It's grilling season: How to have a safe cookout and create new traditions in the time of coronavirus

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Millions of Americans are practicing social distancing while under stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. And for many of us, this new normal means not being able to gather at our beloved barbecues and cookouts as the weather warms up. The good news, though, is that there are still plenty of ways to keep our traditions alive, and even create some new ones.

Michael Showers is the executive chef at High West Distillery in Park City, Utah. As an expert in smoking, grilling and barbequing, Showers shared his advice on how to have a cookout amid a pandemic, along with the biggest mistakes to avoid and new recipes to try.

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For an in-person connection, Showers himself said he's been grilling outside, just a safe distance apart from his neighbor, by setting up chairs on opposite sides of their fences to maintain social distancing. For those who can't copy this idea, Showers advised assembling friends and inviting them to an online potluck.

“A virtual potluck can be a fun new tradition that can cross state lines. Have one couple, for example, make a main dish and others make some unique sides,” Showers said. “Share recipes and stories of how everyone made each dish. You’d be surprised with how many opinions there are on every dish.”

Grilling season is upon us once again — although it might look a bit different this year.

Grilling season is upon us once again — although it might look a bit different this year.

As for what not to do, Showers said that some of the obvious grilling mistakes include cranking the heat too high (potentially causing flare-ups), as well as "tapping" the burger patties while they're still on the grill. One that sometimes gets overlooked, he said, is not seasoning the food sufficiently. When dealing with live fire and high heat, Showers urged the importance of aggressively seasoning food with salt and pepper. He also suggested adding smoked salt to meats to push the flavor forward.

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And when it comes to barbecue sauce, the executive chef advised only using it as a finisher.

“I don't really ever recommend marinating in barbecue sauce because they’re generally comprised of a lot of sugar,” Showers explained. “So the minute that the item hits the hot metal, it's just going to blacken right off the bat. And 90 percent of the time, it's going to stick to that surface.”

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Watch our full interview with Chef Michael Showers above for more advice on how to keep on barbecuing, then try out a few of the following recipes at your next cookout:

Wanship White Sauce (Alabama White Sauce)

Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients: 

  • 1¼ cup mayonnaise 
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup apple cider
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon creamy horseradish spread
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon old bay
  • ½ tablespoon black pepper

Directions:

Mix all ingredients and enjoy. Serve with grilled or barbecued poultry.

Pickle Brine (for Grilled Chicken Wings)

Ingredients: 

  • 1 quart distilled vinegar
  • 2 cups salt
  • 1¼ gallons water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 bay leaves

Directions:

Bring Ingredients to a simmer — do not boil — and let cool. Drop wings in brine for a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes. Store in the refrigerator, in the brine, until ready to grill. Grill until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.

High West Lemonade

Ingredients: 

  • 1½ ounces rye
  • 4–5 ounces of lemonade (recipe for lemonade to follow)
  • Mint sprig, for garnish

Directions:

In a rocks glass, add the rye, then fill with lemonade and add ice. Garnish with a fresh mint sprig.

Spiced Syrup (for Lemonade)

Yield: 1½ quarts of syrup, enough for 6 quarts of finished lemonade, or 40 cocktails' worth

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 lemons, cut into halves
  • 18-20 whole cloves
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 whole nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Put all the ingredients together in a pot over medium-high heat and make sure to mix it well, so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. When the syrup starts to boil, lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Strain the syrup and cool in a separate container.
  3. When ready to mix lemonade, combine 1 cup spiced syrup with 1 cup fresh lemon juice and 1½–2 cups water, depending on preference. (Makes 1 quart. Syrup yields 6 quarts.

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 Emily DeCiccio is a reporter and video producer for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio