By Franks Sabatini Jr.
Photos by Brevin Blach

(Published in the May 2010 issue)

Just throwing another shrimp on the barbie might work during other seasons, but in May, National Barbecue Month (whoever makes these decisions also made it hamburger month), it’s time to get things fired up.

For your outdoor cooking pleasure, here are smokin’ tips and saucy recipes from San Diego’s expert barbecue chefs, details on some of the city’s top delis and a look at a barbecue with Porsche parts (which costs slightly less than one of their cars). And if you’d rather lift a fork than a spatula, there are some great places for dining and takeout, too. Q it up!

A Bunch of Bull
Flames or smoke? Sweet or sour? When it comes to barbecuing, Frank Terzoli, owner of The Big Easy restaurant in Hillcrest, swings four ways. He had previously opened Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ on West Morena Boulevard prior to gaining celebrity as “Frankie the Bull” on Bravo’s Top Chef (season 2), and his cooking secrets combine the best of all these worlds.

Now We’re Smokin’!
To create authentic smoked barbecue flavor on flame grills, Terzoli says to dry-rub red meat or chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, cayenne, onion powder and brown sugar. Then place a coffee can or tin foil “cup” filled with smoking chips opposite the heat source. Shut the lid and allow the meat to sit inside the grill for 10 to 12 hours at 180 to 200 degrees.

Clean Air Act

When barbecuing with charcoal, Terzoli says to look for the natural mesquite variety available in major grocery stores. Those black, chemically-bound briquettes are a no-no because, he says, “they give meat the taste that you’ve cooked it on your tail pipe-and it’s bad for the environment.” The same applies to lighter fluids. An electronic starter costs about $6 at Target and Home Depot .

Where’s the Beef?

According to the National Barbecue Association, pork and beef ribs rank as the leading protein served at backyard barbecues. Veteran meat supervisor Stan Glenn of Iowa Meat Farms and Siesel’s Old Fashion Meats attests: “Customers ask most about ribs at this time of year, and we sell about 800 pounds of them in May alone.”

But a new trend is emerging as consumers turn adventurously toward exotic meats. “You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten alligator ribs,” says Glenn. “They look like spare ribs, but have a flavor all their own.”

The reptilian delicacy, imported from Louisiana, sell for $9.99 a pound, sharing deli space with antelope, elk, ostrich and wild boar. Both stores offer an in-house publication containing cooking methods for every grill-worthy flesh known to man. If you haven’t been before, this is the perfect time to stop in-both stores are offering free samples of numerous meats from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., every Saturday in May.

Iowa Meat Farms, 6041 Mission Gorge Rd., Mission Gorge, 619.281.5766

Siesel’s Old Fashion Meats, 4131 Ashton St., Bay Park, 619.275.1234,

Hot, Hot, Hot

Heat your food without accelerating global warming

Mother Earth loves a picnic involving “green grilling,” which involves grill units rigged with infrared burners. Available at Barbeques Galore, as well as Sears and Home Depot under different brand names, they use 50 percent less gas than standard brands and emit 80 percent less smoke.

“Infrared grills also heat a lot quicker and can exceed 700 degrees. You get minimal flare-ups, yet the food still has a good, charry flavor,” says Brian Huff, a store director for Barbeques Galore, which carries the grills in about six different models, ranging from $799 to $8,000. The latter is manufactured by Grand Hall and designed with futuristic elements by Porsche.

For diehard charcoal fans, Barbeques Galore also sells a proprietary ceramic grill called The Globe Café for $1,000. Huff says, “It’s kind of like a tandori oven, which holds heat and moisture much better.” Say goodbye to shriveled burgers and chewy chicken.

Hot for TeacherRichard B. Schmitt, who has cooked in commercial kitchens for more than a decade, says that “the grill is the most difficult station to work in a restaurant.” Currently the executive chef for “The Cooking Experience” school at Barbeques Galore in Rancho Bernardo, he teaches class participants (Tuesdays through Saturdays at 6 p.m.) how to avoid the common missteps in grilling, while also demonstrating how to properly cook veggies and fruits outdoors.

Schmitt’s Tips:

Flip your meat more than once and move it in circles so that it browns and caramelizes evenly. Those diamond-shaped grill markings everyone tries to achieve can actually leave a pricey rib-eye tasting pungent and bitter.

Before grilling fish of any variety, pat it dry and then let it sit on a paper towel at room temperature for about an hour. Then oil both sides and cook over medium heat. This method prevents the fish from sticking to the grill and tearing into pieces.

Use meat thermometers in lieu of timers when grilling steaks. And do like the French: designate 110 degrees for rare, moving up in 10-degree increments respectively for medium-rare, medium, medium-well and (god forbid) well-done.

To harness the natural flavors of potatoes, asparagus, cauliflower and other vegetables, roast them raw over a low to medium heat until soft, then toss them into a bowl with seasonings and olive oil while still hot. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let them steam for 10 or 15 minutes. Schmitt calls it “reverse blanching.”

Firm, slightly under-ripe fruits including mangos make for unique side dishes when they are “quickled.” Grill the sliced fruit over high heat for a few minutes and then transfer the pieces into a pickling liquid comprising the juice of two limes, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar and a pinch of sea salt. Keep veggies submerged for about 15 minutes before serving.

Feed Me

Great barbecue joints for dine-in and take-out

The “BBQueue” cam posted outside the entranceway at Phil’s BBQ by the Sports Arena enables customers to preview the cattle lines on their computers before heading in. Since opening his original location in Mission Hills 10 years ago, owner Phil Pace claims to have sold more than one million pounds of his top-secret barbecue sauce that washes over delectably tender ribs and chicken. Full pork rib dinners (12 bones) with three sides cost $18.95; beef rib dinners (five bones) are $19.95. Chicken is sold in halves and quarters. Deliveries require a $200 minimum.

3750 Sports Arena Blvd., Sports Arena, 619.226.6333,

Huffman’s Barbeque and Catering in Lincoln Park captures the soul of Mississippi charcoal grilling, affording customers a baker’s dozen of marinated, charry pork spare ribs plus a 22-ounce side dish for $27.95. The mom-and-pop operation has been around for 43 years and is also wildly famous for its sweet potato pies, which hail from a family recipe dating back more than 100 years. Deliveries are available for a minimum of 25 people.

5039 Imperial Ave., Lincoln Park, 619.264.3115

No flames and all smoke define the ribs, salmon, chicken and beef brisket at Bull’s Smokin’ BBQ, which remains in operation even now that Frank Terzoli has opted out. The meats cook all night in heavy smokers that are more indigenous to Texan jamborees than to San Diego kitchens. Side dishes include coleslaw with almonds, smoky baked beans and corn bread. There are no minimum requirements for catering orders.

1127 W. Morena Blvd., near Bay Park, 619.276.2855,