Tips, Trends & Living July 1, 2015

Upping Your BBQ Game

With 4th of July quickly approaching, my brother and I recently chatted about what we’ll be barbecuing for the holiday. My brother is Mike Keller, the mastermind behind California Rancher which creates and sells an incredible line of all-natural, California-made gourmet seasonings and sauces for barbecue enthusiasts. The best barbecue dishes are simple, grilled dishes featuring excellent cuts of meat or farm-fresh veg, well-seasoned with herbs and spices, and elevated to perfection due to closely monitored time on the grill.  In our discussion of holiday plans, the theme, “elevate and simplify,” started to develop.

I thought you might enjoy reading what we pinpointed as the essentials needed to up your bbq game. Here are the simple rules we think are indispensable when grilling:

  1. Pick the right cut of meat for your preferred dish. During college, both Mike and I worked at Chart House, a premier steak and seafood restaurant. Our server training was rigorous, and we memorized all the different cuts of meat and their characteristics.  Filet Mignon is the most tender cut; top sirloin has the most flavor. New York Strip steak is the best of both worlds! Today, we’re fortunate to have access to a better selection of excellent meat choices, so we can find the right cut for what we want to serve our 4th of July crowd.  Santa Maria bbq is a traditional California style of grilling.  It involves slow cooking tri tip sirloin steak over red oak wood, which flavors the meat with its sweet smoke.  You can achieve a similar effect at home, on your own grill, with a nice tri tip sirloin and your favorite Santa Maria Seasoning.
  2. #1 essential bbq tool is a digital thermometer.  Mike’s mantra is that cooking to temperature produces perfectly grilled meat every time. The thermapen is Mike’s preferred digital thermometer. In Mike’s Santa Maria-Style Tri Tip recipe, he shares what temperature to cook to for rare steak (120F in the middle) or well done (up to 160F). It will take some practice to find the doneness temps for your grilled-to-perfection steak due to personal preference – for example, Mike’s personal preference is 115F in the middle for the ultimate rare steak experience.  But with other types of meat, like poultry and pork, you need to reach a specific internal temperature to eliminate exposure to food borne illness. Click here for a helpful temperature chart courtesy of Food Network.
  3. Placement of the food on the grill to take advantage of heat levels.  Depending on what type of grill you use, if you want to get a rich, smoky flavor you may have to move food off to the sides to cook it slower via indirect heat.  If you use a smoker type barbecue, like the Big Green Egg (one of Mike’s favs!) or Traeger, you’ll need to plan time to smoke the food at a low temperature first before turning up the heat and cooking to the finish temperature. Slow and steady wins the race in the bbg game!
  4. Simple seasoning and sauces up the elegance of your grilled fare.  My absolute FAVORITE dish Mike grills is beef tenderloin dusted with Santa Maria seasoning and slow cooked over red oak wood. That’s all there is to it. In fact, he made this for my last client appreciation event.  He had chunks of red oak, a wood native to California, mailed to my house for this event.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the Mercer Island Beach Club with Lake Washington as our backdrop, and Mike built up quite a fan club here on the island due to that evening! The beef tenderloin definitely stole the show, and it’s dead simple!
  5. When slicing meat, it’s important to cut against – or perpendicular to – the grain for maximum tenderness.  A great piece of tri-tip or beef tenderloin can be reduced to shoe-leather tough if it’s sliced alongside the grain versus against it.  And here’s a little know fact regarding the grain of a cut of meat: it often changes along as you slice through the piece, so you may need to adjust the angle of your slicing as you slice.  For example, a tri-tip grain usually shifts 45+ degrees so the way you start slicing one end should typically be at a different angle than where you finish at the other end.
  6. The grill isn’t just for meat.  Vegetables and fruits gain this amazing layer of epicurean goodness from time spent on the grill.  My family goes nuts for kale chips cooked on the grill. I wash the kale, then massage it with olive oil and veggie rub. We especially like the charred edges of the large kale leaves that get smoky and crunchy. Other veggies that love a turn on the grill: asparagus, mushrooms, Brussel sprouts, beets, red potatoes.  You can even lightly grill romaine lettuce for your next Caesar salad.


So there you have it! 6 easy rules to up your bbq game. These tips will be a great guide, and help you pull off your best 4th of July party to date. If you are in search of a new bbq recipe to try check here on California Rancher, or here for recipes courtesy of Big Green Egg.

And if you are wondering what Mike will be serving on the 4th, he’s planning on smoking a pork shoulder roast overnight in his Green Egg – it’ll be seasoned with Oaky & Smoky BBQ Rub mixed with a little brown sugar. With the help of the tool BBQ Guru, he will be able to maintain a steady temperature of 175 degrees overnight.  He’s going to pull it apart and serve with a variety of sauces for dipping, including Hog Wild Habanero BBQ Sauce.  And here at the Wilson house, we’ll be going “Hog Wild” this 4th of July.  I’ll be serving barbecue chicken reminiscent to a recipe Mike developed. First I’ll season the chicken with Hog Wild Cajun-Style Rub. Then I’ll pop the seasoned chicken onto the grill for a quick turn on a higher heat to add grill marks. Next, I’ll drop the temperature down to a lower heat and slow cook the meat for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165F.  The chicken will be paired with Hog Wild Habanero BBQ Sauce for dipping.  Yum!

Grilling for friends is always a good time.  It’s extra special on the 4th of July because you typically get time away from the office to spend the day outdoors with good friends and family. Everyone contributes to the meal, adding their own special touches to the event. The celebration lasts well into the evening and culminates with a spectacular fireworks show or time around the fire pit. When you “elevate and simplify” your grilling technique, you will serve the best meal each time and increase the enjoyment your event because the stress level will be at a minimum. The memories made will be a treasure for years to come!

*BBQ photos courtesy of Mike Keller. Hog Wild gift pack photo courtesy of Julie Wilson.