe.” Then he divulges it’s a typical brat recipe mixed with curry and turmeric, finely ground and then double-mixed with a curry and ketchup sauce.
“Barbecuing is about each individual’s taste,” McRae said.
When getting ready for the grill McRae starts by seasoning the meat overnight. The next day before the first cut hits the first flame, he trims the fat off the meat to prevent dripping grease from igniting flames and charring the meal.
For ribs, steaks and large cuts he prefers charcoal grills that give meat a smoky taste, while butane is just fine for hot dogs and hamburgers.
His secret with large meat cuts is his tenderizing method.
“I use beer,” he said.
Pick a cheap beer, a Coors or Budweiser, regular not light, and before the meat really starts to cook pour a little beer on it. Then shut the lid.
Let it a cook a little. Then add more beer. Repeat the process about two or three times, turning the meat over between each hoppy splash.
Another tip is with barbecue sauce.
“I cannot emphasize this enough,” McRae said. “Do not put sauce on the meat while it’s cooking.”
“It’s going to burn,” he said. “I guarantee it.”
He uses Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. Again he says, it’s up to the individual, but he likes to add water to it to thin it out.
But always baste it after the meat comes off the grill.
“I cannot emphasize that enough.”
Lehner is in agreement with many of McRae’s tips.
“It’s really a personal thing,” Lehner said. “Everyone does it a little differently.”
Barbecue sauce doesn’t belong on the grill, he agreed, but he doesn’t mind his teriyaki sauce getting a bit charred.
“You want to put teriyaki on the grill,” he said. “It gets caramelized.”
His barbecue sauce is all homemade.
“It’s a little of all three: spicy, smoky and sweet,” he said.
He adds brown sugar and molasses for the sweetness and then tosses in bacon and onions.
“You can never have enough onions,” he said. “Then add sauteed and finely chopped bacon.”
Sometimes he combines the ends of kassler, a German cured and smoked pork.
“You can save it because it doesn’t really go bad,” Lehner said.
Other tips: He suggests a purist approach to seasoning — salt and pepper — and don’t be afraid of veggies and fruit on the grill — peppers, onions, pineapples and bananas. Now on to some easy side dishes.
Liz’s Corn Bread
• 1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
• 1 8 oz can creamed corn
• 1 egg
• 1/3 cup milk
Mix corn muffin mix with milk and egg. Add in creamed corn. Bake in a greased pan for 20 to 25 minutes at 400 degrees.
Liz Rhoades is the managing editor at the Chronicle, focusing on North Queens. She likes this recipe, which she bakes for her family while on the Jersey coast for vacations, because the creamed corn makes the dish less dry.
Tess’ watermelon salsa
• 1 watermelon, chopped
• cup of fresh mint
• cup of fresh cilantro
• 2 jalapeno peppers, minced
• The juice and zest of 2 limes
• 1 cucumber, peeled and diced
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir. Add lime juice and scrape zest on top. Serve chilled with tortilla chips.
Tess McRae, our reporter focusing on Forest Hills, Ridgewood and Middle Village, adapted this recipe from Rachel Ray. “It’s delicious,” the vegetarian, who finds it hard to resist a bimonthly cheeseburger, said.
The McRae pesto kebabs
• 2 cups of fresh flat-leaf parsley
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled (jarred minced garlic will suffice)
• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1 teaspoons salt
• teaspoon black pepper
• cup olive oil
For beef pops
• 1 pounds beef fillet, cut into cubes
• 1 pineapple, cut into -inch pieces
• 20 wooden skewers soaked in water for 3 minutes
• Salt and black pepper
In the bowl of a food processor, blend together first seven ingredients until smooth. With the machine running, gradually add the olive oil. Place mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Place beef in the bowl with parsley sauce. Toss until well-coated. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.
Place pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Thread the skewers starting with a piece of pineapple, then a cube of beef. Grill the skewers for 2 to 3 minutes each side until medium rare or for desired doneness. Season with salt and pepper.
Domenick’s spicy honey-glazed chicken
• 8 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
• cup extra virgin olive oil
• cup “hot” honey
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons soy sauce
• salt and pepper
Mix honey, soy sauce and lemon juice in bowl. Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium heat and cook chicken until slightly browned.
Sprinkle salt and pepper. Pour honey mixture over chicken and continue to cook until chicken is no longer pink and sauce has thickened.
Domenick Rafter, our Howard Beach and Ozone Park Editor, realizes that chicken isn’t a traditional side dish, but prefers more meat to greens.
Lisa’s strawberry Jell-O shots
• 25-30 strawberries
• 1 box strawberry Jell-O
• 8 ounces tequila
• 6 ounces Cointreau
• Salt for garnish
Cut the bottoms of the strawberries flat to get them to stand upright. Make sure you do not cut off so much that there is a hole at the bottom. Use a huller or apple corer to empty out the strawberry.
Use a towel to pat the outside of the strawberries dry.
Boil 1 cup of hot water in a saucepan, add Jell-O powder and whisk until powder is completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Measure out cup of cold water and set aside.
Combine tequila and Cointreau in cocktail shaker filled with ice. Add liquor mixture to cold water and stir to combine. Then add cold liquor mixture to hot Jell-O mixture and stir to combine.
Pour final Jell-O mix into strawberries and chill overnight. Dip your finger in water or use a moistened brush to wet the edge of the strawberries, dip and rotate the strawberries in salt to create the frosted margarita glass effect. Garnish with cut lime triangles to finish.
Lisa LiCausi, the Chronicle office manager, always has friends and family over to her Howard Beach home and is a firm believer in happy hour.