It’s kind of the beginning of what many consider grilling season. I never take a break from the charcoal, propane and wood chips, but Memorial Day stands out as the first holiday of the year with the menu based around the barbecue grill.
For kids still in school it’s the last day off, while mom and dad usually get a free day with pay. So if the weather is nice the entire family may as well get all of the cooking done outdoors in the fresh air and vitamin D. If the storm clouds gather in your backyard, then you’d best have a Plan B.
Smoking, grilling, frying and boiling is perfectly acceptable on rainy days if you’re safe about it. Giant umbrellas, roof overhangs and the like are friends of the Stormy Monday grillers as long as you can avoid any circumstances that could cause asphyxiation. Don’t bring your grill inside and put a fan in the window. Don’t cook inside your garage. Carbon monoxide is actually odorless but in this case could taste delicious. Don’t fall prey to that temptation. Stay ventilated, keep the fire extinguisher handy and never drink too much to clean up.
When you say Memorial Day, I usually think of hot dogs and burgers. All well and good, but let’s think outside the box. A crawfish boil would be nice. It’s so communal, a group of people standing in a circle around a trash can, pinching tails, sucking heads and swapping stories about fallen military heroes. It never gets old for me.
Let’s say you do go the hot dog route. I love cooking hot dogs in the crawfish boil. As a dual purpose to include those who can’t eat the mudbugs, there are all kinds of things you can throw in a boil. But let’s not skimp on the wieners. I have my favorites. I love the local Hall’s red hots. Don’t forget about those guys from Chickasaw and all their sausages and garlic bologna. It’s great stuff.
More commercially, my kids and I have found what we think is the greatest hot dog on the market. We are a Nathan’s all-beef skinless franks family. I’ve finally convinced Rob to get on board the train. I’ll warn you, once you are on it’s hard to turn back. A second favorite is the Hebrew National.
When it comes to burgers you could go classic or get a little adventurous, but for God’s sake don’t let me catch you using a donut instead of a bun or frying a piece of pizza and all that ridiculous stuff. At some point a hamburger ceases to be a hamburger.
For me, the alternate path to Burgerville would be using ground lamb or turkey for a Mediterranean flavor. Mix in crumbled feta with your meat prior to grilling. Tzatziki sauce made from scratch is easy to execute and goes great with thinly sliced cucumbers as an unusual condiment. Pay attention to the bread aisle and find some really good buns or the effect will diminish greatly.
Speaking of Mediterranean, there is nothing wrong with shish kebabs. I’ve always loved cooking these things. In my youth Cliff Fulkerson and I would wow our friends by marinating the meat and veggies prior to lighting the fire. The dumbest mistake we ever made was purchasing stew meat. We thought that would save us a step in cutting, but it’s way too tough. You’d have to boil it before grilling. Find a decent steak and start there.
My neighbors already have corn as high as my chest so I am sure there are regional varieties already producing ears. That is a real sign of summer, fresh corn from your garden and my mom’s corn salad recipe. She uses canned white shoepeg corn when the real deal isn’t around. Chopped fresh tomatoes, green onions and a healthy dollop of mayonnaise with lots of black pepper keep this dish on my short list for warmer parties. It’s best if it chills overnight. Turn it into an entrée by adding chilled boiled shrimp.
If you do have corn on the cob fresh and in the husk, grilling is a great alternative to boiling. I peel back the green stuff and remove the silk. Then I slather it with melted butter, salt and pepper before closing the husks back to their original form. On a hot grill it may take them 20-30 minutes to get done. Don’t freak out about the husk charring — it protects the corn. But be sure to move them around every few minutes for even cooking.
I probably eat more avocados than I ever have in my life. There is so much you can do with them for a refreshingly chilled entrée or side. Stuffing them with shrimp is a trend. My latest obsession is a dish served at Dority’s Grill on Dauphin Island, where they batter and deep fry slices of avocado and serve them with spicy jalapeño ranch. Of course homemade guacamole is almost unbeatable, but the avocado is so much more versatile than I once thought.
Seared tuna so rare it’s still mooing is nothing to me until it has fresh (not pickled) jalapeños, sliced avocado and soy sauce. If you cook it on the grill make sure the heat is as high as it can go. You’ll want to cook it as quickly as possible, just a little on each side.
Dessert is going to have to be cold fruit and vanilla ice cream. The watermelons from the grocery I’ve had are just now starting to get sweet. Sliced and sprinkled with feta cheese, perhaps garnished with a little mint, it could be an appetizer or a dessert. For more of an adult theme, let us hearken back to our college days where watermelon was made for spiking. Cut a small hole and insert a liter of vodka. Eat with caution.
Take a moment or two and remember someone as you light that grill. Eat like there’s no tomorrow. Someday there won’t be.