BBQing on Vacation

Humans have been cooking in the Great Outdoors for a long time, yet many of us amateur chefs are still uneasy when it comes to barbecue. But there’s no need to worry with these basic BBQ guidelines.

Great ingredients = great taste

Fresh meat at a butcher shop
Whether you’re a back yard cook, or a big city chef, the secret to success is the same: the taste depends on the quality of the ingredients that you start with. But good food doesn’t mean fancy food – it means fresh. The fresher your beef, with ground sirloin being the ideal cut for burgers, and your free-range chicken, and your pork - the more delicious it will taste. Thus the extra time you spend to get the best possible ingredients will reap rewards when your guests keep coming back to the grill.

Try visiting the local farmers’ markets or your friendly neighborhood butcher. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on the best burgers or where to get the freshest lettuce and most succulent tomatoes to top off those superb burgers. Grab a bunch of old-fashioned pickles in brine, as well. Then drop into your local bakery for fresh-made burger buns. A great bun on a juicy hamburger is like the perfect frame on an enchanting painting. Finally, buy some sea salt from your local gourmet store – it packs far more flavor than table salt.

The night before

All brilliant BBQ cooks agree; after having great ingredients, the second secret to great barbecues is to marinate your meats overnight. But also remember to baste the meat once again, during the last 5-10 minutes of grilling. There are dozens of different marinades to use, depending on personal tastes, from rosemary and garlic, to brushed-on honey – which goes great on grilled chicken legs!

Nashville vacation rental #59979vb
Nashville vacation rental #599794vb

Prepare your fire

When placing your grill, find a sheltered spot where there’s not much wind. Be sure it’s spotlessly clean, of course. And, if your BBQ is a dinner, plan for plenty of extra lights when the sun goes down.

If you’re using charcoal, it’ll take 30 minutes to get your fire going - so give yourself extra time for this. The secret is to place a small amount of newspaper on the bottom of the grill, then build a solid pyramid out of the charcoal. Sprinkle a small bit of lighter fluid on top and around the sides, then light the paper. Before putting anything on the grill, let the flames die down, till the charcoal is deep red inside but white-grey on the outside – this makes the perfect heat for cooking.

Prepare your food

Ribs and corn on the grill
While the fire’s calming down, remind yourself in what order you plan to cook your food, because different items cook at different speeds. Bring your best thin steaks and burgers out first. Place these in the middle of your grill, because they can be cooked quickly over the hottest coals. Generously season your burger on both sides with sea salt and pepper, plus a little bit of garlic. (This most cherished of meat treats was brought to America by German immigrants, who traveled from the German seaport of Hamburg.) Just a minute or so before serving your burgers, toast the buns on the grill till their insides are hot and brown! 

More chunky meats such as sausages and thick steaks, or more delicate items, like chicken or fish, are best cooked slowly over a cooler spot, off to the sides. Before beginning to grill, toss in a few hunks of hickory wood, the woody scent will waft through the air and immediately get your guests’ attention!


Aside from tongs and a sharp knife, a noble BBQ cook needs a digital food thermometer to ensure that everything is fully cooked. Steaks are at their most tender and juicy from 130°F to 135°F, and all meats should be piping hot all the way through. A quick visual check can be done, by making a tiny slice to ensure that there isn’t any pink meat in burgers, pork, chicken or sausage. All those yummy juices should run clear with no color. Only turn your meats once, to get both sides nicely seared, but no more than that because meat loses moisture each time it’s turned.

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Fredericksburg vacation rental #360692vb
As soon as the food is fully cooked serve it to your guests because that’s when it tastes best. If you need to save some for late arrivals, wrap it in tin-foil and place it over a cooler area of the grill so it’s kept warm but doesn’t dry out.

Take special care with fish, which can burn quickly. If you plan to grill salmon, buy a whole fish for best value, clean it the night before – and on the day stuff it with tinned peach halves, with a few sprigs of dill. Wrap in tinfoil (having first spread some butter on both sides of the fish so it won’t stick to the foil) and place on the BBQ off to one side, for 15 minutes. Grilled tuna steaks are also mouth-watering and easy-peasy to cook; coat both sides lightly with olive oil, and lots of black pepper corns and sea salt. Cook till both sides are brown and you’re done son!

The great BBQ debate: Charcoal vs. Gas?

There are avid fans for both sides, but in really there is no right or wrong, as it’s purely a personal choice. While it’s said that charcoal can provide a more woody flavor, well marinated meat still tastes great on a gas grill. And most cooks agree that gas grills are far more convenient, and faster – which makes barbecues more fun for hungry kids!

Two top recipes from celebrated but practical chefs:

Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Hamburger recipe

Courtesy of

  • 1 lb. ground sirloin
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato, cut thinly
  • 1/4 cup garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey mustard
Directions: Combine all ingredients, form into fist-sized patties, cook 10-15 minutes over medium heat.
Serves 4 to 6

Martha Stewart’s Quick & Easy Barbecue Sauce

Courtsey of

  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • (Optional) 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Directions: Whisk together all ingredients, apply generously 20 minutes before cooking.

BBQ-Friendly vacation rentals in Austin, Texas