Barbeque Tips

Traveling to the game?

Prepare and wrap submarine sandwiches, containing several types of deli meats and cheese, in heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place around the edges of the grill grid while you're tailgating and give one to each of your friends before you head into the game.

Try these libations with your next barbecue!

Tanji Patton's Wine Picks for Barbeque
*Rib-eyes, sirloins, T-bones – Ramon Bilbao Reserva Rioja, Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet
*Filets, tenderloins – Trinchero Merlot, Kunde Merlot
*Fajitas – Terra d’Oro Zinfandel, Into Lodi Zindandel

Tanji Patton's Beer Picks for Barbeque
*Pork ribs, chicken (not too spicy) – Westmalle Dubbel
*Brisket, sirloin, rib-eyes, T-bones – Chimay Grande Reserve
*Beef ribs – Brooklyn Brown Ale
*Spicy meats – Entire Stout

Find out more about Tanji Patton at

Not Just Pie in the Sky

How about pie from the grill? It's easier than what you might think! After you've removed your main and side courses from the grill, pull a frozen, unbaked, pastry-topped pie from the freezer and crimp some foil around the crust edges to prevent it from browning too quickly. Grill it for 45 to 50 minutes until it's baked through and top is browned, and then remove the foil and grill for another 10 minutes or so.

Tired of the same old grilled burger?

Try a Middle Eastern Burger - mix a little ground cinnamon and paprika, a pinch of cayenne and some finely minced onion with ground turkey. Mix well, form into patties, and grill them. Be careful not to overcook the patties, as they'll dry out! When they come off the barbecue, top them with a mixture of plain yogurt, minced garlic and chopped fresh mint.

Put the lid down!

It may seem obvious, but food cooks faster in a covered grill, so resist the urge to open the grill lid more than necessary. Every time you open up, you lose substantial heat, which takes time to build up again.

Out of the Pan, Into the Fire

Did you know that you could put whole, firm-fleshed vegetables such as squash, russet potatoes and onions directly into the coals when cooking with charcoal and/or wood?

Barbeque note:

If the weather outside is frightful, cover up your outdoor appliances! It will greatly increase the lifetime of your grill, heater or furniture.

Foil Boats

Flare-ups are a common problem with grilling fatty foods. To prevent them, place a drip pan directly beneath your meat to catch the fat. If you don't have a foil pan on hand, simply make one from aluminum foil. For larger foods, you can put it under the food grid. For smaller foods, you can fashion a small aluminum “boat.“

If you Like it, Put a Grill Pad on it...

If the tailgate party usually takes place at your house, you might want to consider a little patio protection. Between spills and incidental sparks from the grill or fire pit, there exists lots of opportunity to trash your patio or deck. But as luck would have it, you can protect your outdoor floor and support your favorite college team all at the same time.

The Collegiate Edition Grill Pad, made by DiversiTech, is a thin, flexible fiber cement-based product that protects your deck or patio surface by acting as a barrier against accidental mishaps. Perhaps its best feature is that it “breathes“ - so it won't trap water underneath, which can cause staining or mildew. And it can be cleaned off with a garden hose!

The Collegiate Grill Pads are 30“x42“, and retail for $50 to $60. There are almost 85 college logos available. You can find them online at,,, and

Smoker in Your Eyes?

If you're debating whether to splurge on a smoker grill, and you're looking to justify the expenditure, let me help you.

Just about anything can be cooked in a smoker. Low, slow heat works magic on large, tough or fatty cuts of meat such as beef brisket, pork butts, hams, ribs, whole turkeys, turkey breasts, game, etc. But you can also smoke fish, seafood, vegetables and even fruit with superb results. For the book review this month, I smoked a chile pie, a pan of root vegetables that had been cut into chunks, and jumbo shrimp in the shell for use in a cold pasta salad. I had the veggies for dinner, and if it weren't so darn hot here in South Texas, I'd take the leftover smoked potatoes and make some awesome potato soup. If I have the time, I think I'll take the remaining smoked sweet potatoes, and throw them into the food processor with a little butter and chicken broth or cream and puree them into mashed sweet potatoes. A dash of paprika or even cayenne pepper added at the end would be perfect.

