We profile the Valley’s exploding craft barbecue scene, from the blue-ribbon brisket at Little Miss BBQ to messy-good upstarts like Pork on a Fork. Dig in!

Valley BBQ & Summer Food Guide

Written by Jess Harter, Leah LeMoine, Craig Outhier Category: Food Reviews Issue: July 2016
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Low and slow. It’s a three-word mantra that defines the culinary art of barbecue, as opposed to the more common patio practice of grilling. Barbecue means meats cooked over low, indirect heat from a wood fire (less than 300 degrees) for long periods of time (up to 14 hours) – a process that can transform even the toughest cuts into tender, smoky ambrosia.

Low and slow also is an apt description of the Valley’s burgeoning barbecue scene. Just two decades ago, you could count the number of Phoenix ’cue joints that had managed to keep their doors open for at least a few years on one sauce-soaked hand. Honey Bear’s BBQ has been around since 1986. The Barbecue Company Grill and Cafe opened in East Phoenix the following year, and Tom’s BBQ in Sunny-slope the year after. Hap’s Pit Barbecue traces its lineage back to 1990.

Gradually, the scent of smoked meats drifted out to the fast-growing suburbs. Joe’s Real BBQ brought cafeteria-style barbecue to Gilbert in 1998. Bobby Q opened in West Phoenix in 2005. In Cave Creek, Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue launched in 2008. Then, in 2009, cable TV network TLC introduced a reality show called BBQ Pitmasters, helping to inspire a national renaissance of barbecue.

Today, the Valley is home to more than 60 barbecue restaurants, including an impressive list of relative newcomers – such as Little Miss BBQ, Naked BBQ, HEK Yeah BBQ and Danky’s Bar-B-Q – tucked away in industrial parks and strip malls. Not exactly Kansas City or Austin or Memphis, but we’re getting there. Low and slow.




Long-burning, so perfect for cooking large pieces of meat. Used from coast to coast.

Strong, distinct aroma that’s become almost synonymous with Southern-style barbecue.

Similar to hickory. Smooth, slightly fruity and nutty. Abundant in the Southwest.

Very pungent, so typically used in small amounts. Found from Texas to California.

Mild and fruity flavors. Works well with ham, poultry and fish.

Light and slightly sweet. Traditionally used in the Northwest for smoking salmon.

Mild and fruity. Nice for pork, poultry and fish. Mostly used in the Northeast.

Like other softwoods, contains foul-tasting sap and terpenes. Ill-suited for barbecue.


Though Lone Star-centric, Texas BBQ House in Phoenix is a veritable United Nations of barbecue meats and styles, offering everything from brisket to turkey. As such, Texas BBQ pitmaster Mike Pitt is the ideal host as we examine the core specimens of barbecue grill-craft.

Texas BBQ House 

5037 S. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-343-6447, texasbbqhouseaz.com

Beef Brisket
Served “fatty” or “lean,” this popular chest cut presents a dilemma: aficionados prefer the more flavorful fatty, but lean is a better test of pitmaster skill. Pitt’s brisket gets a liberal coating of his ancestral, 19-ingredient dry rub before spending 13-14 hours in the oak-fueled smoker.

Beef Ribs
Like pork ribs, there are back ribs and spare ribs. Texas BBQ recently switched from back ribs, which are longer and have higher fat content, to spare ribs, which are more meat-laden.

Sausage Sausage Links
The third meat in the “holy trinity” of Texas barbecue, along with brisket and beef ribs. Can be either beef- or pork-based. Also known as hot links, although they’re not necessarily spicy. Texas BBQ House offers regular and jalapeño versions, the latter of which is spicy.

Pulled Pork
Most commonly comes from pork shoulder, which somewhat misleadingly also is known as pork butt (meat from the hindquarters is ham). Pitt says his customers prefer the pork – which is the only meat he smokes overnight (14-18 hours) –  mixed with sauce before it’s served.

Pork Ribs
Back ribs, sometimes called baby back ribs, are those near the pig’s back; spare or short are sourced from the underside. Texas BBQ House smokes its dry-rubbed, St. Louis-style (square-cut) spare ribs for 3-4 hours. Contrary to a certain chain-restaurant jingle, baby backs are less prized by aficionados.

It’s debatable whether low-fat chicken, almost impossible to cook low and slow without drying out, fits the technical definition of barbecue. Pitt serves it by the half or quarter after as little as 3 hours in the smoker. He tries to fulfill dark-meat-only requests

Pit Beans
Pitt sticks solely with pinto beans – kidney beans and/or lima beans are also common – flavored with bits of brisket, his regular (non-spicy) sauce and house dry rub.




1. Little Miss BBQ
4301 E. University Dr., Phoenix, 
602-437-1177, littlemissbbq.com

Scott and Bekke Holmes’ small, no-frills eatery opened in 2014 and already has established a well-deserved reputation for the best barbecue in the state. The line forms well before doors open at 11 a.m., and when the Texas-inspired fare is sold out (usually around 3 p.m.), the doors close. 

