The Vivant’s Top Ten: What You Need for Outdoor Grilling

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You have the grill, the meat and an ice bucket full of cold beer. But there are just a few other things you’ll need to transform your backyard grilling weekend from just another burger-and-beer blowout, to something a lot more memorable.

I do love outdoor grilling. Even though my wife and I are not doing parties these days due to the pandemic, we haven’t let it stop us from enjoying a backyard cookout for two. Those who are familiar with my backyard soirees know that I pull out all the stops, and if you’ve had the rare opportunity to check out my secret stash of backyard barbeque sauces, seasonings and paraphernalia, you would know why they are so popular.

A little Worcestershire on your steaks? Well, okay, but still a little boring. And what are you putting on top of those burgers? The char from the grill will give it a little something special, but don’t stop there – I found just the thing to make it even better. And what about barbecue sauce? Are you getting the generic house brand? Take it from me, spend fifty cents more and get the good stuff. Read on, and I will tell you what that is.

Simply ENOF, veggie topping for burgers

My vegan friends know I give them no quarter when it comes to dissing my burgers, steaks and chops, and we’ve had plenty of heated discussions on the so-called veggie burger, which they insist “tastes just like ground beef!” (No, it doesn’t.)

But if you’re looking for that extra veggie boost, but don’t want to go all-in with Impossible Burgers, I’ve discovered something that has quickly become part of my burger routine. Usually when I’m making hamburger patties, I will use ground beef (80 percent lean, so there’s still just enough fat to make it sizzle), and mix in a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and just a little shake of cayenne, but I have been in search for something that has until now, proven elusive. That something is called enof. It’s an organic veggie powder made from tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, beets, carrots and broccoli. I sprinkled it on top of the burger before grilling. Yowza! Man, that’s good stuff. And of course, if you have picky kids in the house who turn up their noses at their veggies, it’s also a great way to sneak in that vegetable goodness into the kids’ favorite comfort foods.

Pinch Spice Bundle

Seasonings for steaks, chops, and burgers can be a little confusing for the uninitiated, and a good chef will know how to get just the right balance so that your guests enjoy the savor of the spice, while still enjoying the full goodness of the meat. My friend Meaghan from Louisville has just the thing with her fabulous Pinch Spice bundle. The set comes with six different packets: Sizzling steak, sweet and sassy pork, Memphis rib rub, honey chipotle BBQ, and Carolina BBQ on My Mind. Last weekend I rubbed the sweet and sassy pork rub onto some chops, let it soak in for a while and threw them on the grill.

I was trying to come up with a suitable superlative to describe the result. Many years ago I had the privilege of listening to Dizzy Gillespie perform, and he was describing something – I can’t remember what – and he said “Man, it was so good, it made you want to go to church on a Tuesday!” Yes, this is really that good. It’s all organic, made fresh in-house, and with no additives, and the packet also would make a great gift! I’m planning on ordering several sets this Christmas. And good news for you, I talked Meaghan into giving my readers a ten dollar off coupon, just use the code Vivant10 at checkout.

Ray’s No Sugar Added Barbecue Sauce

Yeah, I love me some Ray’s! Everyone has their own ideas about barbecue sauce, and I’ll let you in on a secret. Those delicious baby back ribs I make on the grill for my summer parties? The ones with my “special secret sauce?” My “secret” is that I use Sweet Baby Ray’s for ribs, barbecue, pulled pork and hot wings. My wife uses it to dip her French fries instead of ketchup.

I’ve always used the regular Ray’s, which has a nicely balanced flavor, but decided to try out their new no-sugar variety. I’ve tried out some other brands of no-sugar sauce but have always been disappointed. Ray’s asked the question, “is there a no-sugar sauce that’s actually worth eating?” The answer is a resounding yes! Ray’s nails it. It really heightens the flavor of the seasonings, it tastes great and it’s low-calorie. They use allulose, a naturally occurring low-cal sweetener, which is great for those watching their blood glucose levels. I tried out the original on a nice rack of ribs, and used the hickory with a pulled pork in the slow cooker. Both were outstanding, and I have to say it was probably the best pulled pork I’ve made in years. If you want a no-sugar barbecue sauce, this is really the only one on the market that really delivers the goods.

You can’t go wrong with beer in your sauce

One thing there is never a shortage of when grilling in the back yard is beer, and the grilling chef (yours truly) will usually have one in hand while standing over the charcoal. I will occasionally add just a little bit of beer to the sauce for flavor, but it’s not always easy to get the right mix. Just Add Beer Sauce & Marinade Mix is made specifically for that purpose, and it comes out perfect. It comes in three flavors. I started out with the Mexican Tres Chiles, and this particular recipe really lends itself to mixing with beer, which nicely balances out the fire of the chiles. I mixed this one with Dos Equis Amber. Also on my list to try: Szechuan Black Vinegar (try it with Tsingtao) and Japanese Miso BBQ (for this one, I’m planning to mix this one with Sapporo Name Beer Black Label).

What do you do with your grilling utensils?

I’m always at a loss as to what to do with those oversize tongs, grilling forks and spatulas. They are a little too big to fit into the kitchen silverware drawer, and I don’t want to just keep them loose. I found two very useful items from Groovy Groomsmen Gifts, but I’m just going to buy these for myself! First of all, they have a wonderfully manly looking personalized “King of the Grill” carrying case, with a set of tongs, grilling fork, spatula and bottle opener. The folding case is great for keeping those utensils in a single place both inside, and out in the back yard. And if that’s not enough, you can get their grillmaster apron, which is great for holding all of your backyard grilling ammunition with plenty of big pockets.

