Labor Day Weekend -- it's the holiday that celebrates the miracle of turning a two-day weekend into three days (or four, if you were smart, and took today off). It may be time to concede that this really is the end of summer. But the good news is we have all weekend to ponder the preparation of the best barbecue this side of Memorial Day.
Short Order talked to Chef Howie Kleinberg of Bulldog Barbecue and Burger in North Miami for his expert tips on how to throw a successful barbecue this Labor Day.
1. Have a game plan
"For me, the most important thing is starting off with quality ingredients and then knowing what you want to do with them. You may be doing quick, simple grilling and you're firing up the grill for 20 minutes to cook hamburgers and hot dogs, or thin cuts of steak are going to cook quickly. But a New York Strip, Ribeye, Filet mignon will take a long time. Brisket, short rib, or ribs are all really going to need to be slow cooked and barbecued for a long period of time. You don't need a big smoker to make good BBQ, but you need the right equipment. You need to base your menu on what tools you have available."
2. Timing is key
"There can be a 24-hour lead time, which some people really don't think about. With traditional barbecue, which is low and slow with tougher cuts, allowing it to break down takes time. If there's any deviation in your time or temperature, and your guests end up there waiting, nothing's going to be served."
3. Know who you're feeding
"If you're going to make the effort, knowing the people you're going to feed is important. There are so many people on diets that want to be healthy. If you're doing hamburgers and hot dogs, which isn't the healthiest thing, also grill some chicken breasts, fish, or shrimp. That's good especially this time of year when it's so hot out. Just have alternatives for people who are not going to want to eat red meat."
4. Don't be afraid to seek help
"It's very time-consuming for people to do a barbecue. It's important for people to go out to their local BBQ joint (Hint: Bulldog Barbecue and Burger) and pick up a couple of pounds of pulled pork, buns, and some slaw. Mix and match. If you put everything on your shoulders, you're going to stress out. It's good to use the tools at your disposal, which in this day and age are barbecue joints. It'll be your own salads and your own burgers with a couple of other items you pick up, like cornbread."
5. Have a rainy-day backup plan
"It's important that people plan for a rainy day menu. Everything cooking has to come off the grill and if it's raining outside, it'll stay on for too long. People shouldn't be too dependent on the outdoor setup, in case you have to move the party inside."
6. Choose your charcoal
"Charcoal is important if you really want to get good flavor. It can be whatever briquettes you buy from the store, but I personally use hardwood charcoal, and that adds a lot of flavor."
7. Remember, safety first
"If you're grilling something outside, keep a fire extinguisher handy. That's a more out of the box suggestion, but anytime you're doing outdoor cooking, you have to consider safety first."
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8. Don't stress
"The idea of having a Labor Day picnic or barbecue is not to work your butt off. Flesh out some of your items in advance. You need to have a good mix of hot items and cold items, whether those be salads or something else. Items that can be prepared ahead of time and stored at a cold temperature are going to be helpful to the cook. Give yourself an opportunity to enjoy yourself, so you're not cooking the whole time, or leaving your guests hungry while they wait for everything to come off the grill."
Chef Kleinberg, a former Top Chef contestant, will be doing a cooking demonstration at Gulfstream Park this Saturday at 1 p.m. Guests can enjoy his pork butt and famous brisket, and then get inspired to light up the grill for their own barbecues this Labor Day.