Though he may not be a professional barbecue chef, Kelly Gee has long been a legend in the central Arkansas barbecue scene thanks to his fabled War Memorial tailgates. But despite his love for ribs and pork shoulders, he’s equally capable of elevating the classic backyard burger to new heights. But he’s not about to keep those fabulous patties to himself. Here are his dos and don’ts for crafting the perfect burger.
• Make sure your meat has a ratio of at least 80 percent lean to 20 percent fat. “Sirloin or 90/10 tends to be dryer, especially when you grill it over coals,” Gee says. “You can use 70/30, but 80/20 is healthier and still has enough fat.”
• Whip up a batch of Gee’s dad’s dry rub: a tablespoon of salt and pepper; a teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder and oregano. Pat—don’t rub—a sprinkle of the mixture onto each side and finish with a teaspoon of Worcestershire or Wicker’s BBQ sauce for moisture.
• Use cherry and mesquite wood chips for extra-smoky flavor. Soak the chips for an hour before tossing a couple of handfuls on the coals. Once they really start smoking, you’re ready to grill.
• “Don’t handle the raw patty too much. And never knead the meat or ball it too tightly, or it will get mealy.”
• Never mash the burger with a spatula. “Patties can bubble up. A good trick for that is when you’re shaping the patty to put a thumbprint in the center. The outside will cook first, and when it starts to rise, you end up with a flat patty.”
• Don’t overcook. “People are always afraid of making people sick. But you really want a good burger to be medium. I do one flip. Five to six minutes on one side, and three to four on the other for a 1/3 pound patty.”
Fire up the grill for something unexpected (like a cocktail)
Want to see a genius at work? Ask Northwest Arkansas’s Brandon Davidson, aka The Retrotender, to brainstorm how one might use, say, a grilled fruit in a summerified cocktail.
“Oooh, you could grill apricots, and maybe do a play on a Tom Collins, with thyme?” Davidson says, gears churning in his head, fingers giving his handlebar mustache a quick twist. “Or maybe a grilled-pineapple Old Fashioned, but you use rum instead of whiskey?” For this 14-year veteran of mixology, recipes and ideas and flavor combinations just seem to, well, flow.
In the end, though, it was all about the citrus. “Grilling grapefruit adds a smoky sweetness and plays well off the bite of a good ginger beer,” Davidson says. “It’s a little extra effort, but it will have you dubbed not only a grillmaster, but a liquid chef, as well.”
After all, who doesn’t want that?
GRILLED GRAPEFRUIT MULE
2 ounces Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka
.5 ounce grilled grapefruit juice
2 dashes grapefruit bitters
Cut the grapefruit in half, and place one half onto the grill, fruit side down. Cut the other half into wedges or rings, and place on the grill. Leave the fruit on the grill until burn marks appear, then pull it off grill, and let cool. Juice the grilled grapefruit half; reserve the rest for garnish.
Combine all ingredients except for the ginger beer in your glass of choice, fill with ice, and give a quick stir to combine the ingredients. Top with ginger beer, and fold with a spoon. Garnish with a grilled grapefruit wedge or wheel, and serve.
Planning a summer soiree in need of a signature cocktail or an ace barman? Visit retrotender.com.
Don’t have a backyard pool? Try one of these
Not that there’s anything wrong with green hair and eau de chlorine (maybe). But for those interested in superlative dips, like really taking things to the next level, may we suggest the following:
Swim Farther: Lap Swim
Little Rock Racquet Club
To answer your questions: Yes, you’ll need to shell out a few bucks for membership. And yes. Worth every penny. (lrrcfc.com/aquatics)
Lounge Longer: Lazy River
Wild River Country
Not that you really need a quarter mile of smoothly ebbing water to relax. But it helps. And so do ear plugs. (wildrivercountry.com)
Slide … So Far: “Slide the City”
Fayetteville (Aug. 30)
It’s kinda like if your inner-child were given free reign of city planning. And yes, when they say “Slide the City,” they mean it. (slidethecity.com)
Dive Deeper: Scuba Lessons
Rick’s Dive ‘N Travel Center
Go off the deep end in this 14-foot-deep indoor heated pool. And once you’ve done that, it won’t be long before you’re testing other waters. (ricksdivecenter.com)
Jump Higher: Cliff Jumping
Greers Ferry Lake
Granted, it’s not a pool. But if you’ve ever been advised to “go jump off a cliff,” there’s never been a better time—erm, place—to do it. (At your own risk, of course.)
