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A Summer Barbecue Inspired By A Love For Whiskey

The 4th of July may be over, but summer barbecue weather has is promising to stay all summer.   On days that hover around triple digits, getting to know your barbecue is a beautiful thing.  My grill-skills now include baking brownies and frying eggs – even reheating pasta.  Time to celebrate!

Triple digit temps and a long weekend made for the perfect time recently to hone my whiskey grilling skills. Why stop with just one pairing, though? The event soon ballooned into a triple play of sunshine, food and whisky.   In the end we chose three different main dishes and brought three different whiskies to the table to vie for a place in the pairing.  Jim Beam Devil’s Cut Bourbon, Fremont’s Mischief Rye and Two Gingers Irish Whisky joined the party.

Bourbon BBQ
A whiskey inspired BBQ (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Tish Lester)

Korean Barbecue Sweet Potato Steaks:

The first plate to pair was Korean barbecue sweet potato steaks (with an identical treatment on thick cut pork ribs for the omnivores in the group).  To lighten the plate, we added a sweet ginger-sesame purple cabbage and carrot slaw.

Korean barbecue sweet potato steaks
Korean barbecue sweet potato steaks (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Tish Lester)

Coleslaw is best when the flavors have a chance to get to know each other.  If at all possible, make slaw at least four hours in advance of eating.  For the sweet ginger-sesame dressing:

¾ cup mayo (I use Hampton Creek Just Mayo – I love its flavor and it just happens to be vegan!)
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/3 cup rice vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
Juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp honey or 1 Tbsp white sugar
2 tsp sesame oil

Blend all together and stir into a rainbow of raw veg.   Go wild with color and you can’t go wrong with flavor. I used purple cabbage, tender carrots, slivered almonds, fresh salad greens, red peppers and sunflower seeds. Blanched broccoli could also work well. Keep the slaw cool until ready to serve.

Now for the grill! Korean barbecue sauce is a twist on teriyaki. The addition of fermented pepper paste – and of course, whisky – is what takes this sauce to the next level:

3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean fermented hot pepper paste)
3 tablespoons soy sauce – we used tamari, as we’re a gluten-free kitchen
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon minced shallots
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon whisky – in this dish we experimented with 2 Gingers Irish

Gently bring all of the above to a simmer and let cook down about 5 minutes, until thick and ready for basting. If your grill has a side burner, all the better!

Grilling Korean sweet potato steaks
Grilling Korean sweet potato steaks (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Tish Lester)

Slice sweet potatoes into ½” steaks (sweet onions, aubergine and mushrooms are also heavenly in this sauce). Baste evenly and grill on medium low, flipping once and testing for just tender. If cooking ribs, baste and turn frequently until medium-firm under pressure.

Taste testing the whiskies with Korean barbecue was great! Although the sweetness of the bourbon worked alright, the Devil’s Cut lost any subtlety it might have had in the mighty barbecue flavors. The Mischief rye was too different a flavor profile to match well. But with the last minute addition of Fevertree ginger beer to the Two Gingers Irish, a perfect pairing for the Korean barbecue emerged – Three Gingers it was!

Chipotle Rubbed Beef Kabobs

chipotle rubbed beef kabobs
chipotle rubbed beef kabobs (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Tish Lester)

Between all of us, the first plate went quickly, and we eager for the second test of chipotle rubbed beef kabobs served with garlic marinated tomatoes.

One of the top five rules for a successful barbecue is to prep side dishes well in advance so you can both eliminate the danger of over-cooking through divided attention and prevent your grilled goodness getting cold while the rest of the plate is rushed into being. Marinating summer-ripe tomatoes can make a refreshing and elegant side, with very little work:

2 lbs of tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, merely slice them in half. If using large tomatoes, it really is better to seed them.
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup tasty olive oil – don’t skimp here!
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
1 heaping tablespoon jarred pesto
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic, pressed
Salt (we used smoked sea salt from Cornwall) and freshly cracked black pepper

Toss all in a bowl and keep cool until ready to serve. Garnish with cilantro flowers and/or crumbled queso fresco

For the kabobs:
2 lbs of your favorite mid-grade meat (Remember, you may be cutting it into chunks, but you’ll still have to chew it! Stew meat is not great on a kabob. Cut chunks no larger than 2” square.)
1 onion, cut in wedges, or several large shallots, peeled
1 red pepper, cut in 2” pieces
6 oz whole crimini mushrooms

1 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp cocoa powder

Combine all the spices and toss in a bowl with the meat and vegetables until evenly coated. Slide all onto kebab skewers or steels, alternating meat with vegetables, until full

When grilling kabobs, keep them away from heavy flames, cooking them low. Keep turning them, remembering each piece of meat has four sides, and can overcook quickly! Grill until the meat is lightly firm, with a little give left.

Kabobs grilling away
Kabobs grilling away (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Tish Lester)

After plating this dish, we had the rye and the bourbon left for pairing. The bourbon was altogether too vanilla-forward to blend well with either the chipotle, or the marinated tomatoes. Luckily, with the addition of a couple of ice cubes to open it up, the rye was a fabulous fit, with enough of a kick to echo the spices, while adding a pleasing floral note to the dish.

Rosemary Chicken Quarters

Well pleased with our successes, we eyed the grill for the third round of rosemary chicken quarters with honey glazed carrots and fresh chard.

For the carrots:
1 lb small carrots, peeled and trimmed
2 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
2 Tbsp honey
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste.

Mix the butter or oil, honey and seasoning together. Arrange the carrots in a barbecue vegetable tray or wire basket. Baste with the honey/butter mixture and grill over indirect heat. If you have an upper shelf away from the flames, this works well.

For 2 lbs chicken, combine:
2 cloves minced fresh garlic
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chili flakes
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
1 tsp salt

Lightly coat the chicken with olive oil and evenly rub on the spice mixture. Grill over low heat, turning occasionally until the meat is firm and juice runs clear.

rosemary chicken quarters
rosemary chicken quarters (image copyright The Whiskey Wash/Tish Lester)

By the time this came off the grill, our appetites had returned somewhat. Just smelling the chicken and herbs confirmed our suspicions that we had at last found a pairing for the Devil’s Cut Bourbon. And we were right!

The bourbon brought out the sweetness in the chicken and the smokiness of the grill complimented the grain flavors in the whisky. What a way to finish! Our triple whiskey barbecue extravaganza was one for the record books. All, that is, except for the finishing touch:

bourbon vanilla ice cream
bourbon vanilla ice cream (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

A little sunset, and little pint of Steve’s Small Batch Bourbon Vanilla ice cream! Now that’s a barbecue!

Tish Lester

Tish Lester is a former restauranteur whose love of good flavors led her to the world of whiskey, where she is an avid participant, having attended nosings, tastings and master classes throughout Europe and the United States. She has recently discovered the truth that for every moment in our lives, there is a perfect whiskey pairing. Tish currently enjoys her daily dram near Portland, OR.

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