MUST TRY: Everything on the menu. Seriously. Start with the fatty brisket (far more decadent than the lean) and house-made sausage links with the house mustard sauce.  

2. Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
6130 E. Cave Creek Rd., Cave Creek,480-575-7155, bryansbarbecue.com

Former Scottsdale resort chef Bryan Dooley not only is a master of barbecue standards like beef brisket and pork ribs, but also a proponent of adventurous offerings such as frog legs, alligator ribs and pig ears. And his ‘‘pulled’’ squash will wow vegetarians and meat eaters alike. 

MUST TRY: The meaty pork spare ribs and any of the creative sides. For the adventurous, the Friday-only frog legs or whatever the monthly special is.

3. Danky’s Bar-B-Q
4727 E. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-996-2016, dankysbbq.com

When Pat Frederick opened his small strip-mall joint in 2015, he started with the basics, including some of the best brisket in town, and slowly expanded Danky’s repertoire. It’s one of the few Valley joints that primarily relies on mesquite wood, and also is home to a unique, green Javelina Sauce made with a blend of peppers. 

MUST TRY: The second-best brisket in the Valley and the second-to-none barbecue beans. For something different, the smoked and deep-fried chicken drumsticks.

4. Naked BBQ
2340 W. Bell Rd., Phoenix, 602-439-4227, thenakedbbq.com

Inspired by the barbecue he enjoyed in North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Oren Hartman decided to open his own cafeteria-style eatery, practically hidden amongst the numerous Bell Road auto dealerships, in 2015. Meats are served ‘‘naked,’’ allowing diners to customize their meals with up to five different sauces. 

MUST TRY: The pulled pork, the spicy sausage links and, if you like Carolina-style ’cue, the vinegar sauce.


5. Pork on a Fork
1515 W. Deer Valley Rd., Phoenix, 623-434-1794; 1949 E. Camelback Rd., Ste. 140, Phoenix, 602-884-8227, porkonafork.com

Nebraskans Justin Erickson and Wes Hanson began selling preservative- and filler-free pork from the Erickson family pig farm at Valley farmers’ markets in 2009. Two years later they moved into a storefront across the road from the Deer Valley airport. They added a second location this year. 

MUST TRY: The Midwest Monster – a mountain of pulled pork and brisket topped with cheese, jalapeños and coleslaw.

6. HEK Yeah BBQ
15044 N. Cave Creek Rd., Phoenix, 602-626-8404, heckyeahbbq.com

Kenny and Heather Lorenz’s hole in the wall has been dishing out top-notch barbecue since 2013. They augment the pecan in the smoker with a steady supply of apple and cherry, lending the meats a somewhat delicate flavor. But there’s nothing subtle about their mouth-scorching Ghost Sauce. 

MUST TRY: The pulled chicken, the pulled pork tacos, and the green chile mac and cheese.

7. Rhema Soul Cuisine
21803 S. Ellsworth Rd., Queen Creek, 480-987-1460, rhemasoulcuisine.com

New York City natives Ron and Via Childs moved to the Valley and used their life savings to open a restaurant in late 2014. Chicken and red velvet waffles is their bestseller, but the majority of the menu is Ron’s pecan-smoked barbecue and Via’s home-recipe sides and desserts. 

MUST TRY: The Symphony Fries – three types of fries topped with five kinds of cheese, chopped pork and spicy barbecue sauce.

8. Joe’s Real BBQ
301 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert, 480-503-3805, joesrealbbq.com

After selling their popular Coffee Plantation coffeehouse chain in 1993, Joe Johnston and Tim Peelen shifted their attention to barbecue. They converted a 1929 brick building in downtown Gilbert into a family-friendly homage to the town’s agricultural past, including a restored 1948 John Deere tractor in the dining room. 

MUST TRY: The sliced turkey, the barbecue pit beans and the housemade root beer. Save room for any of the many desserts.

9. Texas BBQ House
5037 S. 24th St., Phoenix, 602-343-6447, texasbbqhouseaz.com

Lone Star State natives Mike Pitt and Doug Dieckmann were the first to bring authentic Texas-style ’cue to South Phoenix in 2011. Like Little Miss BBQ, the small interior fills up fast, as does the parking lot, creating a challenge for rush-hour diners. 

MUST TRY: The lean brisket, the Texas cream corn, and the banana pudding.

10. Andrew’s BBQ
730 E. Guadalupe Rd., Tempe, 480-244-4227, andrewsbbq.com

Andrew Vander Stoep’s main emphasis is catering, so his south Tempe strip mall joint has flown under many a-radar for the past eight years, but a large dining room is open for lunch every weekday. Brisket, pork and chicken are the menu mainstays, while other meats rotate as daily specials. 

