Backyard barbecues are a special kind of a way to entertain – arguably a cut (pun intended) above the rest! There’s nothing better than bringing people together for a communal cookout, plates loaded with potato salads and perfectly charred meats. But how to plan the perfect BBQ? We tapped Kita Roberts for her sizzling tips.
Roberts is the creative mind behind popular barbecue blog, Girl Carnivore. Describing it as “a little snarky, a little sassy, and filled with recipes for real people in real kitchens,” Roberts says she started the blog in 2013 as a passion project to explore her interest in meat.
“I decided I wanted to do something different,” says Roberts. “I poured myself some tequila, and thought about what set me apart. There just happened to be hog casings hanging from the window – I was learning to make sausage at the time – and that gave me the idea for a food blog about meat, something that wouldn’t take itself too seriously.”
From beginner barbecue recipes, like bacon-fat glazed smoked Brussels sprouts, to more advanced artistry like perfectly cooked, fork-tender beef tenderloin, Girl Carnivore boasts an impressive arsenal of flame-broiled recipes that has won over the internet’s carnivores in the eight years since its inception.
With adventure and experimentation in the site’s DNA, Roberts says she’s constantly discovering new ways to appreciate meat, from local ranching and farming operations around the United States to showcasing lesser-known cuts of meat, such as beef cheeks, oxtail, or different cuts from the shoulder, ribs or rear.
“We often get stuck with what we know at the market,” explains Roberts. “I personally feel it’s important to honor the animal from nose to tail, and find ways to utilize every part when we harvest livestock or game.”
A nod to the past, Roberts embraces a simpler, more sustainable approach in her work. Going back to the basics, she says, is what barbecuing is all about.
“You’re literally playing with fire,” explains Roberts. “It’s cooking in its most basic form, and yet I still don’t get it right every time. There is something so captivating about cooking over a live fire that just calms me down.”
For anyone new to outdoor grilling, Roberts has a few choice tips for beginners. She says knowing how to build a two-zone fire – a source of both direct and indirect heat – is essential, and helps to prevent burning your meat. Opt for cuts that are on sale (so you won’t mind sacrificing them), and when in doubt, go for chicken.
“I break every new grill in with poultry,” says Roberts. “A whole chicken is perfect for learning; it teaches you about proper seasoning, hot spots on the grill, flare-ups, everything. Just always make sure the bird is cooked through to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the worst-case scenario, you won’t break your wallet in the process.”
This self-taught cook says she typically has people over for dinner at least six days a week, and loves firing up her grill for any occasion – so she also knows a thing or two about hosting a cookout! Here are some of her best tips for throwing a down-home barbecue event that’s the talk of the town:
1. Do the Prep Work
Roberts suggests planning dishes that you can prepare ahead of time – say, a smoked pork shoulder or brisket – or meats that will cook quickly, like steaks or sausages. Not only does it remove the guesswork, it also means you won’t be hiding from your guests behind the grill all day. “I plan my menu a week ahead of time. Any condiments, sauces or chopping, I do 24 hours ahead of time, and store in individual containers for an easy action plan on the big day.”
2. Invest in the Atmosphere
Sure, the meat is always the star of the show at a barbecue. But that doesn’t mean that your guests won’t appreciate small touches that make them feel welcome. “A cocktail station and a good playlist go a long way!” laughs Roberts, adding that she’s partial to welcoming guests with a cocktail in a signature glass that will make them feel special from the get-go.
3. Don’t Forget to Relax!
Barbecues can add more pressure than a normal dinner party, since you can’t control factors like the weather or environment. But Roberts says the best trick of the trade is to relax and have fun. “The reality is that anyone you have invited wants to be there and wouldn’t care if you ordered pizza. Try to enjoy yourself – and have a backup delivery option just in case!”