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Grill big or grill home — How to properly barbecue for NFL opening weekend

How to properly barbecue for NFL opening weekend

A burger gets flipped on a charcoal grill during a recent cookout.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Let this be fair warning to all Colorado pigskin fanatics itching to watch newly acquired Denver Broncos Quarterback Russell Wilson launch missiles to star receiver Courtland Sutton on Monday Night Football: Bring the heat or just leave the charcoal in the bag.

This weekend marks the official start of the 2022-23 National  Football League season. Thursday of course saw the Buffalo Bills take on the defending Super Bowl champions Los Angeles Rams. Sunday is jam-packed with great season openers and, yes, the Broncos travel to Washington State to battle Wilson’s former alma mater the Seattle Seahawks at 6:15 p.m. Monday. 

As our formidable and famous athletes compete to see who’s king of the gridiron, us mortals entangle ourselves in kitchen ovens and terrace barbecues.



The creation of succulent, heartburn-inducing dishes is just as synonymous with professional football as the chrome shine glint on the sacred Vince Lombardi Trophy. I myself feel it’s a wasted day of indulgence if there isn’t at least one gigantic sauce stain found across my favorite jersey after Monday.

In preparation for this weekend specifically, I caught up with Glenwood Springs native and Riviera Supper Club and Scratch Kitchen Executive Chef and Owner Travis Owen. As a man who not only prepares mouth-watering meat for a living but keeps an entire ensemble of cooking apparatuses at his residence, I trust his instinct and skills. 



Owen is by no means an avid sports fan. In fact, he admits to falling asleep whenever the game’s on. But he’s been sizzling meat for about 40 years now.

“I’ve got two smokers at home. I’ve got a grill,” he said. “I play with all that stuff.”

Owen was kind enough to reveal some of his personal go-to creations perfect for any domestic gathering on game day.

“Whenever you’re outside grilling,” Owen said, “it’s sort of that almost primal caveman thing going on.”

  1. Charcoal over propane gas

Without question, according to Owen, go with charcoal grilling.

“You’re going to that kind of char to it, that kind of smokiness in there, you can throw some wood chips in there,” he said. “There’s a lot more adaptability than there is with gas. The nice thing about gas is you can kind of control your temperature up and down. But I think you miss out on a lot of flavor that’s there with your charcoal.”

  1. Can’t stand the heat, flip to the other side

This is key: Set up zones in your grill, Owen said. Let’s say you have your circle of Weber Grill in front of you, keep half the bottom open and the other half occupied with the burning coals.

The burning coals are the direct heat side, which gives a good sear to the piece of meat. Once both sides are seared on the direct heat, move the meat over to where there’s no coals — that’s your indirect heat.

“That’ll let it go ahead and cook all the way through, so you’re not burning the outside over direct heat to get the middle to where you want it,” Owen said.

You’re looking for probably three or four minutes per side, with the steak temperature ranging 140-145 degrees for the perfect outcome, Owen said.

Also, make sure the grill is screaming hot before setting the meat on there.

“It’s called the Maillard reaction, when the meat starts to brown,” Owen said. “If you’ve got your heat too low, your meat’s just going to turn gray. It’ll be getting hotter, but it’s not going to be developing that char or that crust that you’re looking for.”

For your best grill marks, do about 1.5 minutes a side. But, contrary to popular belief, you can flip the meat as many times as you want because “it doesn’t really matter,” Owen said.

  1. When life gives you fish, use lemons

“If you’re doing fish, clean your grill using lemons. Really any kind of citrus will work,” Owen said. “The citric acid on there really helps break that down.”

Owen said after the lemons, apply palm oil — or any kind of oil with a high smoke point — to the grate. That will keep your fish meat from sticking in general. 

Bigger cuts like swordfish are just fine to splay across your grill unadulterated and by themselves. For smaller fish like halibut, however, cut wheels of citrus — limes, lemons or oranges depending on your flavor profile — and throw them on the grill first then put your fish on top of them and close the lid, Owen said.

“What that does is, it’ll caramelize the juice that’s in whatever citrus you’re using and that will infuse into your fish,” he said. “That way you’re getting that smoke flavor to it and you’re not  tearing apart delicate fish.”

  1. Where’s the beef?

Back in the day, French butchers took home for their families cuts nobody else wanted. Since these cuts weren’t as tender as the others, these penny-pinching meat slicers were forced to whip up a cream and peppercorn sauce to apply flavor to the beef.

This is how traditional beef dishes like steak au poivre came to the table, Owen said.

But all across the Roaring Fork Valley a person can find top-notch, grade-A cuts. Which is why, if you decide to drench your steak in marinades, you’re disrespecting your cut of meat, you’re disrespecting your guests, your grocer, your cow and the rancher who raised the cattle. 

“Just use salt and pepper. That’s all you need,” Owen said. “Because you don’t want something with a marinade or a sauce or that’s going to cover up this beautiful piece of beef that you got.”

Boom goes the dynamite

There you have it, folks. Follow these simple rules and you’ll probably have a good time. For Owen, the good time isn’t just in what comes off the grill. It’s all about the company.

“At least once a summer I like to get everybody together and close the restaurant down, because we’re our own little family here,” he said. “I have everybody over at the house and we’ve got a nice big patio and right above Sayre Park, so we’re right up against the mountain.”

“It’s great to have everybody out there and chill out in the backyard. We’ve got the dogs out. We’ve got the grills going and all that jazz and it’s a good time.”


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