MUST TRY: The brisket, slathered in Vander Stoep’s Georgia- and Tennessee-style tomato-based sauces.




A dish-by-dish Olympiad of the Valley’s best barbecue offerings.

Beef Brisket

Gold: Little Miss BBQ
Silver: Danky’s Bar-B-Q
Bronze: Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Comments: Little Miss BBQ’s flagship meat – the end result of a 36-hour process that includes a simple dry rub and a full day in a smoker fired by oak and pecan – has a wonderfully smoky char yet practically melts in your mouth. Little-known Danky’s is a surprisingly strong second.

Editor’s Pick:
“I would never dispute the pre-eminence of LMBBQ’s brisket, but from a user-experience standpoint, I might actually prefer Bootleggers, which has all the sweet, fatty char this neophyte needs... and also comes with ample seating and upscale cocktail options, which you won’t find at Little Miss.” 
– Craig Outhier  

Hot Link/Sausage

Gold: Little Miss BBQ
Silver: Rhema Soul Cuisine
Bronze: Naked BBQ
Comments: Little Miss makes its own links from a mix of beef and pork, and the extra effort pays off with its nice mix of spices and just a hint of jalapeño. Rhema Soul in Queen Creek gets a special blend from the nearby Pork Shop. At Naked, opt for the more flavorful spicy link over the regular link.

Beef Ribs

Gold: Little Miss BBQ
Silver: Texas BBQ House
Bronze: Bobby Q
Comments: Given the Valley’s robust appetite for Texas barbecue, it’s remarkable so few places offer beef ribs. Little Miss – them again! – offers hard-to-find spare ribs, but only on Fridays and Saturdays because they need up to 13 hours in the smoker. Texas BBQ House also does spare ribs. Bobby Q (8501 N. 27th Ave., 602-995-5982, bobbyq.net) sticks to back ribs.


Pulled Pork

Gold: Naked BBQ
Silver: Little Miss BBQ
Bronze: (tie) Pork on a Fork and Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Comments: Naked coats its pork shoulders with its secret-recipe dry rub before subjecting them to at least 14 hours in an oak-and-pecan smoker. The finished pork is pulled to order and sprinkled with a little vinegar sauce. Little Miss also goes the extra step of pulling its pork to order.

Editor’s Pick:
“For me, the dark horse of pulled pork is Alice Cooper’stown. The flavors of the 14-spice dry rub are amplified by the hours the pork spends in a giant smoker before being pulled, slathered in tangy house barbecue sauce, and plopped between two buns. The pork is tender, toothsome and lean, which is great because I’m not a fan of chewing fat.” 
– Niki D’Andrea


Pork Ribs

Gold: Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Silver: Little Miss BBQ
Bronze: Pork on a Fork
Comments: It’s a very close call between the pecan-smoked spare ribs at Bryan’s, which have a slightly more flavorful spice rub (called “Pixie Dust”), and those at Little Miss, which are just a tad more tender. If baby backs are your preference, Pork on a Fork is your spot.



Gold: HEK Yeah BBQ 
Silver: Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Bronze: Pork on a Fork
Comments: HEK Yeah’s tasty chicken starts with 3-pound whole birds – raised cage-free, antibiotic-free and hormone-free at Colorado’s Red Bird Farms – that are treated with a mix of the house rub and poultry seasoning, then smoked with pecan, cherry and apricot woods for up to six hours. 


Gold: Little Miss BBQ
Silver: Naked BBQ
Bronze: Joe’s Real BBQ
Comments: Little Miss rubs 5-pound breasts with a turkey-specific version of its basic house spice mix and smokes them for four hours. The result is incredibly moist meat with a peppery crust. Naked’s turkey is nearly as moist, while Joe’s is a bit more firm, if that’s your preference.

Editor’s Pick:
“The smoked whole turkey leg at Southern Rail looks like something you’d find at a Renaissance fair, and tastes like something you’d find in foodie heaven. The meat is deliciously smoky, and so tender it slides right off the bone.”
Gold: Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Comments: A pulled squash sandwich may sound like a gimmick, but the tender squash’s texture is similar to pulled pork, and the barbecue sauce adds touches of sweetness and smokiness. This is as close as you can get to the barbecue taste experience without meat. 



Naked BBQ
Want a true Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich? Try one topped with Naked’s eye-watering Carolina Slaw. Be sure to bring plenty of tissues.


Honey Bear’s BBQ
Perfectly cooked and with just the right amount of saltiness and bitter bite. 

Editor’s Pick: 
“Okra’s Calabrian pork bites and greens are sinfully good.” 
– Leah LeMoine

Mac and cheese

Honey Bear’s BBQ

Why complicate a classic? Honey Bear’s (multiple locations, honeybearsbbq.com) keeps it simple with just five ingredients: macaroni, Velveeta, butter, salt and pepper. Creamy, rich and delicious.

