It’s been two years since the pandemic sparked a huge surge in purchases of outdoor cooking equipment, and with a new summer in full swing it’s no surprise that the relatively new crop of grillmasters and those of us who have enjoyed grilling and smoking for years are spending weekends out back cooking with fire again. We’d venture to say that on the whole, both the quality and quantity of food coming off grates in the Lone Star State and beyond is as good as it’s ever been.

But how did we all collectively step up our game to usher in this Golden Age of Backyard Cooking? And how can you join in the fun if you’re just getting started? Simply put, every step of the process has seen recent enhancements, including equipment designed for home use, access to high quality ingredients, and educational opportunities.

Equipment for Home Use Gets Serious

The days of backyard cookers just owning a simple kettle grill are long gone. New companies have burst onto the scene to capitalize on the increased interest, and new formats have gained popularity. The combination of those trends means that home cooks have more high-quality options than ever before.

Classic charcoal and gas grills are still the most popular option for a reason, and you can get them big, small, or anywhere in between to suit your needs. The biggest development in this format is the higher quality of portable grills on the market. From NOMAD to PK Grills and countless others, you no longer need to rely on a cheap piece of metal that will need to be replaced after just one season of camping, tailgating, or otherwise cooking on-the-go.

Pellet smokers like those from Traeger bridged the gap between the convenience of electric smokers and the authenticity of a live fire to create smoke in a traditional offset or barrel smoker. But the introduction of smart technology made it even easier to manage longer cooks like pork shoulders, beef ribs, and brisket, which brought more people into the community of amateur pitmasters.

Flat top surfaces have also made major inroads, with products like Blackstone built to deliver a unique experience to your back yard. Some longtime grillers have converted based on the versatility of these restaurant-style flat top griddles because they’re perfect for making breakfast, smashburgers, and anything else that benefits from high heat cooking.

You can cook over a full-on campfire with a multi-level open fire grill like a Kudu. Or if you’re serious about bringing your specific vision for outdoor cooking to life, you can commission a custom-built piece from a local welder or builder.

Photo courtesy of Goodstock by Nolan RyanThe Bearded Wonder

Everyone Has Access to Quality Ingredients

Supply chain challenges aside, the level of ingredient quality available to everyday consumers is at an all time high. Grocery stores across the nation have added top-shelf options to most product categories, and specialty retailers have moved to offer their wares online for home delivery.

You can order rubs and sauces from many of your favorite BBQ joints for home delivery. Restaurant-quality steaks, ground beef, and even the same USDA Prime-grade briskets that the pros trust can be shipped nationwide by local butcher shops like Goodstock By Nolan Ryan. You can even order wood chips for your smoker that come from any region of the country to achieve the exact flavor profile you’re looking for. If you can dream it, you can find it, (and grill it.)

Educational Opportunities Proliferate

Whatever your level of experience cooking with fire, there is a variety of options to develop your skills, many of which have come to the market in the past few years.  Many newcomers to outdoor cooking during lockdowns and pandemic restrictions started out learning virtually from Masterclass or AirBnB. These pre-recorded or live courses were essential when gathering in person was more challenging, but they still fit the bill for many people who want to learn on their own schedule or from an instructor outside of their area.

While virtual events are here to stay, hands-on in-person educational events have come roaring to life recently cross the country. Whether they’re hosted by a local butcher shop like Goodstock’s recent Anniversary Steak & Wine Experience or a notable chef or pitmaster, these events go far beyond the basics of delivering guidance to hungry home cooks.

The appeal of classes from a provider like Backyard Pitmasters, whose signature “Brisket U” courses are conducted at breweries in a growing list of cities in Texas and beyond, is in the hands-on instruction as well as the camaraderie with fellow participants. These classes deliver an experience that many people who got into smoking and grilling in the height of the pandemic’s impact were starved of, in addition to essential knowledge, a cold beer, and a delicious meal

Photo courtesy of Goodstock by Nolan RyanThe Bearded Wonder

Private events are also available from many local culinary professionals you may know from a popular restaurant around town. One example from the Austin area: Mark Avalos, pitmaster and co-founder of SLAB BBQ & Beer, recently diversified his catering services to include more intimate experiences prepared live for small groups. This new offering is a blend of catering and in-person instruction is completely customizable, so while SLAB is known for smoked meat sandwiches, they can create an experience built around any specific cut of meat. This lets the consumer select something like a beef tri-tip, short ribs, or spatchcocked chicken and learn from an expert how to prepare it with spectacular results.

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