Grilling food on the barbecue grill is a summer treat.
Photo illustration by M. Scott M
Once again the July 4 holiday is upon us the anniversary of that historical day in 1776 on which the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress, announcing to the world that the 13 colonies no longer belonged to Great Britain.
It is a day to celebrate our sovereignty, and many feel one of the best ways to savor our freedom and regain a certain independence from our normal routines is to eat outdoors.
In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 66 million Americans take part in barbecues on the Fourth, making it the most “grillingest” day of the year.
Barbecuing aka grilling has practically become an American tradition on this day, as much so as flying the stars and stripes, fireworks or baking apple pies.
Many go hog wild for a genu-swine pork barbecue, not to mention beef buts to briskets, salmon steaks to moose tenderloins, hot dogs to hamburgers, and chicken to shishkabobs of bear no meat is excluded on this holiday.
Barbecuing is about much more than cooking a hunk of meat over a fire, though. The word itself can mean many things, such as a style or way to cook, the cooking device itself, an event that is cooked at, and the food that’s cooked at the event.
And around the central Kenai Peninsula, it means one more thing: fun.
“Barbecues are way too much fun,” said Edi Macik, who along with her husband, Steve, owns Stedi RV Park on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
“We have a big barbecue every Fourth of July, with upwards of 50 people” she said.
Macik explained she has to haul out one heck of a huge feed bag to satiate so many, and while there many be pounds of side fixings such as potato salads, macaroni salads, enchiladas, chips, dips, fruits and vegetables meat is the staple of her spread.
“We have four gas grills and they’ll all be going at once,” she said.
Some of the folks who attend are barbecue brethren of the Maciks who, like them, go to sleep and wake up smelling like smoke. But this isn’t true of all the guests.
“Some of them are tourists from overseas and they’re not familiar with barbecuing. They think it’s pretty fascinating,” she said.
Macik said her and her husband do a lot of their meat seasoning with marinades and rubs, particularly spicy ones.
“My husband’s blackened salmon is one of his best recipes,” she said.
This is one more reason the Macik’s like to barbecue in summer.
“July is the Fourth, but it’s also a time of salmon abundance, and there’s no better way to have fish than fresh on the barbecue,” she said.
There are times when their sockeye go straight from the dipnet to the grill, barely touching ice in between.
John Nelson, an avid barbecuer from Soldotna, agrees salmon is succulent when served hot off the coals.
“I do a lot of king and red salmon. I cook it just until it begins to weep the white protein. Barbecuing it creates a flavor and texture that you can’t get any other way,” he said.
Nelson said he is a charcoal griller, preferring the taste of food cooked over coals to the convenience of food cooked over gas.
“I use a charcoal Weber, exclusively. It cooks a certain way and the charcoal lends a certain flavor,” he said.
While Nelson said he does relish savory salmon hot off the grill, by far his favorite food to barbecue is lamb.
“It’s a crime to cook it any other way,” he said.
Nelson said lamb is regular fare during holidays meals, such as Easter, but he’s really not that picky about when to have lamb. He said he may enjoy a meal with family and friends any time of year.
Don’t be fooled by his carefree attitude about when to barbecue lamb, though, because Nelson is very specific about what type he eats. He said only the boned New Zealand lamb is good enough for his grill.
“It’s much better than the American lamb,” he said.
While this may sound like a fancy meal, Nelson said the three things that make good barbecue lamb are actually quite simple.
“It just takes good meat, good heat and good herbs,” he said.
This first one is clear. As to the second, Nelson said he doesn’t get very exotic.
“I just use straight Kingsford charcoal,” he said.
As to the third, he said he favors flavor rubs as opposed to marinades.
“I don’t like marinades. I think they’re highly overrated and often turn meat into mush,” he said.
Instead he opts to massage into the meat his own special blend of dry ingredients.
“I prefer rubs to flavor the meat and make my own. What I use depends on what I’m cooking, but it’s usually a blend of herbs, spices, sugar and salt,” he said.
While some prefer rubs or marinades to accentuate the flavor of their meats, Jody Hoskins of Soldotna said he prefers the straight smoky taste that food acquires after spending time in his custom-made cooker.
“It’s one heck of a barbecue and can be used as a smoker,” he said in regard to the 4-foot by 7-foot side-mounted pipe that produces meat on one end and takes the meat on the another.
“It’s hot smoke that cooks the meat, not fire,” he added.
As to why Hoskins went to a metal monstrosity so large it must be pulled on a trailer, he said his barbecue needs were too big to be met by a simple grill that can be wheeled out of a shed.
“When I fire up the grill, I like to have lots of friends over, maybe 20 people or more, and I was tired of running two to three grills at once,” he said.
With his custom-made grill, he said he can not only cook all his food and have it come off the grill at the same time, but also the smoky flavor it adds can’t be beat.
“It makes a great steak. That’s my favorite,” he said.
Like Hoskins, Denty Moore of Sterling also is familiar with cooking for a large group. He took over his father, Cotton Moore’s, business, The Bush Gourmet, which is a commercial barbecuing operation that provides grilled food for weddings, private parties and other specialty functions.
“I’ve been barbecuing since I was 12,” said Moore, now 40.
Despite the many years manning the grill, he said he’s never lost his zest for fire-cooked food.
“I really enjoy it. I like offering people something delicious and different from what they get every day, like the usual Friday night pizza, or things they can get or make themselves,” he said.
Moore’s specialties include plump, juicy Cornish game hens and ribs he said he makes so well that a pile of bones is all that’s left after most people have had at them.
As to how he makes these mouth-watering meals, Moore was quite guarded about his ingredients, but he did say a lot of the flavor comes from cooking over Alaska wood.
“I can’t release what kind of wood, though,” he said.
Moore was equally private about the ingredients he uses in his secret barbecue sauce. All he would reveal is it is a thin sauce that is tangy, sweet and even a bit spicy without being too spicy.
Moore was open about the amount of time that must be devoted to cooking meat to perfection, though, and said nothing good ever comes quickly.
“I generally will have 10 to 12 hours wrapped up in it, but that’s what it takes. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you won’t end up with a good product,” he said.
BBQ Moose Ribs
Submitted by Edi Macik
4 moose ribs per serving
Boil moose ribs in large pot of water with two bay leaves until its starts to get tender when tested with a fork. Finish cooking on BBQ grill, slather with hot rhubarb spicy sauce (see below) and enjoy!
Rhubarb Spicy Sauce
Submitted by Edi Macik
4 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
2 cups cider vinegar (or 1 cup white wine and 1 cup white vinegar)
4 cups diced onion
1 teaspoon pickling salt (optional)
1 whole clove garlic peeled, thinly sliced fresh garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon Southwest Chipotle seasoning
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
5 cups brown sugar
Cook rhubarb and vinegar for 20 minutes. Add other ingredients and simmer for one hour. Serve hot over moose ribs.
Submitted by Edi Macik
1 Salmon fillet
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 thinly sliced green onion
1 tablespoon mustard
Place salmon fillet, skin side down, on heated BBQ grill, cook approximately 10 minutes (depending on thickness of fillet)
Slide onto heavy tinfoil large enough to leave an inch or so of space all around the salmon. Mix the mayo, green onion, and mustard and spoon evenly over salmon fillet. Continue to cook on BBQ grill until salmon is flaky approximately 10 minutes.
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