Jim Higgins, co-owner of Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse in Northeast Philly.

by April Lisante

Memorial Day looks a bit different this year for many of us. No weekend away at the beach, no scrambling to the mall for giant sales and no jumping into our local public pools.

But one thing we can always count on is a nice big backyard barbecue with family to celebrate the holiday.

For the past several weeks now during which everyone’s been at home, the heavenly scent of grills and smokers has filled my neighborhood. Nearly every time I’m at the grocery store, someone always seems to be buying wood chips for a 24-hour smoke-fest. I can just picture the pulled pork, the ribs and of course, the brisket.

So, since I’m pretty sick of chicken — my good old quarantine dinner standby — I thought I’d try to grill up something different for Memorial Day. With a lot of us stuck at home planning to fire up grills and smokers this weekend, I went to one of my longtime favorite barbecue joints, Sweet Lucy’s Smokehouse in Northeast Philly, for some holiday tips and recipes.

“This year especially, everyone will be their own chef cooking at home for their family, so simplicity is key,” said Sweet Lucy’s co-owner Jim Higgins.

I first met Higgins and his wife Brooke back in 2003. At the time, they were newbies on the scene, running a lunch truck with a smoker attached to the back. The couple were two of more than a dozen participants in a citywide Philadelphia Daily News food section “Best Lunch Truck” contest, and they walked away with first prize. By 2005, they’d opened their 150-seat restaurant on State Road, where they are now celebrating 15 years of barbecuing and grilling to their hearts’ content.

“It was a great start for us winning the contest,” Brooke said. “We were just starting out and the publicity was amazing.”

Now, even during the quarantine, the parents of four are doing a brisk take-out at sweetlucys.com with their ribs, brisket, pulled pork and kielbasa, a few of their specialties. Brooke has a flair for everything smoked and for grilled meats as well.

For the backyard chef who may not have a smoker, she said one of the major keys to success with a grill is making sure it is properly heated for at least 10 to 15 minutes, so it reaches its maximum flare.

“A nice hot grill gives everything a good sear,” she said.

Another key is making sure your meats are room temperature before grilling. Take them out about half an hour before show time, so they don’t cool down your grill when you throw them on, she said.

Once they are on, control the urge and don’t keep flipping them.

“A lot of people make the mistake of flipping,” she said. “Let it sit for a good sear. Every time you open the grill to flip, you cool down the grill.”

And if you want to add smoke flavor, soak your hickory or apple chips in water, wrap them in aluminum foil and throw them beneath the grill grates on a gas grill.

“I love the smoked flavor from wood chips,” Brooke said. “We typically use hickory at the restaurant for consistency, but it’s fun to play around with the flavors, like apple wood or cherry wood.”

Brooke also includes one other rule she is adamant about in her grilling handbook: “You have to have a really good pair of tongs. You need good tongs.” Sounds like Amazon Prime time.

Here are a few of Sweet Lucy’s official recipes to try at home this weekend. Or, you can just call your order in to Brooke and Jim and call it a day.

Sweet Lucy’s Lime Cilantro Marinated Flank Steak

  • 2 pounds flank steak
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • ½ cup diced sweet onions
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup water

Mix all ingredients together and marinate atop refrigerated flank steak for one day (two if you can.)

Bring meat to room temperature before grilling. Preheat grill. Put flank on grill and sear for about 5 to 8 minutes per side. Cook to about 135 degrees (use a meat thermometer.) Allow to rest for five minutes and slice across the grain. Serves 6-8.

Sweet Lucy’s Spice-Rubbed Grilled Corn on the Cob

  • 1 Tbsp. homemade spice rub (or premade barbecue seasoning)
  • ½ pound butter
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
  • 4 ears of corn

Soak the corn in cold water for at least 10 minutes. Place the corn on the grill, close the cover and grill for 15 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. While corn is grilling, melt butter and mix with parsley. When corn is done, baste with butter mixture and sprinkle spice rub on corn to taste.

Serves 4.

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