It’s got 13,800 acres of crystal-clear water (they don’t call it a “Diamond Lake” for nothing) that almost glints turquoise in the bright summer sun. It’s got coves for snorkeling and some of the best scuba diving in the state. It’s got a resort, the kind that comes with a pool with a view and a spa and a mess of kiddo-friendly activities. And it’s got—and this is perhaps most important—sand, lots and lots of it, enough to fill a whole real-deal beach. So pack a picnic, grab that sarong and floppy hat, and head to DeGray Lake Resort State Park. With your toes in the sand and a breeze off the water, you might not even notice that you’re nowhere near, you know, the sea. (Bonus: Since the beach stays open til 10 p.m. daily, you can also recreate that whole watch-the-stars-while-the-waves-lap-nearby thing.) (degray.com)
Even before I loved it, I think I knew it was more than tea, more than sugar, more than the sum of its tooth-obliterating sweetness. I knew some deeper meaning lay behind its widespread appeal and obsession. But much as I wanted to like it—and I would have loved to like it, to be able to stomach it, to take a sip without feeling I’d done my body a grave disservice (and probably, diabetes)—I couldn’t.
Looking back, it seems no coincidence that much of this internal conflict took place not long after I’d first moved to the South just about a decade ago. In the quiet ruin of a rented room in downtown Atlanta, with the sloshy jugs of sweet tea my landlord left open on the counter and the cockroaches the size of small dogs whose nighttime tendency to fall from the rafters left me with an enduring case of the heebie-jeebies, I experienced a pastiche of Southern stuff fulfilling every notion I’d carried with me to the region. And I’d be lying if I said that I particularly enjoyed it.
And then I remember how that changed. I remember how sweet tea grew on me, that appreciation for the sweet stuff marching lockstep with my increased appreciation of the region. How, over the years, the sweetness of the tea came to mean something special for me personally—a connection to a place developed and cultivated as time wore on. And though that connection lacks the nostalgia-puffed vision of youth and youthfulness, of diners, country drives or any other such idealized thing of the Southern experience had by natives, it’s a reminder that things are never fixed and held so fast that they can’t be altered—a reminder that revulsion can give way to appreciation. And it’s a reminder that the polarity of opinion can be reversed—and so I drink it in, every drop. Through a straw. —jph
Just picture it: a warm Southern evening. You bring your plate out to the porch to enjoy the breeze. As you tuck into a dish of ham and greens, you remember that you brought something to wash it all down. You rest your fork gently on the edge of the plate and pick up your Snickers bar for a bite, savoring the sweetness.
Absurd, right? Not exactly. If you’re enjoying your supper with a small sweet tea from, say, McDonald’s, you’re consuming just as much of the sweet stuff as you would with that candy bar. More, actually. A regular Snickers bar includes 27 grams of sugar. That small beverage from McD’s has 36 grams, according to its website.
“But I make mine differently!” you may protest. No, you don’t. If I’ve learned anything from sweet-tea evangelists, it’s that there is no such thing as “too sweet.”
The saccharine sipper can leave you dizzy, tasting more like Kool-Aid than tea. The mind reels at the idea that the syrup-laced concoction is considered an acceptable meal pairing.
Give me unsweetened tea—tangy and palette-cleansing—or give me unquenched thirst! I’m drinking iced tea because I actually like tea, not because I need a sudden blood-sugar boost.
Unsweetened tea, with lemon or without, provides the same crisp-bitter contrast to rich dishes that you get with a good IPA or a glass of white wine. Basically, unsweet tea is classy as hell.
But what about on its own, as a treat? If you prefer to drink your dessert, so be it. Sweet tea at least provides some nutrients, some antioxidants that you’re not going to find in a can of Coke. But if you’re going to spend your calories sucking simple syrup through a straw, why not make it a little more fun? Add some mint, some ice and some bourbon for a sweet Southern drink I can really get behind—a mint julep. —evz
Sigh. So, you know those places that are too good to share—that you intentionally withhold for fear they’ll go overly mainstream? Whelp. You’re welcome.
605 Beechwood St., Little Rock
Yes, it can be buggy and muggy come summer. But in terms of neighborhood mainstays, the wraparound porch seating is among the finest. (Also: For further convincing, check out page 85)
Crush Wine Bar
318 N. Main St., North Little Rock
Though we’re tempted to keep this spot on the periphery, the intimate fenced-in space with wrought-iron furniture and a rotating selections of bottled craft beer (and wine) is just too good not to share.
1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock
Though it might seem odd to include such a visible fixture on a list of hidden gems—it is at one of the foremost tourist attractions in central Arkansas, aka the Clinton Presidential Center—this airy, breezy locale is very much a can’t-miss.
111 W. Markham St., Little Rock
You know the overhang of the Capital Hotel? The wicker chairs you can just barely see from below? Yes, you can go up there. Though limited in seating, a drink ordered from one of the hotel’s bars is your ticket to the top.
500 President Clinton Ave., Suite 105, Little Rock
Not that you should need much convincing to check out a place with Dam Goode Beer, Dam Goode Pizza and a Dam Goode View (see what we did there?). But if you’re really in need of additional convincing, may we suggest combining all three?