Editor’s Pick: 
“The green chili mac and cheese at Bitter & Twisted – studded with smoky bacon and served in a small cast-iron bowl – is so good it goes beyond ‘comfort food’ and into the realm of straight-up hedonism.” 
– Niki D’Andrea

Barbecue beans

Danky’s Bar-B-Q
Kidney beans slowly simmered with smoked pork belly, onions, vinegar, mustard and some secret ingredients straddle the line between sweet and savory.

Editor’s Pick:
“I’ll go to Honey Bear’s BBQ for the beans alone... delicious, smoky and chockablock with hot link meat.”
– Craig Outhier 

Potato salad

Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue
Skip the typical mustard-heavy versions. Bryan’s uses chunks of baked potato with a refreshingly light mix of mayo, sour cream, green onion and dill. 



Texas BBQ House
Texas Cream Corn, sweet corn soaked in butter and heavy cream with a slight bite of jalapeño, is almost addictive. Referred to by some as “corn soup.”


Little Miss BBQ
If you’re not from the South, you probably think grits taste pretty bland. Little Miss solves this with a lot of cheddar cheese and some jalapeño.




When Scott and Bekke Holmes opened Little Miss BBQ in 2014, the run-down, 800-square-foot building south of Phoenix Sky Harbor had no walk-in cooler. As a result, the Phoenix couple were forced to make everything fresh every day and throw away any food that didn’t sell – a rare occurrence given the near-constant lines of people who usually devour the last of the delicious smoked meats and sides by mid-afternoon.

Last November, Scott Holmes was among a group of seven Arizona chefs invited to cook at the James Beard House in New York, one of the culinary world’s top honors. This year, Little Miss BBQ was named one of the Top 100 Places in the U.S. to Eat by Yelp and one of the top 50 barbecue spots in the country by Thrillist. They finally have their cooler. But it’s useless as ever.

Everyone is wondering: Do you have any plans to cook more barbecue in order to extend Little Miss BBQ’s hours?

No. My problem is capacity. The issue with barbecue is a lot of people can cook meat to where it’s really, really good. The issue is holding it. Holding it is the evil of barbecue. Usually the longer you hold it, the worse it gets.


Is the lack of capacity your biggest challenge right now?

My No. 1 concern is always quality – quality of the products we’re using, quality of how well we’re cooking it. That’s what keeps me awake at night. I’ve been [out of state] for four days, and I was up at 4 o’clock this morning just thinking about this place.


Even after all the accolades and awards?

It’s worse now. When we first opened, it was like, ‘‘Cool, let’s just do what we do. People will either like it or they won’t.’’ There were no crazy Yelp reviews, no PHOENIX magazine or Arizona Republic reviews. Now there’s the built-up hype. You look at some of our Yelp reviews and people expect us to change their lives.


Last year, Aaron Franklin from Texas became the first pitmaster to win the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest. Do you think you could follow in his footsteps some day?

Aaron Franklin changed the game of barbecue in Texas. He changed it pretty much everywhere. He’s taken barbecue and made it hip and cool. I don’t have that kind of influence. A lot of people mistakenly think I’ve worked for Franklin. I’ve eaten there twice.

There are a lot of different barbecue styles. Could there ever be such a thing as Arizona-style barbecue?

I don’t think so. (Pauses.) I’m trying to imagine what it might be. If Arizona were ever to come up with its own style, it would probably be more of an asadero [grill] style, similar to what’s done in Argentina or Uruguay. Or like in Mexico, where you’re cooking whole pigs and whole goats over an open fire, but you somehow serve it differently.


Could such a thing take off? Arizona doesn’t exactly have a national reputation for barbecue – or even  food in general.

I think part of the problem for Arizona is: What cool events do we have for all the big food writers to come to? Devoured maybe? We have the Super Bowl every 10 years. We don’t have a South by Southwest or an Austin City Limits. All these people go to Austin every year for those big events and they check out the restaurants. So I think part of it is how cool are we as a city.


And Phoenix just isn’t a cool city to food writers?

I love Phoenix, but we don’t have the big draw to get these writers coming out here all the time. Until we become more of a destination for food – I think possibly we’re slowly becoming one – I don’t know if it’s gonna happen.




Joe Johnston
He may be the Joe in Joe’s Real BBQ, the iconic Gilbert eatery that laid the foundation of the Valley’s barbecue scene when it opened in 1998, but “I do not do true barbecue at home,” restaurateur Joe Johnston says. “It’s too difficult to do really, really well.” The Johnstons get their barbecue from the restaurant – including a smoked turkey for Thanksgiving – and stick to grilling at home. Johnston chatted with us about his go-to summer foods to grill, pairing wine with barbecue and his ideal barbecue plate.