How about a cantaritos with your ribs?

If you’re looking to kick up your backyard party a notch, you’ll need to up your cocktail game. I have just the perfect thing for that: a Mexican Cantaritos cocktail. Great for a summer day! (Or any other day of the year, for that matter.) It’s known by locals as the best way to drink tequila. Now if you’ve been to my parties, you know that I will never serve anything to anyone in a plastic cup, even outdoors. Beer is served in a proper beer mug, margaritas in a margarita glass, and martinis in a martini glass. You get the idea. Yes, it makes for a lot of extra dish washing, but I think it makes the party special and memorable. For your cantaritos, you’ll need the traditional red clay cups, which you can get in this nifty Cantaritos kit. The cup is rimmed with lime juice and chili salt. Squeeze some fresh lemon, lime, and grapefruit juice in the cup, add a splash of tequila and grapefruit soda and you’re good to go. Just tried it yesterday – and yes, it really is the best way to drink tequila!

Filipino BBQ

In another lifetime, I used to go to lunch in San Francisco’s Chinatown with some Filipina ladies I knew, and they would take me through the back streets to out-of-the-way Filipino restaurants. Their company, as well as the food, was always a delight. And yes, Filipinos cook in the backyard just like anybody else, but you will definitely want to try this Filipino BBQ sauce from my buddy Dave, a popular bartender on the Jersey shore, who repurposed his mom’s recipe. His marinade was recently featured in USA Today, and it’s great for making meat skewers Filipino-style.

How to keep your chicken from drying out on the grill

If you’re not careful, those meaty chicken breasts will dry out quickly on that grill, often getting a little too much char. Want it to be perfect? You’ll need a little device to keep the moisture in. The solution is surprisingly simple. The Topsy Turkey/Choice Chicken roasting frame just holds the bird in exactly the right position for grilling and roasting, letting you cook a whole chicken breast side down, at an angle that allows moisture to flow down into the breast meat, keeping it nice and juicy throughout. Because let’s face it, everybody loves the white meat, but too often it comes out too dry. This little gadget overcomes that problem easily, and the result is simply amazing. Topsy Turkey is my new secret in the kitchen. Best chicken I’ve ever made!

Black Truffle Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I always brush a little olive oil on chicken before putting it on the grill to help crisp up the skin. The olive oil always gives it a little extra something that’s so much better than other ordinary cooking oils or sprays. I have in the past, made the mistake of grabbing the cheapest oil on the grocery store shelf, only to discover when I got it home that it was part canola oil and not pure olive oil. I tried it once, and dumped the rest of it down the drain. Then I discovered Laconiko, which makes some of the best olive oils I the world, and the result is amazing. The right kind of olive oil can make all the difference in your grilling experience.

And if you really want to impress your friends, try a truffle-infused olive oil. My good friend Niko over at Laconiko turned me on to their Black Truffle Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which adds that wonderful earthy taste that is so unique to black truffles. You can use it with anything, but here’s something I tried that turned out great. I usually make French fries with minimal oil, just lightly sprinkling it on the fries and then baking them in the oven until crisp, then sprinkling a little kosher salt on them before serving. This time I used Laconiko’s black truffle olive oil. Best French fries ever!

Not just any meat will do

Technique, gadgets, oils, dry rubs and sauces will only take you so far if you don’t have the right type of meat, and if you really want to make that backyard barbecue something people will talk about for years, you just have to go with Wagyu. Yes, there’s a little sticker shock involved, but you’ll find that it’s well worth the price once you’ve tried it. My friends know I lived in San Francisco for many years before returning to the Midwestern Rust Belt, but I go back as often as I can to visit, and I’ve always found that San Francisco has some of the  best restaurants in the world. Downtown on Spear Street you’ll find Gozu, which is one of those must-visit places where chef/owner Marc Zimmerman offers wagyu served in a traditional kappo-style tasting menu format. My latest trip to San Francisco, to see my beautiful new grand-daughter Lucia Bella, was unfortunately stalled due to the coronavirus outbreak, so I won’t be seeing dear Lucia this year, and I won’t be able to enjoy any of chef Marc’s wagyu creations, either. Or will I? I do get plenty of videocalls so I can visit Lucia remotely, and as it turns out, Chef Marc has a solution to my desire for wagyu beef as well.

Chef Marc found the perfect solution to give those who can’t go out a little taste of the best wagyu in the city with his A-Five meat distribution company. He originally created it as a direct-to-chef venture, but with COVID-19, he decided to send cuts of chilled wagyu and angus straight to the customer’s doorstep. It’s the only chef-curated meat delivery service in existence, and Marc makes good use of his long-standing relationships with farms in Japan, Australia, and America to bring us all a new perspective on wagyu beef. His Classic Provision Pack will keep you in wagyu through Thanksgiving, including 30 steaks, featuring Japanese wagyu strips, wagyu tenderloins, Angus hanger steaks and ribeyes, and a six-ounce pack of wagyu cubes. I haven’t tried the cubes yet, but am imagining using it for a fabulous beef stew. Well worth the price!

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