Surrounded by the laughter of little ones running through a sprinkler, and the drops of sunlight making rainbows in the mist, is the aroma of barbecue. Glowing charcoal embers under a metal rack can form the apex to a perfect summer day. Burgers, hotdogs, corn, and kabobs can tie together a gathering and sear the juicy happiness into the day. Whether in the backyard or at a summer festival, the grill has become the hallmark of the season.
Barbecue aficionado Robert Dempsey, president of Fay’s Pork Chop Bar-B-Que, knows a thing or two about grilling. Fay’s has been a family business for 53 years and takes it pretty seriously, producing 50, 100, 500 or 1,000 meals at a given event. Catering to charity fundraisers and the regulars at suburban festivals and fairs for decades, Fay’s is a committed charcoal enthusiast, the choice for the company’s famous pork chops since the business began.
“We have been grilling over charcoal for 53 years. I would not consider gas - except for hamburgers or hot dogs. The flavor is just not the same.”
The difference is in the smoke produced by the charcoal and the length of time foods spend on the grill. Foods like hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken don’t spend as much time as steaks, pork chops and potatoes. As a result, people are hard pressed to decipher a flavor difference in hot dogs (for example) cooked on either a charcoal or gas grill. Foods that cook longer are granted the opportunity to absorb the smoke and really deliver a distinct flavor punch. It’s possible to get some smoke with a gas grill by utilizing soaked woodchips, but some people argue that the smoke production is negligible. Regardless of the actual flavor difference between cooking on certain grills, many people simply prefer charcoal because its rustic roots help it feel more authentic.
Another common dilemma at the grill – to sauce, or not to sauce? Dempsey says he prefers a spice rub, and indeed the Fay’s flavor has become almost legendary across Illinois.
“We grill primarily pork chops and quarters of chicken - using only a powdered spice rub which we apply in batches of 35 in a tumbling drum to ‘massage’ it in. It then sits until we need it.”
If you, like most folks, don’t have the tumbling drum out on the patio, don’t despair. The average griller can get similar results by placing the meat on a cookie sheet, sprinkling on the spice, and then rubbing it in gently on both sides.
“Let it sit while you build the fire and get the grill hot – 15 to 20 minutes,” he says. “The salt in the spice will pull some moisture from the meat and now appear as a juicy paste on the surface. Place the meat on the grill at medium heat. Warm each side twice for 30 seconds to move the flavor into the meat. Now you are ready to grill.
Dempsey recommends turning the meat every 3 to 5 minutes so keep the whole piece moist and delicious.
“If grill is too hot, or meat is not turned soon enough, the meat will dry out and be hard to eat,” he advises.
Dempsey weighed in on grilling vegetables, “The only vegies we grill are as kabobs. I drill a small hole in carrots and potatoes if they keep splitting.”
Now that your main course is cooking, it’s time to get started on the sides, and nothing meets with meat like kabobs. A fun way to cook many bite-sized pieces of vegetables all at once, a kabob allows you to skewer nearly anything you want: pineapple, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms and squash are some examples. They can be marinated and grilled just like meats.
Off the kabob, potatoes and green beans can be wrapped in tin foil packets with butter and herbs and set on the grill beside the meat. The seasonings will saturate the veggies and it will be a delicious side to more traditional grilled foods,” he says.