By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
Get ready--It’s almost Memorial Day weekend! This is the weekend that signifies the unofficial beginning of summer across our country. Schools are winding down, folks are getting their backyards in order and their pools cleaned and filled with water. People who are fortunate enough to own a lake cottage or a cabin in the woods are heading to their “sanctuaries” to open up the vacation homes and to clean out the cobwebs and mice droppings. They’re stocking their fridges with a variety of holiday weekend fixings. And, of course, millions of cooks are dusting off their grills and refilling their propane tanks or gathering wood.
There’s a solemn side to the holiday too. It’s a day to honor those who have died serving in the U.S. military. The first Memorial Day was observed in 1868, after the Civil War. (I learned this tidbit watching Jeopardy! See- game shows DO have merit.) We are reminded of this patriotic dimension of the holiday by the display of American flags festooning front porches, on cars and in parades.
When my kids were in grade school, Memorial Day meant opening our small lake cabin in West Branch in northern Michigan. The cabin had been in our family since 1952, the year I was born. There was definite excitement in the air. No school for the kids and no work for my husband and me. Real freedom from the constraints of running a business. We would pack the car with kids and dogs and groceries.
Meal planning took place before we left so I could procure the right ingredients, which might not be available in a small town supermarket. I didn’t want to make the meals fussy, as the weekend was more about playing in the woods, fishing off the dock, getting the pontoon boat in the water, and just chillin’.
I was determined, though, that we wouldn’t be relegated to eating bad food either! I would prep my dressings, marinades, and sauces at home and jar them up to take north. It really helped having those items done ahead of time.
It’s hard for me to remember when grilling became a part of my culinary repertoire. I certainly didn’t learn about it at Le Corden Bleu Cooking School when I attended it in London in 1975. God forbid they teach anything but classical French technique. I can’t picture our prim and proper instructors sweating over a grill!
I began grilling at college on a small hibachi (yes, we had those back in the day!) on our equally small apartment balcony. I eventually graduated to a coal-fueled Weber, sticking with hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. Nothing fancy.
My deep dive into creative grilling recipes really grew out of the cooking classes I taught at my two shops, Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., for almost 30 years. Grill class was an extremely popular subject. I would set up a grill on the front lawn of my building and the students would gather around while I went from preparation to preparation, as we ate the results along the way. I made meat, fish and chicken in a variety of ways. I also cooked vegetables, fruit desserts, and even pizza on the grill.
A crucial lesson I learned from many years of experience is that no two grills are alike. They all seem to have hot spots and the amount of heat generated by my grill is different from other grills. The solution: know your grill!
Some grilling tips you may find helpful this weekend:
If a recipe calls for something to be cooked on high and your high is scorching hot, turn the heat down.
If you have hot spots, rotate the food items on and off that spot.
Drain the food out of a marinade well before putting on the grates, otherwise you will have large flare-ups.
I personally like to char steaks on high, but then turn the heat down to cook to desired doneness.
Season your meat with coarse salt and pepper right before grilling. This makes a huge difference.
I don’t brush sauce onto chicken until each side has been cooked slightly.
Before I cook meats, I take them out to room temperature for an hour.
Have all of your tools, platters, sauces and seasonings set by your grill before you even start. It sure beats running inside to fetch supplies.
Because doing prep ahead makes the cooking task easier, I often choose Grilled Ribs with Classic Barbecue Sauce as my go-to Memorial Day meal. This year, I will prepare the dry rub and barbecue sauce ahead of time. I will even cook the ribs, carve them, and put them in a roasting pan with the sauce a day or two ahead.
Wait! Is that a real backyard BBQ? YES! Even if you’re the one standing over the grill, juggling the side dishes, and making sure everyone has what they need, this is a meal that allows the cook to sit back and relax with the rest of the guests. Then, 45 minutes before dinner is to be served, pop those babies in the oven and voilà, your entree is on the buffet.
I have chosen a classic American-style barbecue sauce. I read about this recipe, created by a reader who won a contest for best BBQ sauce when one of our local Detroit papers challenged its readership. This was 40 years ago and has been my go-to sauce ever since. Of course, every state claims theirs is the best! I have even done these ribs in a Hoisin Barbecue Sauce, which changes them completely, but is equally delicious.
One last suggestion; Consider making a large batch of the dry rub, storing it in a jar, and continuing to use it all summer for ribs, as well as for steaks and chicken
Have a wonderful holiday weekend, as we say thanks to all of those soldiers who have given their lives for our freedom. And please let us know here at The Insider what you’ve decided to put on your own grill this year!
Grilled Baby Back Ribs with Classic Barbecue Sauce
Yield: 1 rack serves 3-4 people
3 racks of pork baby back ribs
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 Tbsp. thyme
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Classic Barbecue Sauce:
1/2 c. minced onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/3 c. catsup
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/3 c. water
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. dry mustard
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce
3 Tbsp. butter or margarine
Make the Dry Rub: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Can be multiplied and stored in a jar for a year.
Make Barbecue Sauce: Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil; turn down to a light boil. Stir occasionally. Cook for 20 minutes. Cool completely before storing in the refrigerator. Can be multiplied and stored in a clean jar for a couple of months.
Make the ribs: Lay the rack out on your work surface. Sprinkle the seasoning all over the meaty side of the ribs. Pat down with your hand. Preheat grill to moderately high. Place ribs on the grill with the seasoned side down. Sprinkle the rib side with coarse salt and coarse pepper. Char the ribs for about 15 minutes per side.
Lay a large sheet of foil on your work surface. Put the ribs in the center. Cover them securely with the foil and an additional piece of foil. Set the packet onto a sheet pan with sides. Bake for 90 minutes at 350°.
Remove from oven. Open the foil packet for the heat to escape. When cool enough to handle, stand ribs on the long side with the bones facing up. Using a large sharp knife, cut between each rib. Set the ribs in a roasting pan. Cover with sauce. Cover with foil. Either refrigerate for later use or reheat in the oven at 350° for 25 minutes if starting at room temperature or 45 minutes if removing from the refrigerator.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.