As barbecue season enters full swing, we turned to resident expert Julie Reinhardt for advice on getting our grill on – or, at the very least, turning our grill on. Reinhardt’s the co-owner (with husband Eric) of Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ (formerly in Ballard, and now in Shoreline), and the author of She-Smoke, a lively book on backyard grilling and barbecuing that takes readers from basics (e.g., filling a propane tank) to brilliance (pit-cooked salmon!) and a mom. Here’s an edited, condensed version of our talk:
SC: How do you barbecue anything with small children around?
Reinhardt: With Eloise, when she was a little baby, I used to put her in the stroller and strap her in far enough away from the grill that I could get it lit or take some food off. Once they get a little older, they can play in the yard when you’re on the grill. The length of time (that meat takes to barbecue) is hard with kids. Another trick of mine is to actually break it up into two sessions, where I’ll smoke a pork butt or ribs to the point where they’re technically done for safety, but they’re not tender. I’ll chill the meat, then put it back on the smoker the next day.
Best recipes for kids?
I find barbecue is kid-friendly – my kids love gnawing on a rib bone. If they’re helping you, hot dogs are great, because they can roll and the kids don’t need to flip them. They also love putting skewers together, if they’re old enough so they won’t poke their hands. My kids love making kebobs, and they like eating kebobs too; it’s just fun food. Fruit kebobs are great ones for kids because they’re healthy and they can eat them right away.
What else should people know?
Divide things up into steps, do steps ahead of time if you can so you don’t have a sense (that) it’s overwhelming. Marinate ahead of time, have things ready to go. If it’s just grilling and you’re not smoking, it’s not barbecue. Grilling can be a really quick, easy meal for summer. Grill the meats, the vegetables, even the starch, and then it’s all ready.
Gas or charcoal?
My first answer is, do what makes sense for you. The key is to get that taste of grilled food, so if you need a gas grill to make it happen because you’re in a hurry, go for it. If you want the wonderful caramelization and flavor you get from charcoal, then charcoal. I’m not even opposed to an electric smoker if that’s what you need to smoke a pork butt … It’s always what works for you, and don’t be so hard on yourself.
Fourth of July: The perfect menu?
I think everyone loves ribs. That said, people do like things on a bun, so I mix it up with really good burgers. There are so many great options for burgers, they don’t have to be boring – caramelized onions, blue cheese, you know.
If people want to start grilling or barbecuing, but have no equipment, where should they begin?
I think, start simple. I do love my Big Green Egg, (an egg-shaped ceramic tile grill), but it’s a pretty expensive unit. A Weber, that’s probably the best starter grill ever. You can grill on it, you can smoke on it, you can just do everything on it. (Also get) nice long curved metal kitchen tongs – not those giant things, those carpal tunnel tongs, they sell. It doesn’t have to be five feet long.
What if you live in an apartment?
There are some very nice compact gas grills out there … Also, the Weber Smoky Mountain is really nice and compact – it’s called a bullet smoker … Someone next to me in an apartment has a Big Green Egg up there, and it’s a pretty small deck. I don’t know how they got it up there!
How did you get so experienced in what’s traditionally seen as a man’s realm?
I had three brothers, so I always had to prove myself, ever since I was young, that I could do whatever boys could do. (The barbecuing) just happened gradually. I have a few Southern (relatives). I was introduced to barbecue at an early age where we didn’t really have that in the Northwest – and then through catering, and through my husband, he’s always been a meathead and we would barbecue at home. There are huge barbecue communities out there … I became a barbecue judge, which was really fun, in the competition circuit. It just all came together over time.
I liked how you said in your book that you were past 30 before you learned to cut up a chicken. So there’s hope for the rest of us? How do people acquire skills like those?
They can always ask a good friend that is good at it. I’ve taught classes in the past; there are other classes out there. Buy my book! There are great cooking shows out there, and YouTube has amazing videos. There’s actually a lot of great information out there.
Julie Reinhardt’s No-Fail Barbecue Sauce
½ cup vegetable oil or 4 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon allspice
1 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
2 cups ketchup
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, divided
½ teaspoon salt (optional: substitute onion salt)
1 teaspoon fresh-ground pepper
1. Heat oil or butter on medium-low heat. Once it’s hot, add garlic, cumin, chili powder and allspice. Caramelize together for 5 minutes.
2. Add in brown sugar and molasses and cook for another 5 minutes.
3. Add in ketchup, ½ cup of the cider vinegar, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 1 hour.
4. Add another tablespoon of apple cider vinegar at the end before cooling the sauce. Set aside for 1 hour; then bottle and refrigerate with the lid off until completely cool.
From She-Smoke (Seal Press).
Editor’s Note: This updated article was originally published in June 2011.