Memorial Day is the unofficial start of grilling season no matter where you live in America. This season, new equipment and ingredients, new techniques, and new cookbooks and recipes can add to your cooking repertoire.
Some folks grill year-round. Not even rain, sleet, or snow can stop the 37 percent of Americans - including many Toledoans - who grill throughout every season.
Among the top 60 grilling cities in America, Toledo ranks No. 42 - ahead of Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland, according to a survey by Kingsford Products Co. The top 10 cities in the survey are Jackson, Miss.; St. Louis; Memphis; Raleigh/Greensboro; Dallas/Fort Worth; Atlanta, New Orleans; Houston; Kansas City, and Charlotte. The cities are concentrated in the South, Southeast, Southwest, and Midwest.
First, the equipment. Gas grills are still the most popular type of barbecue, but today's units are multitasking appliances. In addition to gas burners, a growing number include infrared searing "zones," charcoal pans to convert to charcoal grilling, and built-in smoker boxes with dedicated burners for smoke cooking.
Also watch for stainless steel griddles. These accessories can be used to cook complete meals on gas grills outdoors, according to the International Housewares Association, which held its annual show in March in Chicago. The griddles can be used to make pancakes and eggs, Mongolian barbecue, or Chinese stir-fry on top of the grill.
Charcoal grills are gaining a following. Today's electric grills burn hotter than their predecessors, now reaching temperatures high enough to sear a steak.
Other accessories also enhance the grilling experience.
Grilling ribs vertically can save space, says cookbook author and grilling expert Steven Raichlen, who designed the Ultimate Rib Rack at $24.95. "This is designed for any grill," Mr. Raichlen said in a phone interview. "But, it's best utilized for a kettle grill. There's about 10 inches of space for an indirect grill. You can cook four racks [of ribs] in the space of one [with the rib rack]. Plus, the fat drains off and the ribs are more crisp."
He said that it is designed for rib tips, beef ribs, baby back ribs, and spare ribs. The author of The Barbecue Bible (Workman, $19.95) and Beer-Can Chicken (Workman, $12.95) estimates that baby back ribs will cook on the vertical rack (in a covered grill) in 60 to 80 minutes. The Ultimate Rib Rack is available at www.barbecue-store.com or by calling 888-789-0650. Mr. Raichlen's line of barbecue products and accessories is also available at Marshall Field's stores.
According to Weber's Real Grilling (Sunset, $24.95), it takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to grill Basic Baby Back Ribs laid flat over the grill grids over indirect low heat of 300 degrees until the meat is very tender. Author Jamie Purviance recommends wrapping fully cooked ribs in foil to let them rest for 30 minutes to make the meat even more tender.
There are many new ingredients to consider among the wide assortment of rubs, marinades, and spices and herbs.
Gourmet Garden's Fresh Herbs and Spices are squeezable 4-ounce clear tubes of herbs such as Basil Herb Blend and Garlic Blend. Found in the fresh produce section of grocery stores, the tubes have had great success in Australia, Great Britain, and Canada. They are priced at about $3.99 each. Other flavors include Chili, Cilantro, Ginger, and Lemongrass. Use in burgers, with corn on the cob cooked in foil, and in guacamole.
Another not-so-new ingredient for barbecue is maple syrup, which is a delicious grilling glaze and marinade. Long used in New England in savory recipes, it is now gaining interest in other parts of the country. "When grilling, too much maple syrup will cause severe burning [on food] if it is applied too early," advises David Hale, executive chef at the New England Culinary Institute. "If you have a covered grill, brush on the syrup-flavored sauce at the end of the cooking process, closing the lid, allowing the smoke and syrup to mix to create a truly unique flavor."
While there are assorted grill rubs on the market, home cooks can make their own. Instead of marinating food, rub spices on the food before grilling. For steak, use Mexican Rub made with chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, onion powder, cumin, and salt. As the meat sears over hot coals, the rub creates a crisp crust on the steak while sealing in the juices to keep the meat tender.
The rub can be added to other grilled foods such as quesadillas or onion slices. May is an excellent time to buy sweet onions. The Vidalia onion harvest in Georgia stretches through mid-June. For Grilled Mexican Onions, brush large slices of onion lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with Mexican Grill Rub, then grill for 15 to 20 minutes until tender, turning once.
Or the Vidalia Onion Committee recommends peeling an onion, cutting off the top and bottom so it sits flat, and placing it foil-wrapped on the grill to cook until tender.
The idea of combining the Cajun seasoning and ranch dressing was new to me. It is a great flavor combination used in Stuffed Chicken Breast. The chicken breasts are butterflied and pounded to a half-inch thickness and then coated with the Cajun-ranch dressing mixture; then each chicken breast is stuffed with a shrimp mixture and grilled.
The New Gas Grill Gourmet by A. Cort Sinnes (Harvard Common Press, $16.95) is also a good resource for grilling techniques tailored for the characteristics of a gas grill. Besides general grilling guidelines, sections on safety, accessories, and use of wood chips with a gas grill are included.
It is the only grilling cookbook I've come across with recipes for boneless chuck roasts, which has been a favorite in our family. "When most people think of chuck roast, they think 'tough,' " writes Mr. Sinnes. "It is surprisingly tender and extremely flavorful."
He's right. Grilled chuck roast or English cut roast make great London Broil entrees. Don't overcook the meat; when it's done, cut thin slices on the bias to serve.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
Contact her at: email@example.com or 419-724-6155.