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Grill masters: Turn your backyard barbecue into a party

Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of the summer outdoor grilling season.

Eating is always more fun when done in the company of friends and family. A little bit of planning and preparation can turn the typical backyard BBQ into a perfect gathering.

The most important decisions are what to cook and how to cook it.

There are several outdoor options including a gas grill, a smoker or a charcoal grill. Each option can work for pork, beef, chicken, hot dogs, bratwursts and more.

Daniel “Pepper” Morgan has been grilling up meat since he was a child growing up in Denton, Texas.

He opened Pepper’s Ole Fashion BBQ restaurant near the State Fair grounds more than nine years ago.

“I’ve been cooking since I was 10 years old,” he said. “I learned a lot of cooking methods from my grandma. She and my family had some unique techniques for seasoning.”

He started experimenting with grilling when he was in college. He and his fraternity brothers would tailgate at Dallas Cowboys games and cook for everyone.

He earned an engineering degree and never imagined he would serve up barbecue as anything more than a hobby.

Morgan’s restaurant features strictly wood grilled meats, which means he uses wood instead of charcoal or propane to cook.

He said it’s possible to cook with wood in the backyard but the easiest method is to use a charcoal grill with wood chips mixed in for flavor. He uses hickory, mesquite and pecan, which he said gives the meat flavor, heat and color.

The secret for any good meat, he said, is that right rub.

Morgan suggests making one at home with granulated garlic, paprika, cracked black pepper, chile powder, sea salt and turbinado sugar. He suggests basting the meat in olive oil immediately before adding the rub so it sticks better.

Other general tips for cooking on the grill include keeping thermometer handy and cooking both steak and chicken “hot and fast.”

“It seems to help the meat contain more of it’s flavor,” he said. “You keep more of the juices that way.”

Here are some non-traditional food ideas:

  • Jalepeño poppers, courtesy of Morgan. Slice open some jalepeño peppers and stuff with filling of your choice, such as shrimp, ground beef or cheese, wrap in bacon, insert a toothpick and cook for about 20 minutes on the grill.
  • For desert, set up a station with ice cream toppings in colorful serving dishes. Toppings can include sprinkles, chocolate and different candies.
  • Dress up the usual BBQ foods like hamburgers and hots dogs. For hamburgers, either grind in or stuff the meat with cheese, chopped bacon or mushrooms. Hot dogs can be cut, filled with a cheese like cheddar and wrapped in bacon.

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