The Perfect Plate
“Our beans are outstanding. They’re not vegetarian by any means because they have chunks of meat in them. I also like the textural juxtaposition of coleslaw. We have creamy coleslaw that has caraway seeds in it because I like that flavor. My normal plate is that with a turkey breast. And then I like jalapeños and I like mixed peppers. We have a marinated onion thing that’s got marinated onions with thyme and red wine vinegar and oil and sugar and it’s delicious. I love that stuff.” 


Grilling with Joe
What’s on the barbie at Casa de Johnston? More than burgers and hot dogs, that’s for sure.
“We sous vide organic chicken breasts with olive oil and Middle Eastern herbs – typically za’atar or salt and pepper plus oregano. 
I also like to add sweet paprika and turmeric for color.” 
“We grow organic vegetables in our garden and also from The Farm at Agritopia. I like grilling vegetables myself.” Some Johnston family favorites: tomatoes (“blister them and make salsa”), fennel (“keep the root piece intact so it’s still holding together”) and eggplant (“that whole Mediterranean swath of stuff right now is what’s, to me, the season as it warms up”).
Grape leaves
“My wife Cindy is Lebanese, so one technique one can use is to wrap grape leaves [around] your proteins and then grill them. They have a vegetal, lemony flavor.” 

Wine it Up
“Of course, one should always consider wine with barbecue,” Johnston says. His favorite Arizona wines to pair with the smoky stuff – “because we need to be supporting Arizona” – are a quaffable bunch.  

Chicken or Turkey

Dos Cabezas WineWorks Pink
“It’s the best summer wine ever, and if you happen to get their pink [rosé] that was actually carbonated – if you can break out the sparkling can of that, that would be a great thing.” 

Brisket or Steak

Chateau Tumbleweed Uncle Tannat
“Tannat is the grape of Uruguay, and Arizona might be the best place to grow it in the world. It might be our Cabernet Sauvignon, that kind of bold flavor. I would do it with any of the red meats.”


Dos Cabezas WineWorks Toscano
“Really good with grilled meats. The Dos Cabezas Toscano was the first Arizona wine I tasted and said, ‘You know what? They can make really good wine here in Arizona.’ I tasted it at Pizzeria Bianco several years ago and it opened up my eyes.”

Fish or Veggies 

Chateau Tumbleweed Arneis
“I would still go with the [Dos Cabezas] rosé, but I also think that Chateau Tumbleweed’s Arneis – it’s a varietal from northern Italy, the Piedmont region – would be delicious. It would be fantastic.”




Chef Justin Beckett 

As a student of Southern cuisine and foodways, Chef Justin Beckett (Beckett’s Table, Southern Rail) spends a lot of time thinking about barbecue. “The thing that I think is interesting about smoking is just because you can cook, doesn’t mean you know anything about barbecuing or smoking.” He gave us the meaty lowdown on grilling animal proteins.   


Tips & Tricks 


“Have a plan” for your protein, Beckett says. “If you’re going to make tacos, the meat you would choose is very different than if you’re going to have asparagus, potatoes au gratin and a steak. If it’s something that is leaner and tougher, from a muscle that is more used from the animal, you’re going to want to cook it for a longer period of time. Plan on slicing it thin, against the grain.” 


 “You gotta start with a super hot flame or super hot coals. The whole idea is that you’re trying to sear the outside of the protein so that it creates this barrier on the outside and all the juices stay inside.”


“I use salt and pepper all the time, and then if you want to get thematic with the burger you can go to whatever flavors you want. One thing we do at both Beckett’s Table and Southern Rail is we grind bacon into our burger. The classic blend is 80 percent meat, 20 percent fat, which gives you a nice, juicy burger. We take that same ratio and then we add another 20 percent of bacon into it, so it’s a flavor and it’s also fat to help keep the burger juicy.”


“Have a hot zone and a cooler zone [on your grill]. If you try to cook a nice, thick steak on a really hot zone, it’s going to burn and char. Start it on high heat and move to the cooler side [to finish].” After chicken gets grill marks, remove it and finish it in a cool area of the grill or pop it in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until cooked through but not dried out.


“Don’t poke the meat. Don’t stick your fork – those grilling forks – [in] the meat, because you’re trying to keep those juices inside.”


“Let whatever you’re cooking rest. A thin burger, it may not be so crucial, but if you have a nice, juicy 8 oz. burger or a steak or a whole chicken, you absolutely need to give it minutes and minutes of just sitting at room temperature relaxing. If you ever cut a steak and it bleeds all over the cutting board, that’s a non-rested steak. You should cut a steak and it should not bleed. All the juices should stay inside the protein.”

Don’t feel like cooking?
Reap the benefits of Beckett’s smoky scholarship with the BBQ and Bourbon special at Southern Rail on Monday and Tuesday nights, which includes two bourbon shots (or two bourbon cocktails) and a platter of barbecue (two to three proteins plus sides) for $20. 

