Backyard cookouts are fun meals for the whole family, especially if you keep them simple, stress-free and casual. Kids usually love the relaxed eating protocols, e.g., eating with your hands, disposable serve-ware, etc. The cook's challenge is to plan ahead in order to keep the dishes easy yet healthy.
To jump start your cookout season, try the light summer grilling menu below. Once you get back into your grilling groove, move on to try the rib tips.
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BBQ Burgers with Slaw (serves 6)
2 lb ground beef, lamb or pork
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
1 small onion, grated
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp salt
6 hamburger buns with sesame seeds
1/3 cup light mayonnaise
3 Tbsp buttermilk, milk or sour cream
2 Tbsp snipped fresh chives
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp each sugar, salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups bagged coleslaw mix
1. Slaw: Whisk mayonnaise, buttermilk, chives, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl until blended. Add coleslaw; toss to coat. Refrigerate 1 hour, stirring a few times.
2. Mix meat and condiments together in a large bowl. Shape into six 1-inch burgers.
3. Toast buns on a hot grill; remove to a platter and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.
4. Coat burgers with nonstick spray. Grill, turning once, 10-12 minutes until an inserted instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees. Serve burgers on buns, with slaw and condiments.
Mini-Corn-on-the-Cobs (serves 6)
6-8 fresh ears of corn
6 tsp chopped garlic
1. Husk corn, removing all silks. Cut each cob into quarters.
2. Spray corn with the nonstick spray; rub about 1/4 tbsp garlic on each piece.
3. Grill corn pieces until tender.
Mojo Seafood Skewers (serves 4-6)
1/3 cup each Mojo Criollo marinade (try Goya brand), orange juice and chopped cilantro
16 peeled, deveined extra-large shrimp
8 large sea scallops, halved crosswise
1 small jalapeno pepper, cut into 16 pieces
Nonstick cooking spray, 8 metal or wooden skewers
1. In a bowl, mix marinade, orange juice and cilantro; reserve 2 Tbsp. Add shrimp, scallops and peppers to bowl; toss to coat. Let stand 10 minutes.
2. Coat outdoor grill rack with nonstick spray; heat grill. If using wooden skewers, soak in water 10 minutes to prevent burning.
3. Thread shrimp, scallops and peppers alternately on skewers; discard marinade in bowl.
4. Grill 3 to 4 minutes, turning once, until seafood is just barely opaque at centers. Re-move to serving platter and drizzle with reserved 2 Tbsp marinade.
Barbeque Ribs: Grilling Tips
* Pick your ribs: The most popular cuts are baby backs (smaller and more expensive but usually leaner and tender) or spareribs (larger, less expensive, meatier/fatter and more flavorful). For 6-8 people, buy 2 racks of spareribs (3-3.5 lb. each) or 2 racks of baby back ribs (2-2.5 lb. each)
* Prep: Slide a dinner knife under the silverskin (the thin, translucent membrane that covers the bone side of each rack) and remove it; this allows seasonings and smoke to penetrate the meat. Parboil or no? Parboiling delivers a tender rib before grilling and reduces grill time but it's a matter of preference. If you parboil, don't use a rub.
* Plan: Estimate how long you'll need for each step. One hour before grilling, soak wood chips, season the ribs and prepare your grill. During the first hour of grilling, prepare the mop and sauce. Have your side dishes ready by the time ribs are done.
* Know how to use rubs, mops and sauces: Rubs lay a foundation of flavor, mops are used after the initial hour of grilling to add more flavor and keep the ribs moist, sauces are added to cooked ribs to absorb the last layer of flavor. Once you discover a rub and sauce you like, keep using it!
* Know when the ribs are done: Do you prefer your ribs tender to the point of falling off the bone or with a little chew to the meat? Baby backs generally require 3-4 hours; spareribs take 4-5 hours including parboiling. A good test: Hold a rack with tongs at one end and let the rack bend over to form an arc. If the meat separates and tears easily in the middle of the arc, the rack is done.
Hoisin Barbequed Ribs
2 cups hickory chips
For the rub:
1 tbsp ancho chile powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp five-spice powder
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the mop and sauce:
3/4 cup lager beer e.g. Heineken
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/3 cup mild chili sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1. Make the rub and season the ribs: In a small bowl, mix the rub ingredients. Sprinkle the rub all over the ribs.
2. Stand the ribs upright in a rib rack so the meaty sides face the same direction. Leave generous space between the racks, they shouldn't touch. Let the racks sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes while you prepare the grill.
3. Make the mop and sauce: In a small cup, mix the beer and 1/2 cup of the hoisin sauce (mop). In a small saucepan, mix the remaining hoisin with the chili sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and remove.
4. Cook the ribs for about an hour, then begin to use the mop. Cook ribs until done to taste. Let the cooked ribs rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, then add sauce as desired.