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4-H youth have advice for great summer grilling
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippians who are firing up their grills have a valuable resource for tips and tricks in their community’s 4-H youth.
Youth who participate in the 4-H program of the Mississippi State University Extension Service sharpen their culinary skills by competing in the meats cookoff contest each summer. They often carry this experience into adulthood and become avid about the end result from barbecuing meat the correct way.
“Mississippi 4-H provides many opportunities for youth to participate in learn-by-doing events,” said state 4-H youth specialist Harvey Gordon. “The meats cookoff contest is an excellent vehicle for youth to demonstrate culinary talents and citizenship skills as organizers, community supporters and leaders.”
More than 100 youth participated in the contest this year. They spent considerable time learning to properly grill chicken halves, thick-cut pork chops, hamburgers, specialty dishes and various cuts of steak. Their constant practice at the grill allowed families, friends and neighbors to get a good meal at the picnic table by being “guinea pigs.”
“Our family invited some friends over to sample four different chicken recipes my two daughters wanted to consider for the contest,” said Daphne Taylor of Guntown. “The two they chose are the recipes my daughters used for the contest.”
Competing in the junior division, Tensley Taylor, 11, used a tropical theme for her chicken dish, and her sister, Alesa, 14, went with classic all-American flavors for the senior competition. Their rivalry was anything but fierce.
“We just helped and encouraged each other,” Alesa Taylor said. “That is what 4-H is all about.”
Extension specialists work with these youth to show them how to select good cuts of meat and carry out their presentations with flair and authority. They also stress important food safety techniques and proper cleanup.
State commodity groups representing poultry, pork and beef lend their support as working with young people is a great opportunity to promote their product, said Extension swine specialist Mark Crenshaw.
“Hopefully the young people will influence their parents to make good choices about cuts of meat and cooking techniques,” Crenshaw said.
Many 4-H youth take the competition seriously. They well remember the successes and disasters from family cookouts, and certainly do not want to repeat the grilling mistakes of others.
“4-H is always looking for adult volunteers willing to make a difference in the lives of young people,” Gordon said. “The meats cookoff is another great way for adults to share their knowledge of barbecuing with youth just starting out on this adventure.”
By observing children, adults also learn the reasons why their attempts to grill result in inedible “shoe leather.”
“Remember the old barbecue rule of thumb -- ‘low and slow’ -- when grilling any cut of meat,” said Tim Chamblee, poultry scientist at MSU. “If the temperature is too high and the cook gets in a big hurry, the meat is going to burn.”
Two district contests are held each year, one for north Mississippi and the other in the southern half of the state. Youth compete within age groups, either as junior or senior 4-H members. Each contestant chooses from among the categories of chicken, pork or beef. Most counties have cooking teams whose individual members may specialize in one of these three areas.
Patience and willingness to learn from mistakes make these youth some of the great grill masters in the state. Here are some valuable lessons 4-H’ers want to share:
• Try different rubs, spices and sauces.
Collin Hutcheson, 16, of Lee County, used a hickory-based roast rub on his pork chops. He repeatedly massaged the rub into the 1.5-inch-thick chops before grilling.
• Find volunteers willing to be honest about taste.
“It’s best to start with a basic recipe and add your special twist,” said Dean Jousan, Extension beef specialist for 4-H programs. “People who want to help will tell you if one flavor is overpowering another.”
• Forget about speed.
“Don’t be in a hurry to put the meat on the grill,” Hutcheson said. “Let the coals die down way low and take your time.”
• Save time and effort.
“Do your preparation work,” said Tensley Taylor. “I actually started a day ahead of time getting my ingredients, utensils and supplies ready.”
• Make cleanup easy.
Aluminum foil comes in handy, according to members of the Clay County 4-H cooking team, which swept all four beef categories. Breezy cleanup means more time for friends and other activities after the meal is over.
“Some of my 4-H’ers have been grilling since they were 8 years old, and most of them understand that cleanup is part of the whole operation,” said Clay County 4-H agent Fran Brock. “Older people can learn a good lesson from them.”