Backyard grilling, one of season’s greatest simple pleasures, delivers a low-stress, crowd-pleasing meal in a casual atmosphere, while creating memories with family and friends. And there’s no other cooking method that better defines the American summer experience.

This season, improve your grill skills by thinking beyond the basic burger and hot dog. Expand your repertoire to include homemade rubs and sauces for a variety of meats, including turkey, fish and pork and lamb. Consider foregoing the commercial barbeque sauce habit, heaped on before, during or after cooking. Most of these sauces are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and disguise the flavor of the meat instead of enhancing it. After grilling the meat, use a simple, homemade sauce, sparingly on the side, as many traditional barbeque eateries do.

Memorable meals can be created from the most humble, basic grill to a luxurious outdoor kitchen with all the bells and whistles—think rotisserie roasters, smokers, specialty woods and more. Either way, grilling has never been easier or afforded more options, leaving the cook to spend more time relaxing with guests. If you are in the market for an upgrade, the Buck Factory Outlet in the Benicia Business Park has many choices in their showroom, or visit

Start with a homemade rub, using the basic 4-3-2-1 classic recipe: four parts sugar, three parts salt, two parts paprika and one part pepper. If you need visuals, grilling cookbooks and many online sites offer dry rub recipes that take only minutes to prepare. During the grilling process, the sugars in the rub caramelize on the meat’s surface to lock in moisture and flavor, and can be customized to taste by getting creative with the components (sea salt, kosher salt, brown or Turbinado sugar, white or red pepper, Spanish or smoked paprika, etc.). Rubs can be made in advance and stored, airtight, for up to two months. For a low-sodium version, substitute onion or garlic powder for the salt. Rubs can be applied 15 minutes before grilling or as long as overnight in the refrigerator.

Homemade barbeque sauces are as varied as rubs. The basic components are ketchup or tomato sauce, sweeteners such as molasses or brown sugar, and vinegar. To these, flavorings are added to taste: liquid smoke, onions, garlic, salt, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce or spices, according to the desired tanginess, smokiness or sweetness. The ingredients are cooked together, stovetop, until slightly thickened. Here’s a good barbeque sauce recipe to try, on Food Network’s website:

For a truly inspired meal, throw some vegetables and fruit on the grill while the meat is resting, they cook in just a few minutes. Zucchini, thick-sliced tomatoes and corn on the cob are delicious summer staples, but consider branching out into new territory with these tasty stars: avocado, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, red cabbage and eggplant. Just toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and cook over a lower temperature or indirect heat until done. And to really showcase your grilling prowess, add watermelon, strawberries, apples or cantaloupe to the usual standbys, pineapple and peaches. Serve the fruit warm, drizzled with real maple syrup, or with homemade whipped cream or ice cream.

4-3-2-1 Rub
4 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper (cut in half for less heat)

Chicken under Bricks
1 chicken
4-3-2-1 rub
2 bricks covered in tin foil

Rinse the chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Spatchcock the chicken (this is a quick and easy process of flattening a whole bird so it cooks more evenly and exposes more skin by cutting through the backside with scissors. Google it or visit

30 minutes or more before grilling, apply the rub to the chicken by hand. Place the chicken breast-side up on the grill. Place the bricks on top of the chicken to cover. Grill over indirect heat for one hour at 375 degrees, adding 5 minutes at a time if needed until done. Let the chicken rest for five minutes and serve.