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Barbecue beef for summer picnics and potlucks



On a recent trip to Texas, my brother-in-law and I were babysitting a pair of whole tenderloin filets of local grass-fed beef, tied together to form a roast, which he had skewered onto a professional-looking rotisserie tool fitted over his massive gas grill, where there was also enough space to fit red-bell-pepper-onion-zucchini kebabs to feed 10.

The idea was a simple, local meal to celebrate my sister's birthday without heating up her kitchen, but the catch was that it was 103.9 degrees in the shade, even at 7 p.m. I wondered, as we sweated beet-faced over the cooking, what we were thinking.

Grilling out is synonymous with summer, but maybe in the South and Southwest we should redirect this passion to fall and spring. Or maybe we should've worn our bathing suits and jumped in and out of the backyard pool for doneness testing and kebab turnings. Come to think of it, even the pool water was over 90 degrees.

I decided my next meat-centered gathering would take a different approach. On the drive from Texas through Arkansas, Tennessee (which goes on for 10 hours, by the way) and on home to North Carolina, I noticed how many kinds of barbecue there are. As someone who lives around the corner from Chapel Hill's Allen & Son, my expectations are pork and vinegar-based sauce, but there is, it turns out, more than one way to do a good thing. In Texas and Arkansas, barbecue means beef, chicken and pork. In Memphis, we ate meaty ribs glazed with a tomato-based sauce that caramelizes on the grill. Why not try something similar at home for a potluck or picnic, where the meat is surrounded by seasonal side dishes? I used an Orange County bone-in beef chuck shoulder roast from my freezer and also tried it with boneless chuck pot roast and beef brisket, but any cut of meat that needs tenderizing would work.

I served this recipe with sides of sautéed corn (off the cob), green beans and tomato-cucumber salad. As cabbage comes into its second season, I look forward to fixing fresh cole slaw to serve with it. I made it in advance so it would not heat up the kitchen. The barbecue sauce, a combination of sweet and sour standards, is simply straightforward, made from pantry staples, but you can always substitute your favorite recipe or bottled variety.

Beef Barbecue

2 pounds chuck shoulder roast or beef brisket
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 small red or white onions (golf ball size), chopped

2 cups best quality ketchup
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Tabasco (optional)
1 tablespoon yellow ballpark style mustard
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

Pat the beef dry and set aside. In a Dutch oven or deep, ovenproof skillet, heat olive oil, garlic and onions over medium fire, until just soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove garlic and onions, add beef to skillet and cook until rich brown on both sides, about 5 minutes a side. While the beef is browning, whisk together in a 2-quart pan all sauce ingredients. Simmer 10 minutes. When beef is evenly brown, return garlic and onions to pan, add a cup of sauce to pot liquor and baste the top of the meat with another half cup or so (as you would for meatloaf). If the natural liquid doesn't cover the meat, don't worry and don't add water. You'll eventually be shredding the meat to immerse in the gravy combo of sauce and meat juices, and all will be equally moist.

Bake, covered, at 325 degrees, turning every 30 to 40 minutes and adding additional sauce if desired, for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until meat falls apart, fork tender. Remove from oven, slice up the beef and toss in the BBQ gravy, letting stand in gravy until ready to serve or refrigerate and reheat gently on stove top. Can be made up to three days in advance, and freezes well. Serves 4 generously; leftovers make great sandwiches.

Note: I use the same countertop slow cooker I use for beef burgundy and other long-cooking meat dishes. The above recipe can be done with a crock pot, by transferring the braised meat and sauce to it and simmering on medium setting for 3 hours or until done, according to above directions.

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