Photo by Chris Humphrey Photographer.

Backyard Tips

Local barbecue competitors offer advice and share tricks for the grill.

Sommelier at the Coals

Tulsan Randa Warren is proof that you never have to stop learning.

Warren has cooked over charcoal since her college days and competed in barbecue competitions for the past 19 years. She also recently started competing in steak competitions and says she is learning everything she can about that field.

As a master sommelier, Warren also brings an unusual perspective to the world of grilling and barbecue.

“To become a master sommelier requires intense study and dedication, not to forget passion for the field, and I apply this same dedication and love to barbecue and smoking,” she says. “I take barbecue classes all over the country from top cooks, and I feel that has helped my skills greatly in competitive barbecue and even grilling at home.

“And when wine meets wood – that’s another totally cool topic. Pairing a lush, rich and fruity red zinfandel with juicy baby back ribs with a sweet and sticky Blues Hog Barbecue Sauce – now that’s a little slice of heaven and a great food and wine duo.”

For anyone starting to grill or barbecue, Warren suggests time-honored advice: “Practice, practice, practice.” Learn about the different cuts of meat, take classes, read internet forums on barbecue and practice what you learn.

“There are lots of your friends who will eat your practice foods and, with every whiff of smoke off your grill, you get better and better,” she says.

Photos courtesy DARIAN KHOSRAVI.

A Kosmic Passion

Darian “Kosmo” Khosravi started working at a barbecue pit when he was 13 and hasn’t slowed since. The Tuttle resident entered his first barbecue competition in 2003 by using store-bought rubs and spices that didn’t suit his taste.

“I found out quickly that most of the flavors I was looking for, no one made,” Khosravi says. “So I started dabbling in it and started making my own, then some guys told me I ought to sell them. So we started in 2009, and it keeps growing and growing and keeps getting bigger.”

Today, Kosmo’s Q ships its products across the United States, as well as to Canada and Mexico. The company also has dealers in the United Kingdom and Australia. Khosravi himself stays busy by attending more than 30 competitions a year and has won multiple grand and reserve grand championships.

With all that experience, Khosravi has cooked everything on the grill from steak and seafood to an entire chicken-fried steak meal, including mashed potatoes and gravy. One of his favorite items to cook is something you’ll find on many grills across Oklahoma this summer: cheeseburgers.

“I like to mix a little bit of ground up pork in my hamburger meat,” he says. “I actually like to do hot sausage, so I’ll cut two pounds of hamburger meat to a pound of hot breakfast sausage. It just adds a different level of flavor that explodes, and it keeps the burger juicy because the pork has a higher fat content.”

For beginning grillers, Khosravi recommends learning to cook the meat correctly, and a key element is temperature. Always carry a meat thermometer, he says.

“I know some of the best chefs in the world, and they all carry a thermometer,” he says.

The smoke flavor from a charcoal grill is a must for many backyard cooks.
Gas grills let you start cooking without much preparation time and are easy to clean after.
Photos courtesy Char-Broil.

Charcoal or Gas?

The source of heat is a constant dilemma in grilling. No matter what you’re grilling or how much time you spend preparing, before the grubs hits the grill you’ll have to decide on what kind of grill you’re using. There are many positives to using a gas grill: there’s less preparation time and less cleanup, and the controls make it easier to manage the heat of the flame. Those arguments are unlikely to sway charcoal or wood purists (or people who mix both), however. Charcoal and wood smoke add their own flavors to the food. Charcoal also can get hotter than most gas grills, which helps sear steaks on the outside while keeping them red or pink on the inside.

Ultimately, it may come down to personal preference – or having one of each and using whichever is best for you at the time.

Keeping an Eye on Health

Eating charred meats may greatly increase your cancer risks.

While grilled meat may be considered healthier, how you prepare meat for grilling and how you cook the meat can have a large effect on the potential for health problems.

“Research suggests that grilling meats at high temperatures over an open flame leads to fat dropping from the meat … which creates chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer,” says Jessica L. Engelbrecht, a clinical oncology dietician with Cancer Treatment Centers of America. “The substances in meat react under high heat to form carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which can damage the DNA of our genes and potentially contribute to the development of certain cancers, specifically colon and stomach cancers.”

grilled fruit pieces on wooden skewer isolated on white background

There are ways to help control the formation of HCAs, however. Engelbrecht suggests a few simple tips, including marinating the meat first, especially with citrus, which has vitamin C, helping to protect against HCAs. She also suggests thawing meat before cooking it, grilling smaller pieces that cook more quickly, and cooking all meats on top of foil, in a foil package or as far away from the heat source as possible.

“Avoid eating charred meat, which has the highest concentrations of HCAs,” she says. “One study found that eating charred, well-done meat on a regular basis may increase your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 60 percent. Other research suggests heavily charred meats have been linked to colorectal, stomach and breast cancers.”

If people are looking for healthy food to grill, Engelbrecht suggests grilled vegetables, fruit kebobs with tofu or leaner meats such as chicken and fish.

“When it comes to meat in general, a good rule is to eat grilled meats in moderation,” she says. “Fruit and vegetables are great options and don’t take long on the grill. Some of my favorites are asparagus, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, corn, apples and pineapple.”

Healthy spices

is good to try mixed with a mustard marinade or added to a relish, especially on poultry. It has a subtle, nutty flavor and adds anti-inflammatory properties to your dinner.

offers a bit of bite to any marinade and helps with digestion. Try it on red meat, including sirloins.

is very fragrant and a tasty addition to meat marinades.  A bonus is that rosemary’s antioxidant properties help to neutralize harmful carcinogens from forming while meat is being browned.

is also packed with anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. It goes well with meats and is delicious in marinades.

adds a kick of flavor and has immune-boosting properties.  Its high sulfur content has been shown in research to help prevent the formation of cancer cells, specifically for colon cancer.

Information from Jessica L. Engelbrecht, Cancer Treatment Centers of America