Enjoying the summer

So, now that summer has begun, I’m certain most people are excited for the cool nights spent by a campfire, surrounded by friends and family!

I’m going to go over a few things that could help make this summer the best one yet. One of the more important aspects of a cookout is organization. There’s no better place to start than with the way your home is set up.

Do you own your home AND have a back yard? If you do, then go ahead and cheer quietly as you read about tips for you, and then tips for people who are nothing like you [as in, they rent, and/or have no back yard].

Layout the available space

So, the first thing you’ll want to do is get a good idea of how much space there is to create the perfect outdoor zone to host some great summer memories.

What kind of yard do you have?

No yard at all?

That’s no reason to cancel the summer and sulk indoors about your boring life. This is the perfect opportunity to flex your creative mind, and come up with a solution! Here are some suggestions:

  • If you rent an apartment unit, you’ll want to evaluate the space you have. Is there a small “community area” at your apartment complex?
    If this is the case, you can ask your landlord(s) if a grill and a couple of chairs would be okay to set up in this community area. [If you have good neighbors, you could even share the cost and use of the equipment].
  • If you have a deck, then for safety reasons, you’ll probably not want to keep a grill up there. However, just below the deck (if it’s tall), there should be a space at the ground level near the deck that a grill or cooker would not be in the way. Then set up the deck furniture to eat up there after the food has cooked!
  • If you have neither a deck, patio area, nor any space to cook outdoors, it may be best to invest in a portable/tabletop grill that utilizes charcoal OR one of those compact propane tanks.
  • The final option is to invest in some good cast iron pans and utensils specially made for them so you can cook “BBQ food” (Burgers, chicken, hot dogs, vegan/vegetarian options, etc) on your range/stove inside.
    This option is the least attractive option, but it will do if you are limited and still want to enjoy the summer foods many of us have come to love.

So you DO have a yard? That’s great!

Alright, now we’re getting into some good language! Time to break out the shovels, tile saw, mortar, and stones or bricks!

I’m talking about a patio and cooking PIT!

For those of you out there who watched “Home Improvement” the television show, you’ll know what the quintessential “man’s BBQ” looks like.

A wide, beautifully made patio with porcelain, ceramic, or quarry tiles [or even some type of block/brick construction], bordered with either wood, or decorative tile/brick.

In the middle of this patio should sit a large brick smoker/BBQ pit. (Oh, the things we could do with the right amount of yard).

If you own your home, then you can go nuts here if you want! Either hire a professional to create this dream party area, or throw on your DIY belt, and get to the drafting board. I recommend sketching out a few designs in simple blueprints (yes, with real measurements, no it doesn’t have to be perfectly to scale).

It all comes down to preference in this situation, where if you prefer a large square, or rectangle, or some other random shape if that makes you happy.

Point is, get the patio or ground-level deck laid out somehow because nobody wants to move their cooker out of the way to cut the grass underneath it (that’s just too much like work, and that’s not what summer is about).

All of this patio talk is making me hungry. Let’s move onto the most important part of the party.

THE COOKER!

There are so many options when it comes to this. If you want the full history of the evolution of BBQing, check out this article on Popular Mechanics. I’ll go over my personal list of options below:

  1. The Original In this option, you could use 2 cement blocks and a wire grate… Yeah, it’s really that simple. However, unless you have a degree in engineering (or you’re a hillbilly), then you’ll be limited to charcoal as your cooking source here. Hooking up propane burners here is going to be like putting lipstick on a pig.
  2. The Drunk Uncle This option has a name that’s befitting of 80% of BBQs that took place in the 1990s. It’s just a round grill with a dome lid. (Could even be an overpriced Weber Original Premium Charcoal Grill from the local hardware store). Paired with some original charcoal briquettes, smothered in lighter fluid; This is why it’s called the drunk uncle. Lighter fluid + beer + summer feels = HILARIOUS… Or was it Hazardous?… It’s one of those “H” words. Either way, all of your food is going to taste like lighter fluid.
  3. The Reformed Minister This here is where comfort comes from. This could be a charcoal grill and smoker combo. It’s a glorious thing; and the cook will be using the match-light charcoal briquettes without the added lighter fluid. MMM MMM Good. Nothing tastes as good as food cooked on quality charcoal or wood.
  4. Your Dad works too much We all know what a propane grill looks like. It’s not flashy, it’s not impressive, but it certainly cooks food. This is going to be the most common cooker you’ll come across these days. With the world as busy as it is, and the convenience and health benefits offered by a clean burning propane heat source… Come on, it’s a no-brainer. Plus these can be all shapes and sizes with prices from under $50 to thousands of dollars depending on the brand and features.

What about the heating source? What’s the deal?

The point of outdoor cooking is to enjoy the weather while not heating up your entire home while the air conditioning system is struggling to keep the xbox and leather sofa nice and cool.

So, there’s 2 really basic options, and some more advanced options that I won’t go into detail about because they’re less common.

Propane

This is the most popular option in this day and age because it’s readily available, easy to use, and is a clean burning heating source.

In the 1960s, propane was popularized to get consumers to use more natural gas in their daily lives. So a charcoal grill was retrofitted with a small propane tank and burners to cook over.

Propane is a three-carbon alkane with the molecular formula C₃H₈. It’s a gas at standard temperature and pressure, but can be compressed into a liquid. It’s classified as a “liquified petroleum gas”.

Sounds out of this world, but it is literally “of this world” as it’s a natural gas produced through refining natural resources from Earth.

More strangely, it smells like human gas, but it leaves no added taste on food when used as a cooking source. That’s pretty neat.

Charcoal

This is not only a personal favorite for summer cookouts, but it’s a family tradition in many homes.

The grill is almost sacred to people in parts of the United States, and it’s used as a test of manhood as sons grow up. Fathers pass down their secret seasonings and tricks to their aspiring youngsters.

With the first reported BBQ in the world being reported in the 1500s from a Spanish explorer in the West Indies, the cooking source has evolved. But at a basic form, charcoal still holds this primitive use.

Charcoal is simply put: burnt wood in the absence of oxygen. It’s lit to produce a fire, which of course produces heat to cook on.

When using briquettes (which are compressed wood by-products with additives that help them become more flammable, which in term makes them easier to light).

It’s an art to use charcoal, since stacking it differently produces different heat distribution within the grill. It’s important to test out different methods to see what works best for the food you’re cooking.

I typically will create “zones”, where the coals are on one side of the grill, and the other side is empty. Which gives a place for the food to sit and cook slowly instead of in direct heat. Direct heat will dry out meat more quickly, which leaves a leathery texture to most foods.

Above all, enjoy yourself!

It doesn’t matter where you’re cooking, or what you’re cooking on.

The purpose to gathering for a meal is to enjoy the company of those you’re with. So, set down the cellphone for an afternoon, and reconnect with your great aunt Hildie.

In the long run, you’ll be thankful for the memories created at a family supper, or even one mixed with people from your neighborhood.

You’ll have a good time if you want to have a good time. On that same note, it’s easy to have a bad time if that’s what you plan to have.

For those who are going to meet up with some friends, family or a bunch of strangers for the 4th of July in the US, raise a glass up for me, Freedom wasn’t always free.

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