Along that line of thinking, you could smoke tomatoes and make a tasty smoked tomato and basil soup, with a little fresh grated parmesan sprinkled on top -- or a little ball of fresh mozzarella plunked in the middle. Or smoke corn on the cob, remove it from the cob and freeze it, and when Fall and Winter roll around, make yourself a steaming pot of chicken corn soup. You may as well smoke the chicken while the corn is on the grill!

Another plus? Full flavor, but NO FAT. Can you beat that?

So go ahead and splurge on a smoker - it doesn't have to be super expensive. Once you have it, you'll be surprised at how often you get the urge to fire it up!

Bag It

For easy preparation and clean-up with marinades, arrange food in a resealable plastic bag, pour in marinade, then seal. Lay the bag in a dish (in the off change there is a tiny leak in the bag, you don't want a puddle of marinade on your refrigerator shelf), and refrigerate if you're going to be marinating for more than two hours. Turn the bag frequently. Be sure to discard any leftover marinade, or boil it for five minutes before using as a dipping sauce.

Grill Cleaning Should be Habit Forming

Keeping your grill in tip-top shape is a cinch if you make cleaning a part of your everyday barbecue routine.

Start at the beginning - before you turn on your grill, spritz the cooking grid with a non-stick cooking spray or wipe it with a paper towel wetted with vegetable oil. It helps prevent sticky build-up and it helps to keep your foods from sticking as well.

If you have a charcoal grill, you can line the bottom with aluminum foil before you add briquets or woods, but be sure to poke generous holes where the bottom vents are located. If you don't, air won't be able to circulate properly and you'll struggle with your fire. After you remove your cooked food from the cooking grid, shut the lid and let the residual heat burn off any stuck-on food particles. Run a brush over the grid to remove any stubborn pieces. If you happen to not have a brush, a crumpled piece of aluminum foil works wonders!

After the fire cools, remove the foil, wrap it up and discard it, taking with it any ash and grease drippings. You also need to check your ash catcher frequently, and dispose of the ashes properly. Be sure that the fire and ashes are completely cooled before you remove them, especially if you're going to dump them in a garden or anywhere outside that could become a fire hazard.

If you have a gas grill, get into the habit of turning the heat to high for a few minutes after removing your cooked food. It will do a pretty good job of burning off any stuck-on foods, but if there still are a few stubborn spots, take a brush to it. I find that once the food is off the grill, I prepare the rest of the meal, and sit down to eat. On more than one occasion I forgot to turn the grill off - one time it ended up staying on overnight. Not good. So now I do my “burn off“ before I cook - for me, it's a much better option than burning through a tank of gas or burning down the neighborhood.

If the grill is stored outside, cover it up after it cools down. You'll be surprised how much longer your investment will last when it's protected from the elements.

While keeping the appliance clean and covered is important, it's just as critical to keep your utensils clean and stored properly. I can't tell you how many barbecues I've been to where dirty utensils - from food and/or weather - are hanging from or laying on a grill side shelf. And clearly have been for days or weeks. Ewww. Do yourself and your guests a favor and clean them after every use, just like you do with your inside utensils. Hang them on a hook in a pantry, or laundry room, or somewhere out of the way, but in a location where they'll stay relatively clean. A quick rinse or wipe before using is appreciated.

It just takes a few minutes to do a quick clean. After a few times, it will just become part of your barbecuing routine!

It's Nutty! - Roasted Garlic

If you haven't ever tried grill-roasted garlic, put it on the menu for this weekend. And make a bunch, because it will be gone before you know it.

Roasted garlic is an awesome alternative to herb butter, and can be used creatively all week long. Best of all, it's really easy to make. Simply trim off about the top third of a whole head of garlic, and remove any loose papery skin on the outside. Sit the garlic in a foil pan, or make a pan from aluminum foil. Drizzle a teaspoon to a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the garlic, depending on how big it is. To add even more flavor, sprinkle with chopped or fresh herbs such as basil, oregano or rosemary.

Prepare a medium-hot fire, place the garlic in the grill over indirect heat, and cook for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the garlic is “mushy.“ Or, just add it to the grill while you're preparing other meats or veggies.

Its nutty, mellow flavor is perfect on grilled steaks and toasted gourmet breads. But you can also add it to spaghetti sauce, spread it on rolls for a sausage and pepper sandwich, whisk it into homemade salad dressing, smear it on a ready-made pizza crust, and more.