Olive Salad

1/4 cup each, diced small: pickled carrots, pickled cauliflower, pickled onions, pickled celery
1 tbsp. roasted garlic, diced small 
1/2 cup green olives, diced small 
2 tbsp. capers
1/2 tsp. chile flakes
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Combine all ingredients and let marinate overnight or up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 cups.

Muffuletta Burgers

“The muffuletta burger is a fantastic combination of our classic BT burger and a muffuletta sandwich, inspired by the famous sandwich from Central Grocery in New Orleans,” Beckett says.


1 lb. ground beef, 80/20 blend
A few slices of raw bacon, chilled and ground
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices provolone cheese
Combine all ingredients except cheese. Form 4 patties and keep cold until ready to cook. Sear patties on high heat on the grill or in a pan on the stove. Flip and top with cheese and allow it to melt. Cook to desired doneness.

Creole Mayo

1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp. hot sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pinch cayenne powder
2 tbsp. Cajun/Creole spice 
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. Can be made ahead and kept in refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 1 cup.

Burger assembly
4 sesame brioche buns, toasted and buttered
4 slices each: mortadella, salami, fresh tomato
Slather top buns with mayo and olive salad. Layer tomatoes, burgers and meats on bottom buns and close the sandwiches. Serves 4.




Chef Eric Ramirez

“Everybody’s afraid of it until they try it,” Chef Eric Ramirez of Little Cleo’s Seafood Legend says of grilling seafood. He says the key is to get your grill hot enough that it sears the seafood quickly, without drying it out. “That’s the biggest tool: preheating. People get impatient. People want to turn it on and just start grilling, and then their food sticks and they wonder why,” Ramirez says. “People tend to want to cook their fish until it’s dry, until it separates. You don’t really want to do that. You lose moisture, you lose flavor, then you’re relying on everything else around it to taste good.” He shared his foolproof fish tips – and a recipe for advanced seafood grilling – with us.


Tips & Tricks


“Always use high heat,” Ramirez says. “It’s going to sear it immediately, it’s going to not stick. If it’s charcoal, plan two hours in advance.”


He recommends marinating seafood for only an hour or two before grilling. Any longer and “the acids, the sugars and the salts will definitely start cooking your fish.”

“You can grill almost anything,” Ramirez says. Some of his favorite preparations:

Crab legs:“Crab legs come out so much better on the grill as opposed to just steaming them. You get that char and that smoke. Slap ‘em straight on [the grill], frozen.” 
Tuna: “Sear it until it’s rare.”
Halibut: “You’re going to want to cook to a little bit more than a medium.”
Oysters:“Shuck ‘em, flip ‘em, throw some garlic butter or a Rockefeller cream [sauce on them] and set ‘em on a grill, close the lid, and they kind of naturally bake themselves with that smoke and char.”
Scallops:He prefers a lightly grilled scallop crudo. “They’re literally kissed on the grill. Still cold, still raw. Slice them once they cool and plate them.”
Shrimp:“Chile and mint is one of the best combinations ever,” he says. “The sweetness of the shrimp, you get a little bit of chile, a little bit of garlic, and then the mint just comes in and cools it all down. It keeps you wanting to come back.



Grilled Octopus 

“We do serve the heads on,” Ramirez says of this Spanish-inspired dish. “People think it’s kind of weird, but it’s just as tender as any other part of the octopus.”

Grilled Octopus

1/2 ½ oz. whole baby octopus, marinated
1/4 tsp. and a pinch of kosher salt
2 turns of freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. salsa
3 pieces gorditas*
1 tsp. pickled red onions with juice
3 pieces watercress
5 pieces radishes, sliced in 
1/8-inch rounds
1/2½ tsp. extra virgin olive oil

Octopus Marinade

1/2 tbsp. each: scallions and serrano peppers
1/4 tbsp. each: cilantro leaves and garlic, tips removed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
5 turns of freshly ground black pepper

Toss scallions in a little oil and salt. Char on grill until soft. Char peppers on grill until soft, remove seeds and leave skin on. Combine all ingredients in blender and purée. 


Pickled Red Onion

1 small red onion, sliced in 1/4-inch pieces
1/2½ cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in large pot. Bring to a simmer; remove from heat. Place pot in ice bath (large pot or tub of ice water), being careful not to submerge. Once cool, transfer to a jar.



1/2½ cup roma tomato, charred on grill
5 stalks green onions, tossed with oil and charred on grill
2 tbsp. yellow onions, charred on grill

1/4 tsp. serrano peppers, charred on grill
1/8 tsp. cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. kosher salt 
1/8 tsp. garlic
1/2 cup water

Place all ingredients in a large pot. Simmer over low heat until all vegetables are tender and water is reduced by half. Purée with immersion blender until fairly smooth. Adjust seasoning if needed.



