Even if May, with its partial solar eclipse that was eclipsed by cloudy skies, has been largely stubborn, there's another sure sign summer is here: the familiar smell of grilled meats and fish wafting out of backyards around Anchorage.
If your nostrils haven't been Pepe LePew'd just yet, department stores moved the grill-and-patio furniture displays front and center in the last month to remind you.
And if you haven't left the couch, Bobby Flay and the Food Network are bombarding you with a slew of Grilling Week shows to help motivate you.
Whether you are working with a tiny, charcoal-fueled Weber Smokey Joe or one of those shiny, gas-fired behemoths that's the envy of all the block, everyone can peruse the selections at the local supermarket. With Memorial Day weekend firing up, Play offers up some ideas to take your backyard barbecuing to the next level.
Mr. Prime Beef
7521 Old Seward Highway
Since 1973, this family owned butcher shop has been providing the choicest cuts of meat to Anchorage residents and restaurants. From steaks to ribs, Mr. Prime Beef has it all, including andouille sausage links, beef franks and buffalo polish links made in house. Who doesn't want their own personal butcher?
Grillmaster's tip: Go ahead and splurge on buffalo burgers and remind yourself that it's a healthier alternative to beef. Hand-form your own patties, add crumbled Tim's jalapeno potato chips instead of bread crumbs and thank me later.
Alaska Sausage and Seafood
2914 Arctic Blvd.
Perhaps you've heard Herb Eckman on radio commercials wooing you into his shop, his thick German accent touting lox and sausages. Eckman's been in business since 1963, and his reindeer sausage links, German bratwurst and Louisiana hot links sit side-by-side with the Johnsonvilles and Ball Parks in most Anchorage grocery stores and more than hold their own.
Grillmaster's tip: Add some intrigue to your cookout by putting some of Herb's brats against a national counterpart and let your friends be the judge.
Indian Valley Meats
200 Huot Circle in Indian
Doug Drum's operation, a short, winding drive off the Seward Highway, has been processing game meat since 1976. Reindeer polish, reindeer hot dogs and buffalo bratwurst are all available, but the wild game "medallions" are the stars here. Caribou, venison, elk and buffalo steaks with a strip of bacon wrapped around 'em? It's worth the drive.
Grillmaster's tip: On your next Peninsula fishing or camping trip, stop by Indian Valley on the way out of town to stock up just in case you don't haul in that lunker you were counting on feeding the camp with.
10th & M Seafoods
1020 M St.
If meat is murder to you, don't fret: Grilling fish is as Alaska as it gets. And for the non-anglers, the seafood purveyors at 10th & M have sold fresh Alaska halibut, rockfish, cod, scallops and salmon along with farm-raised trout, catfish and tilapia for nearly 70 years. If you're looking for inspiration, let that wealth of knowledge guide you: the 10th & M website offers a bunch of great recipes.
Grillmaster's tip: For under $100, add an outdoor burner to your grilling repertoire. With a large pot with a basket, you can boil lobster, crab or crawfish to make your party the talk of the town.
If you are on a budget, these may not be the best options for you. But if you want to be a no-bones-about-it grillmaster, set yourself apart from the crowd with a truly Alaska feast.
By Barry Piser
Anchorage Daily News