Try it, you'll like it!

When to Lay off the Sauce

There are essentially two types of barbecue sauce - those with sugar and those without. A tomato-based sauce usually contains some kind of sugar. Whether it's bottled sauce from the grocery store, or a concoction of your own, it most likely will be made with some type of granulated sugar, molasses or corn syrup. You do not want to slather this sauce on your food during the entire cooking process because if you brush it on too early, the sugar will cause it to burn. You want to wait until the last stage of cooking.

If you're grilling chicken pieces, a good rule of thumb is to baste both sides during the last 10 minutes over medium heat. For thinner cuts of meat, such as steaks or chops, baste when there are only five minutes of grill time remaining. Ribs can be basted every 10 minutes or so during the last half-hour of cook time, but be sure the heat is on low.

Unsweetened sauces, such as those that are vinegar based, can be used with wild abandon during the cooking process. You can spritz, spray, brush, mop, or bathe your chicken pieces, or pork butt, or other long-cooking meat, as often as you like in order to help prevent it from drying out.

Electric Grills: Time to Give them Some Respect

To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, electric grills get no respect. But they should.

Today, there are more electric grills on the market than ever before - and their performance is vastly improved from the days when their cooking capabilities were “like trying to cook your food with a hair dryer“ (as my former boss used to say).

People choose electric grills for all sorts of reasons: they like the convenience, they're uncomfortable with gas or charcoal, or their apartment or condo rules prohibit open flame. Because electric grills and smokers use the same type of heating element found in a kitchen oven, some electric lovers prefer the plug because they can set somewhat of an exact temperature.

When shopping for an electric grill, you'll need to decide which type works best for you. They generally fall into five categories: Cart, pedestal, tabletop, closed base and smoker.

As you review your options, keep in mind that while a vast majority of electric grills will run from a typical household outlet, some will require a 220 line. Also, pay attention to cord length - you'll want to be able to plug the grill directly into an outlet without the danger of anyone getting caught in it. And you don't want to use an extension cord because it will decrease the amount of energy getting to the unit, so it will take longer to heat up and it may not reach its highest temperatures. On the safety side - please remember that you can't use your electric grill in the rain or on a wet surface!

We'll start with cart options. Meco dominates this market. The company offers a number of models, and for maximum cooking flexibility, look for ones that have a three-position element that allow you to do indirect rotisserie cooking. Prices are in the $200 range.

Pedestal grills are popular because they have a very small footprint - and they're perfect for balcony barbecuers. I've been cooking on a Masterbuilt Veranda, but also have cooked on a Char-Broil Patio Caddie. Because I'm usually cooking for one, I really like both these grills because they heat up quickly and they cook a decent amount of food. They're just fine for a quick week-night meal.

Of course we have to mention George Forman's indoor/outdoor pedestal grills. My neighbors have one - they cook for a family of three - and they really like the convenience of the GF during the week. They say clean-up is a pain, and I suspect they would use it even more often if that weren't the case. Prices range from $100 to $250 for the aforementioned models.

For those looking for a pedestal that is a little more upscale, one brand you'll find is Fire Magic. They offer an electric grill that can be configured to be a pedestal or tabletop grill. It features a double-wall top lid for good insulation, and it can reach an impressive 725 degrees. Cost is about $1,000.

Tabletops/portables are an interesting category. Not all tabletops are practically portable, and not all portables are tabletops. I'm guessing every grill maker offers a tabletop or a portable, and sometimes one doubles as the other. You'll just have to figure out which suites your needs best. Meco is a player in this category, as is Uniflame, Kingsford, Weber Q140, Fire Magic, Fire Stone, Napoleon and Electri-Chef. Prices range from $30 to $5,915. Not a typo. Electri-Chef, which is made in the U.S., offers a 48-inch table top, dual control model at this $6,000 price point. (Cookshack is also made in the U.S.)

Closed-base electric models also are an option, and most of them are at the higher end of the price scale. Electri-Chef, Cal Flame and Dimplex offer some very nice models, ranging from $800 to $7,500.