Place octopus in marinade for 1-2 hours. Remove, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Place on grill and char well on all sides. In a small bowl combine pickled onions, watercress, radishes, oil and pinch of salt. To plate, spoon salsa in the center of dish, randomly place pieces of fried gordita, grilled octopus and salad components. Serves 1.

*To make gorditas: Buy prepared masa from your favorite Mexican grocer or restaurant and fry little rounds in medium-hot oil until crisp.



Chef Damon Brasch

“Steaks are boring,” Green New American Vegetarian chef/owner Damon Brasch says with a laugh. “It’s very easy to make a steak taste delicious. You put a little bit of butter, a little bit of salt and Bob’s your uncle, you’re done. It takes a little bit more coaxing to get vegetables to really bring out those fun flavors.” In a meat-dominated cuisine like barbecue, that coaxing is appreciated by vegetarians and vegans, who are too often relegated to composing meals of uninspired salads and side dishes at gatherings. Brasch gave us his tips for amping up the flavors of grilled vegetables and developed a showstopping vegan main dish with many levels of grilled flavor, from hearty portobello mushroom fillets to a charred onion and garbanzo bean sauce. 

Tips & Tricks 

“Get things that are really hearty and that can stand up to a grill. Portobellos and any kind of mushrooms are fantastic as a substitute for meat. I grill whatever is looking good at the farmers’ market.”

 “I find that whenever I go out [for] barbecued vegetables, there’s a constant flaw, and that’s under-seasoning,” Brasch says. “We use lots of rubs and hot peppers and barbecue sauce. When you’re barbecuing veggies, go heavy on that seasoning.

 “I think a couple of hours is totally sufficient” so that veggies absorb flavor but don’t surrender to sogginess. “Play around with marinades. You can use alcohol in marinades, which is really fun, different types of bourbons. You can use lots of different kinds of citrus.”

 “We’ve come a long way as far as mock meats,” he says. “Upton’s [Naturals] carries some fantastic seitan [wheat gluten] products. Field Roast makes really great things. It’s not the ‘nature burger’ of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Gardein makes a ‘Beast Burger’ and it’s a hearty, meaty burger.”

Brasch recommends olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil. “These are all high-heat oils. I try to just use fresh-pressed-type oils.”  

“A nice grilled chard or some dinosaur kale tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper” makes for a great salad, Brasch says. Grilling “adds that robust flavor you can’t really duplicate anywhere else. Daikon radish is fantastic grilled. As it cooks, it gets sweeter in flavor. Watermelon radish is really good.” 



Grilled Portobellos with Charred Onion Shiro and Barbecue Lentils

“My favorite type of food is Ethiopian food, so this is a little bit of an homage,” Brasch says. “A lot of Ethiopian dishes use berbere spice, which is akin to, I think, a barbecue-type rub.”

Barbecue Lentils

4 cups water
2 cups red lentils, rinsed

1/2 cup barbecue sauce (homemade or a bottle of your favorite)
2 tsp. each: salt and paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tbsp. fresh garlic, minced 

In a large pot, bring water, garlic, sauce and spices to a boil. Add lentils and boil for 5 minutes. Lower flame, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Charred Onion Shiro

1 white onion, sliced and grilled until charred on all sides
1 whole tomato, charred on grill

1/4 cup each: olive oil and water
3 tbsp. berbere (Ethiopian chili powder)
1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained

Place all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Cook in a small pot on a medium flame/heat for 10 minutes.


Grilled Portobellos and Grilled Corn

4 portobello mushrooms, sliced into 1/4¼-inch fillets
2 cobs of corn, shucked

1/2 cup olive oil 
1 tsp. each: black pepper and red pepper flakes
3 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce*

Grill corn until nice and charred and remove from cob. Grill portobello fillets about two minutes on each side on a red-hot grill. Combine olive oil, black and red pepper and Worcestershire sauce.



Divide lentils evenly among four plates. Artfully top each lentil mound with equally divided amounts of charred onion shiro. Top with portobellos and corn. Garnish with some microgreens and diced bell pepper. Serves 4.

*Vegan Worcestershire sauce can be found in most markets these days. Unlike traditional Worcestershire, the vegan version is anchovy-free and so much more delicious.




Chef Helen Yung

Sweet Republic co-owner Helen Yung didn’t grow up going to backyard barbecues. “Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m living in a house with a backyard. Growing up in high rises in Hong Kong, that seemed like a whole other world,” Yung says. After investing in a grill a few years ago, she began experimenting with grilled fruit to incorporate into her ice cream concoctions. “The first [fruits] I grilled were peaches,” she says. “It came out delicious. The color, the flavor, they both work so well together. When you grill fruit, it caramelizes the sugars in the fruits and changes the flavor profiles.” She gave us a handy how-to for grilling fruit and for pairing those grilled goodies with ice cream and sorbet for summer desserts. “I think it’s just a quick, fancy dessert. You have ice cream in your freezer, you always have some fruit,” Yung says. “Throw it together and it looks really impressive. And it’s healthy. To me, ice cream is healthy.”



