Fired Up: Backyard Bosses Grill and Smoke their way to tasty feasts

Summer is synonymous with vacations, swimming, outdoor adventures… and barbecues in the backyard.

We sat down with some of Center County’s top chefs, master grillers, barbecuers and smokers. In a nutshell, they explain, grilling means cooking over a fire, hot and fast. Barbecue means low and slow, and smoking means cooking something with smoke, also low and slow.

Whatever terms or techniques they use, the result is mouth-watering beef brisket, chicken, steak, pulled pork, and more, all served to lucky family and friends.

Nabil Mark: Texas knows best

State College’s Nabil Mark loves to cook, but he quits before he qualifies as an expert.

“I would say that I really like cooking in general and grilling in particular. I like to experiment and play with food,” he says.

Mark grew up at State College. However, he didn’t really develop a knowledge of what real barbecue was until he went to college in Texas.

“It really opened my eyes and broadened my food horizons, especially barbecue. Texas is basically a mecca for barbecue,” says Mark. “I lived in Texas for 10 years and really got a taste for it. to that.”

In Texas, he learned that there’s a big difference between barbecuing and grilling.

“People around here say, ‘We’re going to have a barbecue.’ BBQ here means gentle, slow indirect heat with real wood on a smoker. It’s just a whole different world, and I really got into it and just enjoyed it. I didn’t even know what the chest. Now it’s one of my favorite things,” says Mark.

When he returned to central Pennsylvania, he couldn’t find the authentic Texas barbecue he was craving, so he took matters into his own hands. For a wedding gift, his wife had a custom-made smokehouse made just for him.

“There was a Texas Longhorn on it. I started playing and experimenting. I bought a bunch of barbecue books,” says Mark.

But Mark doesn’t just focus on barbecuing. He also enjoys grilling and has even tried grilling “caveman style”, which involves tossing meat directly onto hot coals.

“During COVID, I built a fire pit in the garden just so I could cook over an open fire,” says Mark.

Photo Bob Zipf

As for his favorite foods, he likes to cook pork (for the pulled pork) and smokehouse ribs. When grilling, he tends to favor a simple steak, like a ribeye.

“I love beef brisket, but it takes a long time. Ribs and pulled pork are easy to prepare,” says Mark. “It’s a little more manageable.”

According to Mark, anyone can become a great chef. Read, watch videos and experiment, of course.

“I watch a lot of cooking shows, even when I’m exercising,” Mark laughs. ” It was very cool. I live in a great neighborhood and my house has become the go-to place for barbecues.

Chris McKim: Don’t forget the preparation

Bellefonte’s Chris McKim loves to smoke meat. Like Mark, he doesn’t consider himself an expert. In fact, he just started smoking meat a few years ago.

“Right now, my favorite meat is pork. I’m going to smoke a pork shoulder,” McKim says.

For a really good, authentic barbecue, preparation is key, he says.

“You have to prepare. Trim the fat from the meat, make sure it’s perfectly round because when you put it in this smoker you want it to be perfectly even. You want the smoke to be absorbed by the meat. Sometimes if there’s loose meat or loose fat, it burns,” he says.

Chris McKim shows off his wood pellet smoker. (Photo by Chuck Fong)

McKim is a big fan of rubs and currently uses a mixture of salt, pepper and garlic on pork.

“I put that…very heavy, because when that smoke gets in there, you really want to be able to protect that meat on the outside and create that ‘bark’. This still allows the smoke to penetrate without overcooking it,” he explains. “When you smoke anything, you want to do it gently and slowly so the smoke can really penetrate the meat.”

He uses a “friendly” smokehouse fueled with wood pellets to smoke all his meats.

For McKim, smoking meat started as a hobby.

“It’s something friends of mine have been talking about for a long time. I actually started with an electric smoker. Last year I bought a Pit Boss, the pellet smoker,” he says.

When it comes to meats, McKim says there’s no reason to go to an expensive butcher or order online. In fact, he says, some of the best cuts of meat he’s found so far come from a local big-box store.

“In general, some of the best meat we get comes from Sam’s Club because they cut and process all the meat on site. They usually also have a bigger selection,” he explains.

With a big family to feed, pulled pork will do just fine, says McKim.

“Pulled pork will feed the whole house and it’s inexpensive right now,” he says. “A $25 pork butt will last us an entire week.”

Nick Salerno: A legend in the ‘hood

If there was any upside to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was being forced to cook more at home, at least according to State College resident Nick Salerno, who headed to the grill.

“With all the restrictions, we kind of stopped going out to eat,” Salerno says. “Then all the neighbors were around. I had a pellet grill and really got down to prep, marinade, all that kind of stuff. My whole mentality was to keep it simple and try to bring people together to eat.

The hobby took off and Salerno found himself grilling and smoking whenever the opportunity arose.

Salerno says inexpensive meats, especially chicken, lend themselves well to grilling.

Nick Salerno is famous for his parties. (Photo by Chuck Fong)

“Chicken wings, drumsticks, chicken thighs, it’s all really fun to grill,” he says. “Living here gives us a lot of access to farm fresh produce and you can’t duplicate that. It’s phenomenal.

Believe it or not, one of Salerno’s favorite things to start on the grill is tacos.

“We’re going to make marinated flank steak, chicken, marinated shrimp, vegetables, vegetable skewers, we’re just going to smoke it all. We’ll dice everything and you make your own tacos or taco bowls,” says Salerno.

Another thing he likes to make is a “chicken lollipop”.

“You take a chicken drumstick, cut the tendon, and pull it down so it looks like a lollipop. Throughout the smoking process, the bones char and to eat the chicken, just eat it like a lollipop,” says Salerno.

Although he still has a propane grill in his arsenal, Salerno says he primarily uses his smoker and Green Egg, which is fueled by charcoal and wood chips.

“It’s a big ceramic egg, basically,” he says.

Photo by Nick Salerno

Like Mark and McKim, Salerno likes to smoke his meat.

“It’s a longer process. It cooks more slowly and takes on a smoky taste,” says Salerno. “But I’ve found that I like to keep it simple…that’s usually what turns out best.”

Photos of Salerno’s backyard grilling adventures have made their way to foodie social media groups, so he’s become something of a legend online and in his own neighborhood.

“You’re always looking for creative outlets, and that’s really become my creative outlet,” Salerno says. “It became very fun. I just started looking for things online, we took pictures and word spread.

Salerno’s spreads became so popular that he thought of starting a small business catering to Penn State football games and such.

“I would like to do a side business, but it will probably take years,” he says. “Eventually, I would like to do it to pay for an outdoor kitchen, something like that. I would probably use the money to reinvest and just make more food. T&G

Chris Morelli is a resident of Pleasant Gap and the editor of The Express at Lock Haven. This story appears in the July 2022 issue of City and dress.

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