Smokers are perhaps the newest products in the electric category, and are becoming very popular. Masterbuilt, Cookshack, Bradley have models that are more box/refrigerator shaped, and Meco and Brinkmann are among those that offer an electric smoker that is more of a “bullet“ shape. These electric smokers are so nice because you can smoke cook all day, but not have to check the fire a few times an hour to keep a constant temperature. You really just need to check the wood chips or chunks, and/or the liquid in the water pan. You can get one for about $70 all the way to up about $300.

If an electric grill is on your wish list, pick one up, plug it in, and you have the whole day to play.

Getting Tanked

Have you just bought your first gas grill and need a tank? Looking for a tank refill? Or maybe your LP gas tank has seen better days? Here are some options for gassing up.

Starting from Scratch
If you're in the market for your first propane tank, you have two options.

The first is to buy a new, empty tank at a local retailer and take it to a propane filling station, such as U-Haul, to gas up. (U-Haul has the largest network of propane cylinder refilling stations in the United States.) New tanks run about $35. The cost to have it filled is $10 to $15, as the cost of a gallon of propane currently is in the neighborhood of $2.60 to $3.25 a gallon. So in total, your expenditure is about $50.

The second option is to get a new/full tank via a propane exchange program. Many folks don't realize that you can buy a full tank of gas at an exchange location without having to trade one in. Simply get in the check-out line and tell the cashier that you need a full tank and you don't have one to exchange. Cost is about $45. They'll have someone meet you at the outdoor cage to remove a clean, full, tank of gas.

There may be an exchange program where you're buying your grill, but other locations, such as convenience stores, offer the program too. The names you're most likely to see are Blue Rhino and AmeriGas. Total cost: about $45.

Starting with a Tank
If you have an empty tank that needs refilling, you also have two options.

The first is to recycle the empty tank by taking it to a propane exchange program where you can swap it for a full one that has been inspected and refilled. Cost is about $16. Note, however, that if the tank is in REALLY bad shape, e.g. has a hole in it, it cannot be exchanged. There likely will be “unacceptable tank criteria“ listed on the display unit. You'll have to buy a new full one.

The second option is to visit a propane dealer with certified staff that can refill the tank or tell you if it needs to be retired. If it passes a visual test, has the proper inspection information, and sports an Overfill Protection Device, they'll refill it. (You can tell if your tank has the OPD because the knob will have a triangle shape.) If not, they'll fail the tank, and you'll need to buy a new one and have it filled, or buy a full one at an exchange location.

The cost to refill a tank depends on how many gallons of propane it requires, but as mentioned above, a really empty tank will cost $10 to $15 to refill.

Here's something to remember: some companies will load your full cylinder in your vehicle for you. Other companies are not allowed to do this because of liability reasons. So don't be offended if you have to load your own cylinder, because the attendant is just following the rules.

How do you make a good thing even better? By smoking of course!

Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, we're suggesting adding more flavor to your charcoal fire by using wood chips, chunks or pellets. Tossing a handful of damp chips onto glowing coals produces a quick infusion of smoky flavor that adds yet another delicious dimension to charcoal grilling.

Wood products are available in many “flavors“ but hickory and mesquite remain the all-time favorites. Hickory, the most popular, produces a distinctive, traditional smoky flavor that's great with pork, beef and poultry. (Many popular barbeque eateries cook with a combination of hickory and oak.)

Mesquite burns hottest and imparts a milder, sweet smoke taste that's great with many foods including fish such as salmon, swordfish and tuna.

Other wood flavors range from fruit flavors such as orange, apple and peach, to nut flavors including pecan and black walnut. There are even Jack Daniel's Smoking Pellets that are made from Jack Daniel's mellowing charcoal, which lends a great whisky flavor to your fire. In other words, there are lots of flavors with which to experiment!

The pellets are particularly easy to use because they don't require pre-soaking. If you're using wood chips or chunks and want a milder smoke flavor, don't soak them - either give them a quick dunk in water to dampen them or just throw them on the fire dry. For maximum “smokage,“ soak the chips and chunks in water.

These aromatics add lots of great flavor - and no calories - to most anything you'll throw on the grill.

How Hot is Hot?

Here's a simple way to test the intensity of a charcoal fire: hold the palm of your hand about 5 inches above the coals. If you can hold it there for 2 seconds, the fire is hot; 3 seconds, medium-hot; 4 seconds, medium; and 5 seconds, low.