But Memorial Day signals the official start of scrumptious barbecue season. That's when we give our grills the deep clean they deserve and start gathering new recipes to wow our friends.
No matter how you grill — over gas or wood and charcoal — it's time for simple tips and fresh recipes to keep your guests sated all summer long. And three new cookbooks from grilling gurus Stan Hays, Steven Raichlen and Aaron Franklin provide all the smoky, delicious secrets for novices and aficionados alike.
Let's start with Hays, a grand-champion pitmaster and co-founder of Operation BBQ Relief, a nonprofit that has cooked 1.78 million meals for natural disaster victims since 2011. When he's not saving the world via barbecue or honing his recipes from season two of Food Network's "Chopped Grill Masters," the Kansas City barbecue master fires up an easy Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Jalapeño-Apricot Glaze for his closest friends and family.
The moist, deceptively easy dish is featured in Hays' new cookbook, "Operation BBQ: 200+ Smokin' Recipes from Competition Grand Champions" (Page Street Publishing Co., $30).
"It's an instant fan-favorite because it's a very juicy lean piece of pork that's cheap, and you can use the glaze for basting and as a dipping sauce," he says.
Hays' tip applies to all grilling: Don't rush to turn your meat — your grill will tell you when it's ready. "If it's still sticking, it means it hasn't developed that char yet," he says. "Be patient."
Grilling steak? For that aromatic wow factor, Hays adds a few rosemary sprigs to the grill. "It smells amazing and also imparts some of that rosemary essence into the smoke, which goes into the meat."
Craving brisket but don't own a smoker? Put the slow cooker aside and peek into barbecue master
Steven Raichlen's newest cookbook, "The Brisket Chronicles" (Workman Publishing, $30), features more than 60 recipes on preparing this epic cut of meat, including a Korean method that calls for freezing the brisket, slicing it paper-thin and quick-grilling it on high heat. Yup.
Normally, direct grilling a tough cut like brisket would be a disaster, but this method yields crisp, fatty, beefy richness. "Most brisket is barbecued low and slow in this country, so this is a pretty easy way to win a bar bet about barbecue," Raichlen says.
He serves Korean Grilled Brisket on lettuce leaves with an Asian cucumber salad, pickled Korean banchan and wasabi-soy dipping sauce.
If nothing speaks to you like a classic steak, then you'll want to tuck into that chaise this summer and pore over "Franklin Steak" (Ten Speed Press, $30) by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay. Franklin is the brains behind Austin's Franklin Barbecue, which has sold out of brisket every day of its existence. But his favorite thing to grill at home is steak, and in this new guide, he tackles every detail to create a truly sublime version, from sourcing the best beef and seasoning it to buying or even building the ideal cooking vessel.
His core advice is simple. First, don't limit yourself to one cut. "It's based on mood and taste," Franklin says. "If you like something fibrous and lean, go for a bavette. If you crave fattiness, steer toward a rib-eye."
Always choose the freshest, well-marbled cuts — at supermarkets, they're often showcased in the glass case — with large, single muscles as opposed to connective tissue.
From there, you can read the co-authors' lectures on everything from heat-zone configurations to salt. Salt generously and early — 24 to 48 hours before grilling, according to their trials. But it's the simple tips on tools that were most helpful to us: Invest in heavy-duty tongs and commercial sheet pans for schlepping between kitchen and grill. Buy an oil squirt bottle, which can be used for everything from building the best charcoal chimney to cleaning your grill and adding sheen to a steak.
Finish that steak off with Franklin's Perky Red Wine Sauce, one of nine essential recipes in the book. It's a simpler version of bordelaise, with a kicky acidity from the addition of lemon juice, which contrasts beautifully with the rich meat. Even better, if you're cooking the steak in a pan on the stove — yes, Franklin approves — you can make the sauce right in the pan, stirring up and savoring every last tasty steak bit.
Steven Raichlen's Korean Grilled Brisket
From "The Brisket Chronicles" by Steven Raichlen
Serves 6 to 8
• 2 pounds brisket point, or cross-section of point and flat together
• 1 head green leaf lettuce, such as butter lettuce or romaine, separated into leaves, washed and spun dry
• Korean Cucumber Salad (recipe follows)
• Coarse sea salt
• Toasted (dark) sesame oil
• Wasabi Soy Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
• Ssamjang (chile jam) or gochujang
1. Using a sharp knife, trim the brisket, leaving a layer of fat at least ½-inch thick; you'll need more fat than usual here because you'll be direct grilling the brisket and you want to keep it moist. Save a few pieces of that fat in the refrigerator for greasing the grill grate.
If you have an electric meat slicer, wrap the whole brisket point in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer. If you plan to use a food processor, cut the brisket point along the grain into chunks just narrow enough to fit in the processor feed tube. (Take note of which way the grain of the meat — the meat fibers — runs: When it comes time for slicing, it's very important to cut it across the grain.) Wrap the chunks in plastic wrap and freeze until solid, several hours or overnight.
