A cut of meat sizzling over a flaming grill

South Central Texas’ long, hot summer is in full swing, and now’s the perfect time to move the cooking from the kitchen to the backyard — especially since July has been designated National Grilling Month.

Not surprisingly, Independence Day is deemed the most popular grilling holiday, followed by Memorial Day and then Labor Day.

Whether using propane gas or old-fashioned charcoal briquettes with chips of aromatic wood tossed in for good measure, food always seems to taste better when cooked al fresco.

Backyard barbecuers are urged to enjoy extended daylight hours along with the benefits of grilled foods.

According to luvafoodie.com, compared to frying and baking, grilling produces healthier food because the cooking process doesn’t promote the loss of vitamins and minerals. Also, because fat is released during grilling, caloric intake is reduced while moisture is retained.

However, it’s good to remember that not all grilled food is healthy. For the best results, refrain from adding sauces and butter that increase calories and fat.

Options that foster healthy grilling choices include:

• Selecting lean meats such as ground beef, sirloin, skinless chicken, fish or tofu.

• Using a dry or low-sodium seasoning for flavoring meat instead of a marinade or oil.

• Adding grilled vegetables like corn on the cob, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus or sweet potatoes to the menu.

• Serving grilled bananas, peaches and pineapples with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt for dessert.

The website gardenweasel.com offers an easy and tasty recipe for grilled asparagus.

GRILLED ASPARAGUS

1 pound asparagus spears, trimmed

Coarsely ground pepper

Salt

1 tablespoon olive oil, preferably extra virgin

Preheat grill to high heat. Lightly coat asparagus spears with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Marinate asparagus in mixture for two hours in refrigerator — never on a counter or outdoors. Grill over high heat for 3-5 minutes, or to desired tenderness.

MEAT ON THE GRILL

Professionals who know their way around grills and smokers also offered the following information to give backyard barbecuers a leg up on the best possible grilling this summer.

“The biggest mistake grillers make is to allow meat to get too dry,” said Brick Gibson, owner of Brick’s River Cafe, 1205 Main St. in Bandera. “Once you get the ‘dark bark’ on the meat — the crispy outer coating — you have to wrap the meat in foil if you need to continue cooking it. That seals in the moisture and keeps the meat from drying out.”

And Brick should know, his daddy, Sid, owns and operates Sid’s Main Street BBQ, 702 Main St. in Bandera.

“Low and slow” is the way to go, according to Christopher Martin, manager of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, 881 Junction Highway.

“Grillers should not be afraid to cook brisket longer with the heat turned down,” Martin said. “We cook ours 16 hours.”

He also advocated the use of dry rubs and sauces available at Dickey’s.

“We’ve been around since 1941 and the ‘secret’ recipes for our rub and sweet sauce make everything taste great,” Martin said.

Joe Davis, owner of Busbee’s Bar-B-Que and Catering, 319 Main St. in Bandera, concurred on the “low and slow” aspect of good grilling.

“Brisket is a tough, sorry piece of meat, and that’s a fact,” said Davis, whose restaurant was featured on The History Channel as a barbecue representative from Texas. “If you want to make the best brisket ever, the simple secret is to cook it a long time at a low temperature. We do ours for 12 hours at 200 degrees and it’s great,” Davis said.

Brenda Hughes, wife of Kerrville’s legendary pit master, Buzzie, advised backyard cooks who are shopping for a perfect brisket to “… bend the brisket end to end. If you can touch the ends together, the meat will have less fat and more yield. That’s the best grilling tip we have for brisket.”

No article extolling the virtues of outdoor cooking would be complete without cautionary caveats — a review of safety measures all backyard barbecuers should keep in mind to ensure good eating without a visit from the fire department or a trip to the emergency room.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, grilling contributes to an average of 8,900 home fires annually, and close to half of all injuries involving grills are due to thermal burns.

While nearly half of the 63 percent of the population who grill do it year-round, July is also the peak month for grill fires. To grill safely this month, heed these tips while firing up charcoal or propane gas grills.

• Most grills should only be used outdoors.

• Place grills away from the home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging tree branches.

• Keep children and pets away from the grill area.

• Remove grease or fat buildup from grills and in trays below the grill.

• Never leave a grill unattended.

• If a gas odor is evident while using a propane grill, turn off burners and propane. If the odor persists, call 911 immediately and clear the area.

Keeping these simple precautions in mind, get outside and fire up the grill — it’s National Grilling Month.

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