What’s Cooking, Grilladelphia?!

By Lane RSS Fri, June 25, 2021

Between Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Fourth of July, block parties, and—let’s be honest—any day with decent weather, Philadelphia loves a cookout.

With so many opportunities this summer to come together outdoors, it’s a perfect time to diversify your menus and improve your diet with some new dishes. Besides being versatile, grilling is actually one of the healthiest cooking methods. Fat drips away as the food cooks, and many nutritious foods like fish and vegetables taste even better on an open flame.

Here are some fresh ideas that will help you depart from your typical cookout fare while realizing the barbeque’s true potential.

Get Saucy

Griller beware: store-bought barbeque sauces can be loaded with hidden sugars. One popular brand contains 16 grams of added sugar in just 2 tablespoons—that’s 50-70% of your daily allowance of sugar intake slathered on your baby back ribs.*

Making your own sauce can cut that amount in half and let your imagination loose to include ingredients that bring flavor and a hint of sweetness while leaving out unnecessary sugar. Use this basic formula from Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters & Glazes by Steven Raichlen:



  • Base (tomatoes, mustard, vinegar)
  • Sweetener (summer fruits, molasses, maple syrup, honey, or different jams and jellies)
  • Souring Agent (vinegar, citrus juice)
  • Seasoning (salt)
  • Heat (hot sauce, chili peppers, horseradishes)
  • Aromatics (celery, onions, garlic, ginger, pepper)
  • Enrichers (oils)
  • Wildcard (imagine the possibilities: alcohol, spices, fruit puree... go nuts!) 

*The American Heart Association recommends that adult men consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day, and adult women, 25 grams. 


Backyard Tourism

Image credit: Bear Mountain BBQ, “Signature American BBQ Styles by Region” 

Different regions of the US boast distinct styles of barbeque, but they are all generally defined by their respective sauces. You can explore these by replicating (or reimagining) their combinations of grilling method, meat, and sauce, or you can look to new flavor profiles of international traditions that can be less fatty and sugary. From Japanese yakitori to Mexican barbacoa, Middle Eastern koftas to Korean bulgogi, or the seemingly endless variants of kebabs, discover the international culinary grill from home with these titles:

The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat
Packed with fast-and-easy recipes, versatile marinades, and step-by-step techniques, this book will have you grilling amazing steaks, pork chops, salmon, tomatoes, and whole chicken, as well as traditional favorites like yakitori, yaki onigiri, and whole salt-packed fish. Whether you use charcoal or gas, or are a grilling novice or disciple. Includes menu suggestions for sophisticated entertaining in addition to quick-grilling choices for healthy weekday meals, plus a slew of delectable sides that pair well with anything off the fire.

Recetas (Spanish-language) by Richard Benson
Exquisite recipes that will make your events a success. Here you will find a wide variety of styles for all types of meats.

Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East and Beyond by Sabrina Ghayour
A fabulous collection of recipes from one of the strongest voices in Middle Eastern food today. A celebration of the food and flavors from the regions near the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, with over 100 recipes for modern and accessible Middle Eastern dishes.

Korean BBQ by Bill Kim
A casual and practical guide to grilling with Korean-American flavors from chef Bill Kim of Chicago's award-winning BellyQ restaurants, with 80 recipes tailored for home cooks with suitable substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients.

Thank You for Smoking

Another source of barbeque flavor comes from different types of wood: apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite, pecan, and oak woods will inject the flavors into your food without any sugar or salt. They’re easiest to use on a charcoal grill, but if you have a gas one, no worries—you can achieve great smokiness with side chambers and smoker boxes, and even humble ones made from aluminum foil. Separate smoking vessels can also prepare higher volumes and free up your grill for finishing. Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen will give you the science and the confidence to take on the technique, to whatever level you’re ready to commit.


Shiny New Grills

Different equipment yields different results. So whether you’re firing up an old drum, a tandoor, or an infrared grill, the Free Library has many titles in our catalog to help you learn all the different outdoor cooking methods and apparatuses. 

Ultimate reliability and affordability come from the classic charcoal grill in every shape and size. While they are a bit more time-consuming and require extra technique to fire up, the taste from a charcoal grill is unparalleled, especially when using different flavorful varieties of lump hardwood charcoal. Weber's Ultimate Grilling: A Step-by-Step Guide to Barbecue Genius by Jamie Purviance is a good go-to source for grilling, with 100 all-new recipes and more than 800 inspiring and instructive photos.

Despite their cost, egg-shaped Japanese charcoal grills have grown in popularity in the US for their heat retention, consistency, and versatility—you can grill, smoke, roast, and sear with one piece of equipment. Smoke It Like a Pro on the Big Green Egg & Other Ceramic Cookers by Eric C. Mitchell teaches you how to smoke, grill, roast, cure, fry and sear unbelievable, melt-in-your-mouth barbecue dishes that will blow your competition out of the water and make you the talk of the block.

Hog Pits
Serious smokers can put the time in and construct their own pits to accommodate big cuts or whole animals. Usually reserved for high-volume, commercial operations, pits are increasingly built by amateur enthusiasts who have some space, time, and cinder blocks, and are ready for a whole hog backyard barbeque. Get directions from the pitmaster: Rodney Scott's World of BBQ: Every Day is a Good Day by Rodney Scott

A more versatile (albeit permanent) structural commitment would be a wood-fired oven or grill, both of which require more space. The former traps the heat of adjacent burning flames in a dome whereas the latter cranks a grill vertically farther or closer to them. In Wood-Fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fireplace, and Campfire by Mary Karlin, the author covers the basics of indoor and outdoor wood-fired cooking, then delves into the best applications for the myriad live-fire techniques and equipment now available and provides detailed instructions on building a fire and maintaining temperature in each apparatus.

Take these ideas for what they are—a start to the almost endless possibilities for open-air cooking. This summer, let the Free Library guide you in your journey to grillmaster, whether you’re trying to cut down on sugar, salt, and cholesterol, eat less meat, or just get out of the house more, literally or metaphorically. 

Go forth and grill!

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Lifelong Philly native. Miss those cookouts and block parties!
Marianne - Port Charlitte
Friday, July 22, 2022