Used to be, cookouts meant burgers and dogs. Ketchup and mustard. It was a tradition about as summery and American as fresh-cut green lawns and baseball. Today, with the rise of the foodie, the millennial and the median household income, grilling is decidedly something more. “It’s a legitimate hobby,” said Elizabeth Karmel, owner of Carolina Cue To-Go and former executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market in the District and New York. “It’s probably the most talked-about indigenous American way of cooking.”
Household chefs are experimenting with the types of food they grill — watermelon, eggplant, even oysters and mussels. They’re developing spice rubs and buying more than one type of grill. Die-hards are even designing outdoor kitchens. For one Northern Virginia project, Charlene Kennerknecht and her partner, Arch Williams, created a “grotto,” a cabana-like structure over a kitchen, dining room and living room in one. Clients are even asking for outdoor TVs, bar seating and fire pits, as alfresco entertaining becomes the activity of summer.
Maybe you don’t know how to get started, though. First decide whether you’re a gas or charcoal griller. For taste and convenience, Karmel said, “gas cannot be beat.” But “charcoal is a lot of fun when you have more time to be hands-on.”
Then, what to eat? Heed Karmel’s mantra: If you can eat it, then you can grill it. Put the food on, and as entertaining expert Susan Spungen said, “When the party starts, be in it.”
The only real mistake you can make is calling hot dogs “barbecue,” because, as Southerners are quick to tell you, it’s only barbecue if it’s cooked low and slow. Anything else is simply “grilling out” — not that there’s anything wrong with that.