High winds and apricot blossoms signal the arrival of spring in New Mexico. And soon, there'll be no better way to spend a summer day than at a barbecue with great friends, food and drink.
Part of the fun is the thrown-together nature of the event; the host provides flame and location, leaving guests responsible for the rest. So, what should you bring? Putting the gas vs. coals debate on hold (both have their place, in my opinion), here are a couple can't-miss suggestions that will make your next BBQ tasty and hassle-free.
The majority of BBQs I attend are BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat, as well as beer, side dishes and even plates and cutlery…I need new friends). I generally avoid anything that requires sauces or marinades, especially if I'm not working the grill. Good BBQ chicken is more art than science and requires a grill master who knows what to do. Good cuts of beef are expensive and quickly go from juicy to chewy if that game of horseshoes runs long. I usually go for sausage. It's cheap, comes portioned and, when placed over indirect heat, practically cooks itself. Give it a turn or three, and presto, flavor country.
Jim Whitaker of Red Mesa Meats recommends looking for sausages made from quality meat and a good amount of fat. Unlike his factory-farm competitors, Whitaker uses natural ingredients and quality trimmings from the ham and shoulders of grain-finished hogs (Red Mesa also offers other cuts of pork, as well as a full range of grass-fed and finished beef).
Red Mesa sausages are roughly 85 percent lean; the rest is fat. This may sound like a lot, but most of the fat renders out during the cooking process. In addition to its flavor, the fat ground into the sausage ensures that even the most neglected link retains some of its jus (Whitaker recommends links over patties for the grill, and says to use tongs to avoid puncturing the natural casing).
Sausages made from leaner meats like turkey or lamb usually contain less fat, so be careful not to overcook them. Whitaker suggests cooking his links medium-rare, since quality meats don't need to be cooked to death to be safe. A sausage cooked on a covered grill over indirect heat will be done in 12-15 minutes, depending on thickness and grill temp. Red Mesa has a number of different sausages to choose from, but Whitaker recommends the green chile and bratwurst for the grill. You can find him and his product every Saturday at the Farmers Market.
This suggestion is really a twofer. My go-to side dish for a cookout is coleslaw. The dressing is simple: mayo, acid (cider, rice wine vinegar or citrus), salt, pepper and a little sugar. Toss this with shredded carrots and cabbage, and you're done. It's the classic BBQ side, and a whole hell of a lot easier to make than potato salad. You'll get credit for cooking without having to cook. You can cheat even more by buying the veggies pre-shredded.
But the real beauty of coleslaw is that it's great on top of a grilled sausage (think more creamy, less sauerkrauty), and the basic recipe can be tweaked to match the flavor profile of any variety of sausage.
Thai-style pork sausage? Add Thai basil, Sriracha and coriander. Lamb sausage? Add mint, parsley and za'atar to the basic recipe, and substitute yogurt for mayo. The possibilities are endless, and the results will have your friends thinking you know what you're doing in the kitchen.
You can't go wrong with a michelada: beer mixed with lime, salt and spices, all served over ice. There are endless variations on the drink, but the version I'm most familiar with is beer mixed with what I would best describe as a tomato-less Bloody Mary mix. I start my mix by combining good amounts of lime juice and Worcestershire sauce. I then add a lot of the same things I would add to a bloody: salt, pepper, something spicy and even horseradish. Mix with beer to taste and serve in a salt-rimmed pint glass.
Bring a small pitcher of mix alongside that 18-pack of PBR tall boys, and you'll be invited back for sure. For purists who insist on drinking only 'cheladas made with Mexican beer, my favorite is Cerveza Victoria out of Mexico City.
Summer is just around the corner, and so are long days spent around the grill and cooler. Your next BBQ can be a tasty and hassle-free affair if you remember to keep it simple.
Got some local BBQ favorites of your own? Sound off: