This summer, I’ve taken up a new hobby. Who hasn’t really? These days, most all of us have tried something new to pass the time, from baking sourdough bread to gardening to renovating our homes. But this new hobby of mine wasn’t exactly intentional. Earlier this year, I started working with a barbecue pellets company, helping with public relations, copywriting and social media. For those who don’t know (I didn’t at the start), barbecue pellets are essentially small pieces of wood that can be smoked in a grill or smoker to add flavor to food. As I started working with this company, I was opened up to a whole new culinary world.
I always appreciated grilled foods. I knew how to prepare vegetables and meats and place them on the grill, but the actual act of grilling and barbecuing was a mystery to me. I left it up to my fiancé or the other guys in my life to figure out all grill-related activities. In my mind, that realm belonged to the men. But the work I did for this client forced me to get in the grill game. Words like sizzle, smoke, brine and pitmaster joined by daily vernacular. I learned about smoke as a key ingredient for flavor, and I educated myself on the different kinds of grills the experts — who are not just men — are using.
I quickly learned that, in the grilling and barbecue world, life is good. Most of those who spend time around the grill enjoy being outdoors, sharing with friends and family and eating … a lot. Although exact recipes and techniques can get intricate, the overall message of spending time at the grill is simple and oh so welcoming in a time when everything in the world feels woefully complicated.
The social media world of grilling is a respite from the barrage of political posts that swarm my feeds on most days. I’ll be clicking through Instagram stories, reading arguments about free speech, wearing masks and racial justice — all important topics, but heavy ones nonetheless — when the issues of today will be interrupted by a video of a sizzling rack of ribs, an image of a pristinely smoked salmon, or a boomerang of a griller drinking a beer and cooking away.
Until diving into this kind of cookery, I didn’t know there was a difference between grilling and barbecuing. If you’re barbecuing your food, you’re taking the low and slow approach, cooking your meal over indirect heat (usually 225 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) for many hours. This helps to infuse the meat’s juices and fats with the smoke and any additional spices and sauces. Ideal foods to barbecue are larger pieces of meat, like full birds, ribs, brisket and pork shoulder. Some even barbecue loaves of bread or pies. Standard grilling is direct heat (500 plus degrees Fahrenheit) and typically takes a much shorter time than barbecuing. Hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, vegetables and fruit are great for grilling. Either method you choose to use, you’re sure to be eating good food in the outdoors (aka the good life).
The ins and outs of grilling may seem trivial to some. I would’ve skipped a column like this only a couple of months ago. But I think the grilling lifestyle is one we can all learn a lesson from, especially right now. Time around the grill, whether it’s for low and slow barbecue or quick and easy grilling, is time away from our phones, our work and our constant worries about the state of the world. It’s an oasis in our own backyards that helps us remember the good things in life. And we need that reminder, now more than ever.
Barbara Platts has a lot to learn on the grill, but luckily, she’s got some time to kill right now and a whole lot of meat in the freezer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on social media @BarbaraPlatts.