Photo: Courtesy of Sababa

Fired Up For National Grilling Month

On any given day in July, you can walk pretty much anywhere in the District and sniff out the smoky aroma of grilled brisket, hot dogs or corn on the cob. Summer heat is nearing its highest this month, but the grill is even hotter.

It’s National Grilling Month, and if you haven’t yet been invited to a backyard barbecue or don’t feel like you have the expertise to do it yourself, there are plenty of new spots in the DMV that offer that satisfying, charred taste with unique flavors and even some smoked-to-perfection vegetables.

Take Cleveland Park-based restaurant Sababa’s pomegranate marinade, for example. The seeds drip a tart yet sweet red juice once bitten into. This juice is combined with labne, a thick yogurt, to douse Sababa’s salmon kebabs. The labne “insulates the salmon from the heat from the griddle, [creating] a crust so that the salmon can stay moist,” says Ryan Moore, executive chef of the newly opened spot.

Moore, who’s been formally trained in Middle Eastern cuisine, uses pomegranate to sweeten the fish. Sababa’s Israeli-inspired menu includes the fruit in multiple dishes, like their chicken liver, which the chef is always encouraging more visitors to try.

“It’s one of those things that most people get squeamish about,” he says. “I sweeten them with pomegranate molasses so they have this amazing, amazing flavor.”

Moore recommends folding the rich liver into Sababa’s soft pita for a DIY sandwich with a hummus spread he makes in-house himself every day.

“I will not relinquish that [recipe] to any of my cooks. I am very proud of my hummus.”
Smoking Kow BBQ, open since April, tries to keep a sweet and savory flavor combination in their barbecued meats.

“We use a few unusual ingredients in our spice rub that accentuate the sweet notes while contrasting with the robust flavors of brisket and pork,” owner Dylan Kough says.

The food truck turned Duke Street brick and mortar’s signature spice includes cinnamon and chipotle powder.
“I definitely prefer a bit more complexity,” he says.

Kough adds that the moist brisket and baby back ribs are the two most popular meats on the menu right now.

“Don’t be afraid to eat brisket fat! It’s my favorite part of the cuisine.”

Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster BBQ in Old Town Alexandria also boasts fast-selling black angus beef brisket and baby back ribs. The restaurant uses the four-time World Barbeque Champion’s techniques – known as the “Mixon Method” – for consistent smoked flavors. Their water smoker is fueled only by wood, with a fast-burning fire for a cleaner smoked flavor.

Along with using the same award-winning rubs and sauces Mixon uses during competitions, the pitmasters wrap the meat “once they have taken on the desired smoke flavor and color,” according to pitmaster John Bennett.

“If you’re not wrapping, then you’re not winning.”

Another technique for flavorful meat is to soak some of them in brine before being smoked.

“The brine helps with locking in the flavor of the meat, keeping it moist and allowing for a deeper smoke ring,” Bennett adds.

The materials chefs use to grill meat impact flavors, too. Momo Yakitori, a new Japanese barbecue joint in Northeast DC’s Woodridge neighborhood, primarily serves grilled chicken (yakitori) smoked over binchotan charcoal.

Binchotan “burns at a higher temperature,” says chef and co-owner Andrew Chiou.

“The charcoal itself doesn’t smoke up. The way they make it, they take a lot more of the impurities out of it. It’s more about quick cooking rather than the slow methods. It’s definitely not like Texas flavors.”

Vegetarians dining with their meat-loving friends won’t miss out. Momo Yakitori’s menu has a vegetables subsection grilled with the same high-heat, smoky flavor. Chiou and co-owner Masako Morishita work closely with farms like Hickory Ridge in Columbia, Maryland to grow mushrooms more optimal for the grill.

“Our shiitake mushrooms are almost twice the thickness of normal shiitake mushrooms,” says Chiou, adding that the farm also increased the water content for their oyster mushrooms. “Because we work with them so closely, we get really great vegetables that are very suited for our style of grilling, which is really high temperature. Most vegetables just burn up normally.”

Federalist Pig’s “Faux Que” sandwich (pronounced like the letter “Q,” not like the Spanish “que”) lets their smoked veggies shine as a main dish as well. The BLT version of this vegetarian sandwich is stuffed with delectably smoked tofu along with heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, vegan pimento cheese and a vegetarian bacon-like ingredient.

Owner Rob Sonderman says that in any big city, there’s almost a 100 percent chance that at least one of your friends will be vying for a vegetarian option when dining out in a group.

“A lot of the time, they’re going to be the one who’s going to be making that make or break decision on where they end up going,” he says. “Having options for those people to be able to get that whole group in is really why we wanted to have more expansive options.”

The BLT is just one of many iterations of the Faux Que, which changes every week or two. Other fillings include smoked portobello mushrooms, shredded jackfruit and smoked spaghetti squash, which imitates the texture of pulled meat.

Whatever your stomach desires, you’ll want to venture to some new barbecue pits for National Grilling Month. Maybe even order some to-go and impress everyone at your summer party. After the compliments flood in, you can let them know about the local grilling establishment that deserves a second taste.

Learn more about these grilling spots below.

Federalist Pig: 1654 Columbia Rd. NW, DC;
Momo Yakitori: 2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE, DC;
Myron Mixon’s Pitmaster BBQ: 220 N. Lee St. Alexandria, VA;
Sababa: 3311 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC;
Smoking Kow BBQ: 3250 Duke St. Alexandria, VA;

Grill and BBQ Picks

DCity Smokehouse
With delivery available via Amazon, you can order a family platter (rib tips, brisket, smoked chicken wings and three large sides) for your next house party. 203 Florida Ave. NW, DC;

District BBQ
Try a specialty sandwich like the Okie Joe, stuffed with smoked beef and pork, and chopped and layered under a tangy sauce. 2670 Avenir Pl. Vienna, VA;

Hill Country Barbecue Market
Treat yourself to their tender brisket and Texas pecan pie for dessert. 410 7th St. NW, DC;

Garden District
Come for the satisfying smoked meat in their sandwiches and grab a seat at the beer garden while you’re there to try one of their brews. 1801 14th St. NW, DC;

NuVegan Café
Their natural ingredients are meant to satisfy the soul. Don’t miss their totally vegan barbecue roast served with rice. 2928 Georgia Ave. NW, DC;

Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company
Don’t be afraid of The Belly Buster – the ribs, sausage, quarter chicken, brisket and potato roll are worth sampling, or sharing with a buddy. Various locations in DC and VA;

Sloppy Mama’s
This food truck doesn’t go small – their meat plates come with two sides. Try the barbecued chicken or the beef or pork plate, served with vegan “Happy Chana” and soft cornbread.

Smoke & Barrel
Vegans, don’t feel left out. Their vegan sampler includes vegan wings and spare ribs, and sides include vegan coleslaw and chili. 2471 18th St. NW, DC;

Texas Jack’s Barbecue
Add any of their smoked pulled meats to the Two-Door ‘87 Cutlass Supreme Nachos for a delectably cheesy meal with classic Texas flavors. 2761 Washington Blvd. Arlington, VA;

Share a plate of Korean BBQ and shrimp tempura at this 24-hour, Japanese-Korean fusion spot. 4121 Hummer Rd. Annandale, VA;

Fareeha Rehman

Fareeha is a writer and artist from Northern Virginia. Tweet her @RehmanFareeha.