Beyond the Burger: Backyard cooks encouraged to expand holiday menu
by Marie Nesmith
Jul 03, 2011 | 3895 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In his Euharlee restaurant, Johnny Mitchell mixes spices for a rub that covers all his meats.
SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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As backyard cooks prepare their Independence Day menus, local restaurateurs Johnny Mitchell and Scott Panter are providing tips for people to think outside the box for their holiday offerings. Along with owning dining establishments, the men also have competed in various barbecue contests, with Mitchell's team claiming last year's grand championship at the Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned Georgia Barbecue Classic.

Instead of grilling routine hot dogs and hamburgers, residents can try simple but more time consuming chicken, beef or pork dishes to dazzle their guests' taste buds.

"If they are going to step up from hamburgers and hot dogs to say chicken, my recommendation would be to use bone-in chicken, not boneless chicken," said Panter, who opened Scott's Walk-up Bar-B-Q, 206 N. Tennessee St. in Cartersville, three and a half years ago. "I think that it has better flavor, and I also think that it grills better with the bones in it. And one thing that you really need to do is you need to get the [internal] temperature up to at least 165 degrees. ... I [also] like to apply a slather, something that's wet.

"One thing that a lot of people do is they take Italian dressing, something that's got a little bit of an oil base to it, and slather it on the chicken, and then you can season the top of that. That also helps protect the skin so that it doesn't burn on you. The internal temperature of the chicken will get a little higher when it gets really done because you've added some oil and moisture to it. I do like seasoning my chicken with something other than just salt and pepper. When you're doing steak, I'm a purist when it comes to that. Salt and pepper is all I want to put on it."

Also recommending the recreational cooks try their hand at poultry, Mitchell advises barbecuing everything from chicken leg quarters to whole birds.

"They could go from chicken leg quarters to chicken halves to even whole chickens on the grill or smoker," said Mitchell, who has been operating Johnny Mitchell's Smokehouse, 100 Covered Bridge Road in Euharlee, since January 2009. "And to be a little bit more involved but still not hard is to do what we call real barbecue -- Southern style pork butts, which takes a little bit longer, but it's not hard. [For] whole chickens -- and it also can be used in the process with the half chickens too -- take a whole bird and take a nice barbecue rub. A rub can be your own recipe as simple as salt, pepper and garlic or kick it up a little bit with some paprika and different seasonings, and then medium rub the bird completely all over and grill it or smoke it actually on indirect heat.

"So you'd want fire to build on one side of your grill or smoker and then put the bird on the other side where it's not getting direct heat. You can cook it, it takes around an hour and a half at around a 275 degree temperature. It's real simple, real easy and it's very delicious. [I would cook it] with the skin on. That way for those that don't like [the seasonings, they] can pull it off after it's cooked. But the bird needs to reach an internal temperature of 165."

For cooks seeking more of a challenge, Mitchell suggests smoking beef brisket and injecting it with an array of seasoning prior to cooking.

"Beef brisket is probably one of the more intriguing and more difficult things to do at home, but it's also one of the best things in the world," Mitchell said. "Beef brisket is the chest muscle of the cow. ... They're usually about 12 to 14 pounds and they are quite heavily layered in fat, but they're also marbled with fat so you could take and cut the excess fats off the muscle. If they wanted to get real complicated, they can do an injection. An injection -- you can buy them in the store. It's pre-made, usually in the sauce section. [You would] inject it into the muscles of the meat. It's a spice oil and almost like an internal marinade. We make our own and we would of course do that in house here. [But] they can make it up as simple as oil, beef [broth] or any type of seasonings like [soy sauce, fine ground black pepper and garlic powder]. But they do make some pretty decent little stuff in the stores for people, so they don't have to go real crazy with it.

"[After they] inject the brisket thoroughly, then make a rub and rub the brisket down. The key to this and what's hard on this is it's going to take 12 to 14 hours for this to cook. And it's going to be cooked on indirect heat at 225 degrees, and I use hickory wood. This would be [cooked] in a smoker. There's some grills that are set up that can be used as an offset fire box. ... but it [still would] take 12 to 14 hours to cook. And you want it slow cooked like that with an internal temperature of around 200 to 208 degrees and then that meat will be just as moist and [have] beautiful bark. The bark is the outside coating once it's all cooked. [Beef brisket is] the premium barbecue meat, [however] it's the most toughest, ornery piece of meat you've ever had if it's not cooked right. But if you cook it right, it's better than most steaks."

While the meat's internal temperature is an important food safety measure, Panter also said it is key for the temperature not to rise too high.

"I think if you step above hot dogs and hamburgers, you are in some challenging [territory]," Panter said. "All of that's challenging. Just to do a steak properly, to do chicken properly, to do a cut of pork -- a pork roast or ribs -- or anything like that, that's a challenging thing. And if you can do that well, you're doing pretty good. You want to be careful [though]. Things that you must cook for a long time in order to get the temperature up or something that's thick or a large piece of meat, you want to cook it with indirect heat and nothing directly on it.

"You want to watch your temperature of that indirect heat. If you get up above 300 degrees, you're going to speed the cooking of the outside and maybe not get the inside of the meat cooked. So you want to be careful with direct heat on any kind of meat. Just about any grill, you can have the fire over to one side. ... So you can actually prepare just the normal everyday grill so you can have direct heat in one spot on it and indirect in another."

Mitchell and Panter emphasize that several factors result in the meat staying tender, moist and flavorful, such as using fresh ingredients and slow cooking the items on indirect heat.

According to National Barbecue Association's website,, "Number one: always buy the best quality meat that you can. Only buy fresh, not frozen. If it has been frozen, it will be dry. Remember, pork can only be frozen once. If you buy it fresh then you can be the one who freezes it that one time. Trim it. You should always remove the skin membrane on the backside of ribs to enhance flavor. Then carefully season and slowly smoke them over hickory wood. This process can take from 12 to 14 hours on some meats. When you remove the meat from the pit, you should probe each piece with a thermometer. You can not always look at the meat and pronounce it done.

"The thermometer will not deceive you while your eyes may. Temperature of pork is very critical. When the thermometer says it's done, remove it now because it can continue to cook for a while off the grill. Many people think good barbecue is from the sauce you put on the meat -- wrong. Real barbecue is meat that is cooked with indirect heat and smoke (USDA definition). Not boiled in water or cooked on your normal backyard grill that uses direct heat. They also say nothing about sauce. ... The three essential elements of barbecue are: Good meat, the process of slow cooking at a low temperature, and the fuel used for heat and flavor. Dry rubs, marinades and sauces on meat are generally personal preference decisions. Never allow direct flame to char your meat. Today, like country music, barbecue has shed its bumpkin image and has been accepted as part of popular cuisine in our mainstream culture."

Along with various types and cuts of meat, Mitchell encourages residents to also grill vegetables, such as squash, ears of corn and portobello mushrooms. He also stresses that barbecue sauce needs to be "a condiment not a cover-up," in order for it to be a flavor enhancer.

"[Barbecue is] truly American and every region is slightly different," Mitchell said. "You go to California and you get grill tri-tipped barbecue. You go to Texas and you get beef brisket. You go to Georgia and it's mostly pork down here. But regionally, it's the most sought after and enjoyed type of cuisine there is in America. And it's so fun to be at home with your family and friends nourishing yourselves, not only with food but through the art of cooking and grilling it and sharing those fun times with your family and friends."