2. If using an electric meat slicer, unwrap the brisket and use the slicer to cut the frozen brisket across the grain into paper-thin slices. As they come off the slicer, they'll naturally curl. Arrange the slices on a platter. If using a food processor, install the thin slicing blade. Place the unwrapped, frozen brisket chunks in the feed tube (the grain of the meat should run vertical and parallel to the feed tube). Turn on the processor and slice the meat. (The slices won't be quite as pretty as those made on a meat slicer, but you will get the requisite thinness.) Arrange the slices on a platter.
3. Transfer the platter of sliced brisket to the freezer and keep it there until ready to grill. (The brisket can be sliced and frozen several hours ahead.)
4. Just prior to grilling, heat your grill to high. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean. Grease the grate with reserved chunks of brisket fat. Place the sea salt in a small bowl and the sesame oil in another. (Or if you like sesame sea salt, place the salt in a small bowl and gently pour the sesame oil over it so the salt remains in a pile in the center.) Set out the remaining condiments in bowls.
5. When the grill is hot, arrange the brisket slices on the grate and grill until browned on both sides, 30 seconds per side, or until cooked to taste. For even more fun, place the hibachi in the center of the table (outdoors only) and have each guest grill his or her own meat.
6. Enjoy immediately, using chopsticks to dip a grilled brisket slice in salt, sesame oil or Wasabi Soy Dipping Sauce, then place it on a lettuce leaf spread with chile jam for even more flavor, if you like. Add some cucumber salad. From there, just roll it up and pop it into your mouth.
Korean Cucumber Salad
• 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• ½ teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
• 2 kirby (pickling) cucumbers, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
• ¼ medium onion, thinly sliced crosswise
1. Place the vinegar, sugar and salt in a nonreactive mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar and salt dissolve. Stir in the cucumber and onion. Let the salad marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 10 minutes or as long as 4 hours before serving.
Wasabi Soy Dipping Sauce
Makes about 3 cups
• 2 tablespoons wasabi powder
• ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water, divided use
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 cup soy sauce
• ½ cup rice vinegar
• 2 serrano chiles, stemmed and sliced crosswise paper-thin
• ½ medium onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
• ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or mint
1. Combine the wasabi powder and 2 tablespoons warm water in a small bowl and stir with chopsticks to form a paste. Let stand to thicken, 5 minutes.
2. Place the sugar and remaining ½ cup warm water in a mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Whisk in the soy sauce and rice vinegar and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Stir in the chiles, onion and cilantro or mint.
3. To serve, ladle the dipping sauce into as many small bowls as you have eaters. Spread a dab of wasabi paste onto the edge of each bowl, so that each person can add as much wasabi as he or she desires.
Wasabi Soy Dipping Sauce can be made a few hours ahead of time (store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator), but it tastes best served the same day.
Aaron franklin's perky red wine sauce
From "Franklin Steak" by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay
Makes about 1 cup
• 2 cups red wine
• 1 yellow onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 8 thyme sprigs
• 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (not whole grain)
• 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, optional
1. In a small saucepan, combine the wine, onion, garlic and thyme and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Simmer until the wine has reduced by half. Turn off the heat and when the wine has stopped bubbling, pull out and discard the thyme sprigs.
2. Add the lemon juice and mustard and whisk until blended. Whisk in the butter until it melts and the sauce thickens slightly, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Plate the steaks and spoon the sauce over the top, or spoon the sauce onto individual plates and lay the steaks on top. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Stan hays' pork tenderloin with jalapeño-apricot glaze
From "Operation BBQ: 200+ Smokin' Recipes from Competition Grand Champions" by Stan Hays with Tim O'Keefe
• 3 tablespoons apricot preserves
• 3 tablespoons jalapeño jelly
• 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
• 1 to 2 tablespoons agave syrup
• 1 jalapeño, diced small, optional
• 1 shallot, diced small, optional
• 1 pound pork tenderloin
• 2 tablespoons of your favorite pork rub
1. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, combine the preserves, jelly, vinegar, agave syrup and diced jalapeño and shallot. Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil, then remove it from the heat. Divide the glaze into two bowls, one for basting and the other for serving, and keep them warm.
2. Using a knife, trim the silver skin and any loose fat from the pork tenderloin. Apply a coating of your favorite pork rub to all sides of the meat.
3. Heat your smoker or grill to 300 degrees for direct cooking. Place the tenderloin on the cooking grate, close the lid and cook for 90 seconds. Remove the lid, rotate the pork loin a quarter turn and cook for an additional 90 seconds.
4. Continue grilling and turning the pork until the tenderloin reaches an internal temperature of 125 to 130 degrees in the thickest area before you start to apply the glaze. There is a large amount of sugar in the glaze, so make sure to move the pork loin to the coolest area of the grill to avoid burning. Apply several layers of the glaze and continue cooking until the thickest part of the tenderloin reaches 138 to 140 degrees.
5. Remove the tenderloin from the grill, tent it with foil and let it rest for 5 to 8 minutes. Then slice the tenderloin on the bias and serve with the reserved glaze as a dipping sauce.