Impress While Saving Money and Time: Pantry ‘Que
A well-stocked barbecue pantry guarantees you can treat family and friends to a spontaneous meal without the need to visit a supermarket or grocery store. You know the kind of party—one of those spur-of-the-moment get-togethers that start with a casual invitation to eat some great barbecue and maybe “melt some ice,” a term an old Southern gentleman I knew used to signal cocktail hour.
Unless you’re like the late Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko, who famously postponed grocery shopping until there was literally nothing left to eat in the house, chances are good you could cobble together everything from barbecue rubs to sauces to side dishes (including desserts) using what you have on hand.
My personal definition of “pantry” is rather expansive, including canned, jarred, and bottled foods and condiments; dry goods like pasta, rice, flour, sugar, cornmeal, etc.; sturdy fruits and vegetables like apples, oranges, limes, lemons, potatoes and yams, onions and garlic, squash, and cabbage; aged cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano; fresh eggs; spices and dried herbs and chiles; and vinegars and oils. And while I prefer to buy fresh meat, I sometimes stock up on chicken, pork loin or tenderloin, bacon, or hamburger (especially if they’re on sale) and freeze them.
Fun fact from National Public Radio: Napoleon offered 12,000 francs to improve upon the prevailing food preservation methods of the time. Not surprisingly, the purpose was to better feed his army “when an invaded country was not able or inclined to sell or provide food”. Fifteen years later, confectioner Nicolas François Appert claimed the prize. He devised a method involving heating, boiling and sealing food in airtight glass jars — the same basic technology still used to can foods.
And although your idea of an ample barbecuer’s pantry might differ from mine, there are a few things that are essential to a well-prepared pit master.
Condiments: Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Asian sweet chile sauce, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, soy sauce, a variety of pickles and olives, capers, hot sauce, salsa, jams and jellies (great for quick glazes), pickled jalapenos, chipotle chiles canned in adobo; horseradish; and prepared barbecue sauce (you can add your own special touches). A variety of vinegars and oils (olive, sesame, and vegetable-based) have innumerable uses—marinades, sauces, drizzles, and dressings. Of course, good old apple cider vinegar, or ACV, is the darling of pit masters everywhere.
Dry Goods: No need to list basics like dried beans, flour, or sugar, but there are some you might be unfamiliar with that can really improve your barbecue game. Among them are dried Worcestershire powder (terrific in rubs); umami-rich dried mushroom powder (excellent in rubs for steak or prime rib); granulated brown sugar, which eliminates clumping in homemade rubs; ground coffee; maple sugar; and granulated honey. Of course, there’s always Steven’s Basic Barbecue Rub.
Canned or Packaged Goods: A variety of beans; chipotle chiles in adobo; cherries; apples; peanut butter (for Asian satay sauces); honey; rice; pasta; pure maple syrup; good-quality flour and/or corn tortillas (for quesadillas); tomatoes; pita bread or naan; panko bread crumbs; good-quality chicken and beef broths; and coconut milk.
Spices and Dried Herbs: Do you have a neatly organized spice drawer or cabinet with everything in same-size labeled jars? Haha! Me, either. But while I might have to search a bit for the fenugreek, there are some items that are always front and center. They are: coarse kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper (buy whole peppercorns and grind as needed with a spice or coffee grinder); granulated garlic powder; granulated onion powder; paprika (including Spanish smoked paprika); cayenne; celery seed; and hot red pepper flakes. (Lately, I’ve become enamored of Korean red pepper flakes—gochugaru. They’re a bit more complex, yet subtle.) With these ingredients, plus something sweet, you can make a multitude of rubs.
Miscellaneous: Wine, beer, and/or fruit juices (buy them frozen and reconstitute if you don’t expect to use them often); soda pop (a can of Dr. Pepper can keep foiled pork shoulder moist); your choice of liquor and/or liqueurs, especially bourbon and rum; good-quality chocolate chips or chunks if you love mole sauces or one of my favorite recipes, Cousin Dave’s Chocolate Chipotle Ribs; dried fruits like cranberries, figs, prunes, cherries, or dates…whew, what did I miss?
Below are just a few of the many dishes you can make from your pantry.