Tag Archives: grilling

Integration – 4th of July

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When we moved to the states we decided that we didn’t want to do the ex-pat thing of seeking out other British people. We’ve not even set foot in a ‘British’ pub. It’s not that we’re antisocial, we just felt that we should attempt to make American friends, to better immerse ourselves in the culture.

And we have made some great friends. Friends who introduced us to baseball and explained the rules when we were lost. Friends who took us to brunch and made sure we got the full experience by ordering bottomless mimosas. And the friends that encouraged us to celebrate 4th July on our roof with steak, beer, ‘chips’ and red white and blue frosted cookies.

Last year’s party started early with inexpertly blended iced tea (we soon moved onto beer) and a soundtrack of all the patriotic songs we could think of. We endured the jokes about Yorktown and apologized again for 1812 (how could we burn down the library of congress?!), and wore our most American outfits to make up for it – we even had an American flag that I think went missing that night… By the end of the night we had proven ourselves with our grilled steak sandwiches and ability to put away the bourbon, and then it was time to introduce us to that American party classic – Cards against Humanity.

I’ve heard that this game has made it to the UK by now, but at the time it was the strangest thing I’ve ever done to download the cards, go to Kinko’s to print them out, and then spend much of my afternoon using their guillotine to cut them all out. I remember while I was doing this a young boy came over – clearly fascinated by the guillotine – and wanted to help. I spent the whole time he was ‘helping’ making sure he looked after his fingers and that he didn’t look at the cards! In case you’re unfamiliar with the game, this is an example of what he might have seen:

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Some of the less pornographic/offensive cards

I kept his attention by trying to explain 4th July to him. He knew there were fireworks, but didn’t know why. When I told him the UK had once run the US he was somewhat incredulous.

By the time this year’s 4th of July came round we felt like old hands. We had our own small grill as we knew that the gas-grill on our roof cannot be depended on, we added some of this year’s favorite hits and some new-found country to our patriotic play list, and we bought a new flag to replace the one that got lost last year. We also made our signature guacamole, and stocked the fridge.

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Plus we made sure there was room in the freezer for plenty of ice and a friend’s delicious contribution of ice-cream cookie sandwiches.

Sadly the weather was not as good this year as last. We were grateful that our balcony is mostly covered as the rain came down mid-afternoon and we were able to continue to drink our Sangria and American IPAs outside. Luckily the rain held off while we grilled on the roof, and the fireworks could still mostly be seen despite the cloud and mist. At some point a couple of guys started singing the National Anthem and we all joined in – even us Brits.

We’ve often been asked what our favorite thing is about America. At this party it was suggested that we all went round the circle, saying our favorite thing. My answer is usually the positive outlook we’ve experienced in people here. I can be ironic and urbane with the best of them, but there’s something about living in a more positive country with generally sincere people for over a year that I think’s made me happier, and a lot less insecure. My other favorite thing is how our efforts of integration have been thoroughly encouraged – perhaps especially when these efforts involve throwing a roof party with beer and steak!

Barbecue vs Grilling

If you asked many Americans, especially Texans, to come to your barbecue they would probably be confused. When we in the UK think of barbecuing we think of what the Americans call grilling. Or tailgating if it happens in the parking lot before a sports event. Barbecue is a word reserved for the cuisine that results from cooking meat slowly in a barbecue smoker oven

We’ve done quite a bit of grilling now in the States. There’s a gas grill on our rooftop, but because that was a bit hit and miss, we bought a little smoky joe charcoal grill, which we’ve used to grill mainly steak so far; we’ve tried out various marinades, chopped it up for sandwiches to feed a crowd on July 4th, and added it to salad. It’s been good.

Barbecue though, has been a revelation. For starters, there’s a different kind of barbecue in pretty much every state (and according to this Wikipedia article, even in different parts of Texas). So far we’ve both tried barbecue in Texas and South Carolina, and R has had barbecue in Oklahoma and Kansas too.

The main thing to remember is that Texas is a beef producing state, so Texas barbecue focuses largely on beef brisket. They dry rub the meat and cook it slowly in a smoker until it practically falls apart. Their sauces are rich, sweet and can be hot. Our most memorable experiences of this barbecue were in Austin last year. First we went to House Park Bar-B-Q in the West of Downtown Austin, near the graffiti wall at Castle Hills. This place was a real old barbecue shack, with a hunting and fishing theme to the interior decoration. We were a bit nervous as to how they would react to two Brits on vacation from DC, but we needn’t have worried. They were really friendly and happy to explain their menu, recommend a can of Big Red (incredibly sweet) to go with our brisket sandwiches, and even show us their 50-year-old barbecue oven. The next day we queued at la Barbecue (as I mentioned in a previous post) and ate brisket in the open air from a trestle table, dousing it liberally with bbq sauce.

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In North Carolina we stopped on the way back from our road trip at a proper barbecue place – Fullers Old Fashioned Barbecue. It was buffet style, and felt both authentic and wonderfully democratic. People from all walks of life were there having lunch. We queued for a short time, paid for two buffet meals with sweet tea, were seated, and then investigated the buffet. There was a salad bar, but like most people we skipped that and went straight for the hot food, where we found collared greens and fried okra, biscuits, and of course the meat. There were two kinds of chicken – crispy fried and smothered with barbecue sauce – but the main draw was the pork. South Carolina is pig country, and they do their barbecued pulled pork in a vinegar/mustard dressing, which was just delicious, especially with the biscuits.

In DC it’s often said you can’t get good barbecue. [People always ask me about Freddie’s place in House of Cards, but the truth is there’s very few places like that left in DC – they filmed those bits in Baltimore.] However, we’ve found two good places, and one comes with the seal of approval from Texans. Smoke and Barrel on 18th street is a great place to try barbecue for the first time, and has become our place to take visitors. You can get a sampler to share which includes chicken, sausage, pulled pork, brisket, ribs and sides. Sides include smoked asparagus, coleslaw, potato salad, sweet potato wedges, and grit cake. You can of course order extra of anything you particularly like. They ask you how you want the chicken barbecued – dry rubbed, wet with sauce or ‘muddy’ in a mixture of rub and sauce (I never understand why anyone would go for anything other than muddy) – and then there’s a range of barbecue sauces, including hot, sweet, and sweet and sour mixtures of maple syrup, honey, and chilies.

Fat Pete’s up in Cleveland Park turns out to be the choice of the few Texans we know. They have a similar range of barbecued meats to Smoke and Barrel, which you can get in a sandwich or as a platter with sides, and the traditional barbecue sauces. The only thing that raised eyebrows was the white barbecue sauce. I think it was made with horseradish, but our friends were highly suspicious of this innovation, so we avoided it. Still the beef brisket was pronounced pretty good – and from Texans that’s high praise.

Apparently you can now get authentic American barbecue in London. I’ll believe it when I taste it though, because at the moment the Camden Blues Kitchen’s ‘Texan pulled pork’ is ringing some alarm bells…