Kings of the Grill: Whether you prefer gas or charcoal; steak or brisket; the summer is for grilling

Summer.

It’s time for kids to jump in sprinklers and ambush parents with water guns. Time to become friends with someone who owns a heating and cooling business. Time for shorts and flip flops. And time to keep the house a little cooler by heading outside to grill.

Anyone with a $30 grill can head outside and throw a few burgers on a grill over charcoals.

But a few Frenship residents aren’t satisfied with burgers and potato chips barely kept away from the hungry chops of the family dog.

These masters of the grill head out to competitions and cook for crowds of 50 people on their weekends.

Steaks
Steve Stephens is a veterinarian on weekdays, but last month, he was one of a team of Lubbock-area residents that placed 10th out of 80 teams at the Steak Cook-Off in Hico.

This was the crew’s first competition, but Stephens said he and his crew, including son Seth Stephens, wife Cindy Stephens, Lance Barrett and Brandon Turnbow, regularly cook for large groups.

“We like to cook,” said Stephens. “We just do it mostly for fun and enjoyment.”

He follows the philosophy that less is more when he cooks.

“Sometimes less is better. You can mess up a good piece of meat if you put too much seasoning on it,” he said.

For this reason, he said he also does not marinate his steaks, reserving fancy marinades for when he grills chicken or pork.

A fancy grill is also not necessary, Stephens said. While he personally built grill that his team took to Hico, he said the team could have cooked on a smaller grill. Some teams that showed up with far better equipment did not even make the first cut in the competition to the top 20 teams, he said.

“You don’t have to have anything fancy. We could have just as easily taken a Hibachi grill,” he said.

And when it comes to steaks and burgers, Stephens said it’s not even really that important whether you cook over gas or charcoal. Because the meat is generally on the grill between six to 10 minutes, depending on the weather and personal preferences, he said it has little time to absorb any flavor from charcoal or wood.

“I don’t think the taste is all that different. You can just get charcoal hotter,” he said. “Gas is extremely handy.”

What is important, Stephens said, is the meat.

“You’re just looking for a piece of meat that has good marbling and looks fresh,” he said.

The marbling, or fat within the meat, is where the flavor comes from, Stephens said.

“If you’re cooking a steak, you want one with nice marbling,” he said.

But on the other hand, Stephens said you don’t want a lot of fat on the outside of the meat, because it drips off and causes flames.

“You want an even fire,” he said. “If you have a fatty piece of meat, that makes it flame up out of control.”

Steaks and burgers are not the only items on the grill at Stephens’ house — he also grills vegetables as side dishes.

“You can’t beat steak and a bunch of grilled vegetables at the same time,” he said.


Barbecue

Another Frenship cook is Chuck Kreger, who involves his whole family when cooking at competitions during the past nine years. His wife, Shawndelle, and sons Tyler and Dustin assist him at barbecue contests throughout Texas.

Kreger said he started entering barbecue competitions because of a co-worker.

“I cooked quite a bit in the backyard. I thought I was hot stuff until I started competition,” he said. “When you get into competition, everybody has a different way of seasoning their meat.”

Now Kreger has a trailer rig that has a smoker on it.

“Most backyard grillers, they’ll grill a steak 15-20 minutes. I cook a brisket 13-15 hours,” said Kreger.

A key to barbecuing is to have patience, he said.

“You’ve got to have patience and keep it fun. If it ever becomes work, you’re not going to enjoy it,” he said.

And while cook time is important in barbecuing, temperature is even more so, he said.

“A lot of people cooking in the backyard don’t know what temperature they’re cooking on,” he said. To determine the temperature of his cooking, Kreger said he uses a digital thermometer and takes the temperature directly from the meat. He also monitors the temperature of the grill, but he notes that grills with thermometers typically have the instrument placed several inches from the grill surface.

“That temperature is normally less than the grate that you’re cooking on,” he said.

And unlike Stephens, who cooks with gas or charcoal, Kreger said he does not cook with gas. Because he is slow-cooking, he starts his initial fire with charcoal, and then cooks with mesquite or hickory wood. Occasionally he cooks with wood from a fruit tree, he said.

“I never have liked gas fires. I’ve always liked wood or charcoal,” he said.

For side dishes, Kreger said potato salad and beans are a must when eating barbecue.

Safety
Kreger said safety is also important. Most importantly, he said children near the grilling site must be watched. Other tips:

  • “Make sure you’re away from combustibles. I don’t believe in pulling the grill up on the back patio. Keep it away.”
  • “You’ve just got to watch your grill and maintain your temperature. Don’t let the thing get away from you.”
  • “Keep a cup or a small bucket of water in the area in case of flare-ups so that you can extinguish that.”
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