Grilled Fruit and Ice Cream Pairings 


“Piña colada was my inspiration. There’s a tropical feel to it. The coconut sorbet is dairy-free and so is the basil-lime sorbet, so anyone who is vegan or dairy-free can eat it. Sometimes in the summer you want to get away from the cream, so sorbets are much more cooling and refreshing. Coconut is very creamy, so you can almost not tell it has no dairy, it’s so creamy.”


“Watermelon is kind of a light, refreshing fruit, so I wanted to pair it with something else that was light and refreshing. Ice cream would be overkill on watermelon. I thought basil-lime sorbet would be [the] perfect pairing for that. The acidity and herbaceousness of the sorbet would contrast really well with the refreshing watermelon.”


“Peaches and cream is just classic, so vanilla ice cream and peaches – you just have to do it. You can always add a little bit of nuts or a little oat crumble. I’m thinking of crumbles – peach crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.”



Tips & Tricks


 “The more sugar the fruit has, the more char you’ll get. Pineapples always grill up the best, I think, because they’re sturdy, too. All the fibers hold it together. I heard that bananas are terrible because it just falls apart,” she says. Have some fruit that isn’t quite ripe yet? “That’s another good excuse to grill it. It makes it a little sweeter and softer, too.” 


“I would go as high as you can because you’re not trying to cook the fruit all the way through, you’re just trying to give that outside char and caramelize it.” She recommends preheating your grill to 500 degrees. “The hotter, the better, I think.”


 “It’s fun to give it some flavor,” she says. “For the watermelon I did a little bit of a spicy glaze: lime, honey and chile.” For peaches and pineapple, she recommends “brown sugar and rum and vanilla. I think it helps with the grilling, too.”


Yung recommends topping grilled fruit and ice cream with crunchy add-ons like nuts, toffee, candied bacon, oats and granola. “Contrasts are so important for the eating experience because they keep your palate intrigued so you want more. It can be temperature, texture, flavor or, ideally, all three.”



Summer Cooking: Beverage Edition
Joshua James takes his backyard tippling seriously. Though he makes his living running the cocktail program at modern-Asian hotspot Clever Koi, James is also a trained chef, and brings a culinary sensitivity to the art of barbecue-beverage pairings. Even when it’s burgers and brews.
Basic Rules

Pilsners and blonde ales
“Obviously, light-bodied beers are great with grilled food. You don’t want a stout with [grilled] chicken.”

Rum and gin
“Those are my favorite spirits to work with when you’re mixing outdoors.”

Two-ingredient cocktails
“Vodka and Schweppes soda [water] is a favorite. So are Cuba Libres... just Mexican Coke and rum with a twist of lime. It’s a great cruiser cocktail.” James prefers Cuban rum and other styles derived from sugar cane, as opposed to the heavier, more brooding molasses-based rums made in English-speaking Caribbean nations like Jamaica.


Little Shiva

Grilling carne asada or whipping up a bowl of guac? James offers this tiki-style tequila sipper.

2 oz. Patrón Silver Tequila 100% de Agave
3/4 oz. lime juice
3/4 oz. orgeat
1/4 oz. St. George raspberry brandy
3 or 4 fresh blackberries

Muddle blackberries at the bottom of a highball glass and pack with crushed ice. Put remaining ingredients into shaker with one ice cube and shake vigorously, pouring over the crushed ice. 

Top with mint sprigs and a dash of Peychaud’s bitters.

License to Drive 

It’s common knowledge, or should be: Bourbon and barbecue go great together. James likes to pair this genius-level mixology concoction with grilled and/or smoked meats. 

1 1/2 oz. Rittenhouse Rye
3/4 oz. Solera 1847 Cream Sherry
3/4 oz. Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and stir. Strain into a highball glass with fancy ice. Garnish with an orange twist. 

Backyard refreshment needn’t entail alcohol.*

For a non-buzz-imparting thirst-quencher, True Food Kitchen beverage manager Jon Augustin suggests pomegranate limeade. The secret ingredient: chia seeds, which are sky-high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. “They also help keep you hydrated,” Augustin says. “It looks like a bunch of fireflies in the glass.” foxrc.com

Pomegranate Limeade 
16 oz. lime juice
1 1/2 ½cups sugar
1/4 cup chia seeds
20 oz. pomegranate juice

In a jug or beverage dispenser, dissolve sugar in one quart of hot water. Add lime juice, chia seeds and pomegranate juice, and fill to 1-gallon mark with cold water. Let seeds infuse for 24 hours before serving. Makes one gallon. 

*Or does it? For insistent buzz-seekers, Augustin suggests vodka as an additive for the limeade.




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