Whether you grill marinated tri-tip or spice-rubbed ribs over a charcoal-fired kettle or gas-fueled range, or break down brisket for 12 hours in a dented old smoker, the California backyard is the summertime site for some of the best 'cue going. Just ask the neighbors who live downwind from your place.
With summer here and Father's Day approaching, it's time to sharpen our 'cue skills. Open-minded backyard cooks are always willing to learn new techniques, and David Hill (pictured) is the guy to teach them.
Hill owns the BBQ Pro in Fair Oaks, a company that claims to stock "everything for the pitmaster."
It's got more 'cue stuff in one place that we've ever seen. The long, narrow store is jammed (in an organized way) with all things barbecue, from tempting rubs and sauces to top-quality grill brushes and marinade injectors. In the inventory too are bags of oak, mesquite and hickory lump charcoals, and bags of real wood chips and chunks - cherry, alder, apple, pecan, almond and hard-to-find red oak, the wood of choice for Santa Maria-style open-pit barbecue.
The BBQ Pro is also a dealership for the Big Green Egg, a high-fiber ceramic grill with many add-on accessories. Its design has roots in the "mushikamado" cooker, used for centuries in Japan.
Hill and hot coals have been BFF for "a good 40 years at least," he said. "I'm not so good with inside ovens. I would just as soon cook outside." Which is what he does it at home.
Hill hosts monthly grilling classes ($50) at his store, 10140 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; (916) 595-7444. The next one is on pulled pork, 4:30 p.m. June 23. Check the website www.bbqproonline.com for details.
Meanwhile, we asked Hill to give us the benefit of his expertise, and he offered these tips for backyard cooks:
Customize: "Choose the right foods for the size and age range of your group. Young people may not like spicy ribs, for instance, and there is a vegetarian in every family. Consider everyone with respect and plan accordingly."
Taste test No. 1: "The sauce is the first thing to touch your tongue, and you don't want to scare anyone with sauce that's too hot. If you're thinking of going spicy, put the heat in the rub and let the sauce be 'the sweet.'"
Taste test No. 2: "Taste your food at every step. Too salty? Too spicy? Deal with it before you serve."
Bring on the smoke: "Adding smoking chips or chunks means extra flavor. Soak chips for at least an hour prior to using so they smolder rather than burn. The maximum amount of smoke from the chips, and the meat's ability to absorb the smoke, both happen at the beginning of the cook, so put on the chips just before the meat. Do not add more chips later; oversmoking the meat will turn it acrid."
Meeting an old flame: "Low and slow is the best way to cook meat, but a nice sear and char is what everyone wants. Use the fire to get color and char markings, then turn down the heat and move the meat to an indirect area of the grill, allowing it to ease into doneness."
Not too hot: "Know your temperatures. A quality thermometer for both the grill and the meat is essential for great results and keeping your friends safe."