Pat and Gina Neely, hosts of the Food Network’s Down Home With The Neelys, were in town last July 31, to grace the Asian press launch of their show’s fourth season.
In a luncheon held at the EDSA Shangri-la Hotel, Mandaluyong, the couple—known as the hometown king and queen of barbecue of Memphis, Tennessee, USA—showed Filipinos what Southern style home-cooking and entertaining is all about.
They did a quick cooking demo and prepared three varieties of simple kebabs—the shrimp and lime, the chicken and pineapple, and the beef with bell peppers—that virtually anybody can try at home.
As they showed the step-by-step process for preparing the dishes, the husband and wife duo also shared some of their kitchen secrets (and tricks) on grilling food the right way.
GRILLING BASICS. While grilling can be considered the oldest cooking technique in the world, many, especially beginners, are still intimidated by it.
Pat says it doesn’t matter whether you’re using a restaurant-grade contraption, an old-school backyard barbecue pit, or a tiny stove top grill to cook your food.
The key is in applying the slow-cook method.
“Always cook with the indirect heat because this keeps your meat from burning.
“Never put your food directly under flames, unless you’re cooking burgers or chicken, maybe. But then, you’ll have to watch it very closely.
“When my flame starts to come up, I immediately extinguish it with a little water or add more wet wood chips.”
Back home in Memphis, Pat prefers to grill with charcoal and flavored wood chips.
Among his favorites are teak and apple, which give the meat a more appetizing aroma.
He says, “Once you get your flavor on with your charcoal, soak your chips in water because it will cross the charcoal.
“It’ll create a smoke or smolder that will allow the flavor of the wood chips to be infused in your meat.”
Pat also suggests alternating meat pieces on the griddle to get evenly cooked portions all the time.
“Let’s say, if I cook two pieces of chicken thighs at the same time, when I turn them over to cook the other side, I switch them up.
“The piece that was once closer to the fire now goes away from the fire, and the one that is away now goes closer to the fire. So you cook them even and everyone gets to taste the same thing,” he explains.
Another way to cook food evenly is by pre-heating your grill, just as you would do with an oven, Pat adds.
He also noted, “If you’re taking meat out of the fridge, let it warm up to room temperature first before cooking, so it can adjust better to the heat of the grill.
“That will allow the food to cook with even consistency.”
WHAT CAN BE GRILLED? Meats in general can be cooked over a grill, and so are some types of fruits and vegetables—like pineapple, peaches, onions, and bell peppers.
However, Gina encourages everyone to be creative and explore their inner foodie.
“You know, you can almost cook a whole meal on the grill.
“You can cook your chicken with some asparagus, you can do bacon, you can do corn…you can also grill fruits, like peaches! You can put some homemade ice cream and pine nuts on top of it.”
Surprisingly, Gina even grills her pastries at home.
“Take a pound cake—the ones you can buy in the grocery store—and slather it with some butter so you can get nice grill marks on.
“Serve it with homemade ice cream, some nuts, and fresh fruits and it will be good for entertaining, like a beautiful dessert centerpiece on the table.”
MARINATING. Some grill recipes require marinating to permeate flavor, just like the shrimp and lime kebabs that Pat and Gina made during the demo.
Shrimps that have been shelled and de-veined were marinated for about 1 to1 ½ hours in a mixture of herbs, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, minced fresh basil, Neelys’ Honey Kiss marinade, and lime juice.
Pat reminded the audience never to marinate your seafood in acidic ingredients, like lime juice, for too long.
“This will make your shrimps rubbery to bite,” he says.
The shrimps, along with fresh lime wedges, are then poked with skewers and grilled for about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
It is served with a dipping sauce that Gina whipped up, using sweet chili sauce, peach preserves, and hot Chinese mustard.
GLAZING. The second dish prepared—the chicken and pineapple kebabs—was cooked with a glaze made of melted butter, honey, Dijon mustard, orange zest, chili flakes, Neelys’ Barbecue Sauce, salt, and pepper.
“You always want your glaze to be thick, so you can really coat your meat in it,” says Pat.
“So what you want to do is to cook it—place it on a small casserole, let it simmer, and reduce it until you get the right consistency.”
For this recipe, they used chicken thigh fillets cut into cubes.
“We like to use chicken thighs because chicken thighs are so flavorful, that you can go on right away with it on the grill. Just add a little salt and pepper to increase the flavor.
“You can also add paprika, lemon, pepper, whatever you desire,” says Gina.
Compared to chicken breast, chicken thighs are more tender, more moist, and more juicy, making them perfect to use for grilled recipes like kebabs.
“Breast gets bland and dry so you have to baste it regularly on the grill,” says Pat.
“It’s best to marinate them with store-bought Italian dressing or any oil-based dressing before cooking,” he adds.
The chicken cutlets are alternated on skewers with pineapple cubes.
The kebabs are grilled for about 5 to 6 minutes per side, brushed with glaze only at the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking.
DRY RUB SEASONING. For red meat lovers, Pat and Gina also prepared sirloin steak kebabs with bell peppers and a Greek yogurt dipping sauce.
The steak is cut into bite-size pieces and seasoned with a dry rub of ground black pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt.
Pat says it’s best to season the meat overnight for better flavor absorption. He also suggests sprinkling the dry rub over the meat rather than dipping the meat into the mixture.
“Don’t contaminate the rub so you can keep it, place it in a jar with a tight lid on, and store it in your cupboard to use again another time,” he says.
Uncontaminated dry rubs can stay in the shelf for about six months.
The seasoned sirloin steak is cooked along with sliced bell peppers for 7 to 8 minutes per side.
As for the dipping sauce, Gina mixed together spoonfuls of low-fat Greek yogurt with honey, lime juice, cayenne pepper, fresh dill, salt, and pepper.
FAMILY, FOOD, AND FUN. The great thing about these dishes, says Pat, is that you can easily serve them at your house parties.
“You can even have a moment there with your kids, letting them help out putting the shrimps in skewers, and you’re mixing up the sauces all while dad gets the grill on,” adds Gina.
The Neelys are all about bringing the family together through great food, which they cheerfully showcase in the new season of their show.
Catch Down Home With The Neelys season 4 beginning August 7 at 8:00 p.m. on the Food Network.