THE BACKYARD — Some people need an excuse to bring the barbecue grill out of hibernation and fire it up. Not me. I don’t care if it’s Fourth of July weekend or the Super Bowl. I love to grill, and pretty much do so all year long, taking breaks during the few days it rains or when too many neighbors stop by looking for leftovers. Grilling is more than just a hobby for me. It’s a passion, a lifestyle.

So imagine how excited I was when late last year, around the time I received my new, propane-powered Grill Master for Christmas, I made contact with a publicist named Jerry Vitera, who began sending me some of the most unique and flavorful rubs, sauces, jerky, jellies and breads, vastly expanding my culinary war chest.

Over the last six months, I have been incorporating these tasty treats into my barbecue recipes, taking chances with my taste buds for your benefit. It has been a sweet and savory journey, and it all began with two simple barbecue sauces.

The first was from BBQ Stu’s, a household name in the Mid-Atlantic region with its base in Pittsburgh. Stu Wilson had a dream, and it was to make the world’s best barbecue sauce, combining herbs and spices to come up with a signature sauce that tops most big name brands (Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle will always be my number one).

His original batch has a rich aroma, sweet with a hint of smoke, pineapple and tomato. The heat is disguised, adding some flavor without burning the throat. This sauce is thick and stays that way, clinging to ribs for a thick glaze. This sauce was meant for pork and I have become addicted.

For a twist, try the Pennsylvania Gold. I used it on some chicken breasts, marinated them over night and grilled them with some bell peppers and sweet onions. It has the hint of mustard with some smoke and a touch of spice for a well-rounded sauce that can be used to coat chicken or serve as a dip.

While you can’t find BBQ Stu’s in grocery stores around town, it is worth ordering a few bottles and have them shipped to your door. It’s a little pricey, but the flavor can’t be beat. For real spice, try their Steel City Furnace sauce.

Venturing further south, I discovered Cajun cooking at its finest with Jack Miller’s barbecue sauce. Straight from Louisiana, the home of Cajun cooking, Jack Miller’s rubs and sauces, created in 1941 at the American Inn Restaurant, are great for grilling, maintaining strong flavor and spice throughout. The sauce, which you have to heat up before using, adds a serious tang to your ribs thanks to a unique blend of 17 ingredients (in a tomato and onion base), cooked slowly in kettles until it becomes rich, thick and tangy.

Use that sauce with Jack’s famous rub and you can’t go wrong. I use the rub on just about every meat I cook. Forget salt and pepper for your New York strip. Try Jack’s seasoning for all seasons and you won’t be sorry. This rub kicks up the heat, but not to the point where your eyes are watering. It does make the mouth water, though.

Speaking of rubs, I can’t say enough about Arizona Rubs, a company formed in 2003 with a distinct focus on perfecting the art of barbecuing. These rubs, ranging in heat from the mild original to the fire-breathing pistol whip, use fresh ingredients, penetrating whatever meat you use to provide robust flavor. I love chicken wings and after using the rattlesnake blend, I haven’t looked back. It has the perfect combination of chili powder, pepper, salt, garlic and other spices, saving me time and money. I use this rub mainly for chicken and for pork ribs. For my ribs I add some brown sugar and apple juice, slow roast at 220 degrees upside down and covered in tin foil so that it roasts for four to five hours, depending how hungry and impatient your guests are.

You can keep those guests off your back with some satisfying snacks. I love Lotus Chips, flour-based chips that are fried and then hand-seasoned and bagged. These chips, which come in sesame, cinnamon sugar, rosemary and balsamic vinegar (my favorite) and tomato basil, are definitely gourmet, taste great and were created by two women with a dash of determination and a pinch of passion.

Another great snack when grilling out is beef jerky. While high in sodium, jerky is low in fat and packs a serious flavor punch. My favorite is Fat Man’s, produced by a husband and wife team from Roswell, New Mexico.

FatMan’s uses only 100 percent American beef. The beef is hand-sliced and then the marinade is made using only fresh ingredients (no pre-made sauces). Once the marinating is complete, the jerky slices are laid out on trays and placed in a high-tech smokehouses. FatMan’s state-of-the-art ovens record the internal temperature of the meat making sure that critical control temperatures are reached prior to the drying cycle. The jerky is then dried and cooled and water tests are preformed to insure that the jerky will be shelf-stable for six months to a year.

Fat Man’s offers a wide variety of flavors, from Cowboy smoked to Jalapeno lime (my personal favorite).

And the best thing of all is that all of these products are made by companies in the USA. It is so critical to support smaller, American mom-and-pop operations like these for they provide jobs and contribute to their communities in many ways.

Now that summer is in full swing, get that grill out, clean it off and try some of these delicious products and see how your food improves.

Where to find these products:

BBQ Stu’s

(888) 444-7BBQ

Jack Miller’s

(337) 363-1541

Arizona Rub

(800) 489-1925

Lotus Chips

(800) 213-4522

FatMan’s Beef Jerky

(575) 623-07311

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