Who says good things must end? Just because the leaves are falling doesn't mean we have to put away our barbecue grills.
Backyard fire pits, free-standing chimeneas, citronella torches and comfortable seating can turn your backyard into a comfortable fall weather entertainment retreat. Add barbecued comfort foods with a fall twist and hosting a memorable get-together is easy.
There are a few tips to keep in mind when you are setting up your barbecue. Tex Blair, owner of a catering company, offers some helpful advice: "Do as much food prep as you can ahead of time. Most food does better as it sits and flavors come together. Fun foods, such as shish kebabs, can be made the night before and grilled for your guests when you are ready for dinner to be served."
Author and radio personality Kent Whitaker, "The Deck Chef," adds: "Time changes, amount of daylight, cool air, etc. -- take all of this into consideration. You may need to start the grill earlier in the day unless you have outdoor lighting for your grill. Fall and winter can also have a different moisture content in the air. For people using smokers instead of grills, this means using a water pan or some vapor source; it's not as important on grills."
Whitaker says to "look toward pork, beef cuts, turkey, etc." His personal favorite is an easy Tex-Mex pork chops recipe with cola apple pecan sauce. "Grab some nice, thick boneless pork chops, and rub them with a bit of olive oil and then the contents of a taco seasoning packet or fajita packet -- the inexpensive kind from the grocery. You could also use a meatloaf seasoning or even a dark gravy seasoning packet. You pick! Rub, cover and chill."
"For the sauce," he says, "dice up some apples into small pieces. Then grab some chopped or crushed pecans, a Coke -- not Diet Coke -- some hot sauce and a spoonful of butter. While the chops are cooking on the grill, use your side burner -- or cook inside -- to heat the butter in a skillet. Add in the pecans and apples to brown a bit. Then add in the Coke, being careful not to burn yourself. Add a few dashes of hot sauce, and allow the mix to reduce by a third before topping your chops. Be careful not to over-reduce the sauce, as the sugars in the Coke may turn bitter."
Add a sophisticated touch to an evening barbecue with Whitaker's hot chocolate martini. "Make hot chocolate, from scratch or from packets," Whitaker says. "Reduce the amount of milk or water that is called for. Make it thicker! Add some chocolate morsels and a few splashes of Irish cream. Serve warm in a martini glass with chocolate shavings and chocolate straws. Use marshmallows as the olives."
Lowe's Companies Inc. sends along these additional suggestions for grilling in cooler months:
1) Preheat thoroughly. This could take a little longer than it does during summer months. Grill foods that don't require a lot of fussing and turning. Preheat your serving dishes to help keep the food hot once it comes off the grill.
2) Keep the grill lid down as much as possible. Here's a mantra for you: If you keep looking, it won't keep cooking.
3) Position the grill such that when you do need to raise the lid, cold wind will not blow across the grate. Don't trust grilling times; use a meat thermometer.
4) Grill hearty autumn foods, such as sweet potatoes, apples and squash.
5) Smoky flavor suits fall comfort foods; purchase a smoker box and wood chips to place in your grill.
The slow, indirect grilling of a turkey or other roast is perfect for cool weather. These directions from Lowe's show you how it is done: "On a charcoal grill, place food to the side of the heat source instead of directly over it. On a gas grill, turn one burner on and leave the others off. A drip pan can be placed under the roast to help flavor it and to keep dripping grease from starting flare-ups. Place herbs and wine in the drip pan to flavor the smoke."