Photography by Jason Stephens
Prop Styling by Lisa Malott

Master the art of grilling with these expert tips and tricks from our friends at Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply

From the time fire was first harnessed by people until now, few things have been more central to the human experience than grilling a piece of meat or a plant over an open flame. It’s a practice passed down to us through the centuries by our ancestors; a practice honed out of necessity, long before a person could find sustenance on every street corner or have it delivered to them in the comfort of their home. The ability to properly preserve and prepare food was pivotal to one’s survival. Eventually these culinary practices became defining cultural characteristics.

As a kid, I quickly surmised that what it means to be a man — or at least a red-blooded American man — was the art of grilling. I watched as my dad made dinner out on the grill three or four times a week.

When I would go over to my friends’ houses for dinner, their dads could also be found out on the back patio with their music playing, a cold beverage in hand, and some sort of food going on the grill. Perhaps this wasn’t your experience. Regardless, it only takes a few commercial breaks during a sporting event or one walk past the Backyard & Outdoors section of a store to get the impression that grilling is something a man should be able to do and do well.

But here’s the rub (no pun intended): grilling was something I felt the innate pressure to be able to do, but I had no idea how to actually do it. What’s worse is that I was mortified at the idea of asking for advice from my friends who appeared to have figured it out by pure instincts alone. Instead I resorted to searching the internet for advice and started toiling away at my quest to become a man, one disappointing meal at a time.

For Chris Farina over at Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply, my experience with grilling is all too common. Farina, who also happens to be a lieutenant with the Lakeland Fire Department, works part-time at Whiskey Bent. I was able to spend time with him and his fellow Fire Department lieutenant and good friend, Dan Varner (yes, like the character from Forrest Gump and yes, he let me call him Lieutenant Dan) for a few hours while they grilled up the meals featured in this issue. While Farina and Varner were grilling the best steak and swordfish I have ever had, I was able to ask Farina about his experience with grilling and how guys like me can also take their grilling to the next level.

“If you want something fast, it’s easy to just do it on a gas grill or a pellet grill.”

The Lakelander: With so many options and opinions out there on what type of equipment to use, how to prep your food, and then how to go about actually grilling it, where does someone even begin?

Chris Farina: Well, when people come into Whiskey Bent, we always say we don’t care what you cook on. Ever. You can cook on a gas grill, pellet grill, charcoal, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. We just want you to cook. Typically I just start by asking a person what they enjoy cooking, what they like to eat, and what their experience is. From there we can start walking you through what type of equipment we recommend, what type of rubs you might like, and so forth. Personally, what I recommend is that anyone who is really interested in learning how to grill sign up for one of our classes, because I could tell you how to cook anything, but we’d much rather give you an experience where we can actually show you.

The Lakelander: Starting out?

CF: The first thing we recommend is to learn meat temperature. Don’t worry about time or what type of grill to use; all of that can come later. Regardless of what you’re trying to cook, whether it be fish, brisket, chicken, or steak, every meat needs to be cooked to a certain temperature. Once you get that down, you want to focus on what types of rubs and seasonings you’re using to flavor the meat. After that, then we can start to talk through what type of cook you want to be and find the type of grill that fits best with the way you want to cook. Some guys want more simple and straightforward, others want to go slower and be more involved while their food is cooking. If you can decide on what sort of approach you want to go for, we can help you find the grill that will best suit your needs.

The Lakelander: In a hurry vs. quick?

CF: If you want something fast, it’s easy to just do it on a gas grill or a pellet grill. On a gas grill, you have to really watch to make sure your temperature stays consistent, and be ready to flip it to make sure you don’t overcook one side. With pellet grills, you can turn it on, set it to the temperature you want, throw a temperature probe in the meat, and walk away. If you have a lot of time to grill and you want to learn how to work the vents and how to control the temperature, get a Big Green Egg. Today we cooked our steak and swordfish on a Traeger, which is a pellet grill, and you saw how simple it was. I tell people all the time, “I bet you $100 I can cook you the best steak you’ve ever had, and then I’ll bet you $1,000 I can teach you to cook the best steak you’ve ever had.”

After spending four hours with Farina and Varna, they had me convinced. They are passionate about grilling, and even more so, they’re passionate about helping people learn how to grill.

“Look, here at Whiskey Bent,” Farina says as we shake hands to depart, “our goal for anybody who walks in here is to be able to go home, and the next time you throw a party, you feel confident that whatever you’re grilling is going to be the best thing your friends have ever had.”

Sure enough, when I went home that evening I grilled up two top sirloin filets for my wife and myself (seasoned with “The Fix” and “The Grind,” two complimentary Whiskey Bent dry rubs). She took one bite and said, “Wow, you need to tell Chris and Dan this actually is the best steak you’ve ever made for us.”

Reverse-Seared Tomhawk Ribeye

Remove the steak from the fridge and allow it to rest. Season with a 50/50 mix of Whiskey Bent BBQ Seasoning The Fix and The Grind. Allow it to rest another 10 minutes. Set grill to 225 degrees F. and preheat. Place the steak on the grill and cook to an internal temperature of 125 degrees F. Remove the steak and increase the grill temperature to high. Place the steak on the grill once temperature is reached. Sear each side for one to two minutes. Remove the steak and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Cut and serve.

Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus

Wrap five to six spears of asparagus in your choice of bacon. Season with Whiskey Bent BBQ “The Old Fashioned.” Cook at 400 degrees F. until the bacon is crisp. Baste with Tillman’s Apple Chipotle BBQ Sauce the last 5 minutes. Allow the sauce to become tacky.

Swordfish

Remove the swordfish from the freezer and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator, or purchase it fresh. Season 50/50 with Whiskey Bent “The Fix” and “The Rocks” on both sides. Cook at 400 degrees F. until the fish reaches an internal temperature of at least 145.

Lemon Butter Caper Sauce

2 lemons

1 stick unsalted butter

8 ounces of heavy whipping cream

One small jar of capers

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Pinch of salt and pepper

Squeeze the two lemons into a small pan to get fresh juice. Add the stick of unsalted butter and place on medium heat. Add whipping cream, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. Add 2 spoonfuls of capers. Once ingredients are warm, add cornstarch, and bring to boil. Sauce will thicken. Once thickened, remove, and serve with fish and asparagus.

“After spending four hours with Farina and Varna, they had me convinced. They are passionate about grilling, and even more so, they’re passionate about helping people learn how to grill.”