People call my dad “Beef.”
Part of the reason is that his real name is Stu. So they call him “Beef Stu.”
But it’s also because for as far back as I can remember, it seemed like he was always on the grill.
Growing up in Palo Alto, California, my dad coached me and my brother’s Little League team. On weekends, when we had games, he’d bring one of those little black portable grills and set it up outside the dugout. After the game, he’d throw some coals on and it turned into a cookout. The whole team would stay and hang out. It would be hours after the game had ended and we’d all be there, still in our dirty uniforms, playing Wiffle ball and eating hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, watermelon — it was just the perfect summer barbecue life.
We had it good, man.
We were spoiled.
It was like that at home, too. “Beef” was on the grill just about every day. Barbecue chicken, steaks — you name it.
When the Dodgers drafted me in the 11th round in 2010, I was 18 years old and out on my own for the first time in my life. In the minors, I played in Michigan, Utah, Chattanooga, Albuquerque and more. I was all over the map before I finally got called up to join the big league club in L.A. It was a lot of work and a lot of fun, but I really missed my parents and my family.
I missed Beef’s cooking, too.
You don’t get a lot of home-cooked meals when you’re in the minors. The season’s long and you’re always either eating on the bus or out in a random small town somewhere. And when you’re home, you’re ordering pizza with the guys. That’s just the life. But once I got settled in L.A., I knew I had to start cooking on my own. So I got myself a grill. At first, whenever I grilled, I’d be on the phone with my dad the whole time because I had no idea what I was doing. How long do I cook a burger? When do I flip a steak? How hot should the grill be?
It was just a learning process.
After a while, I really got the hang of it, and I started taking all my dad’s advice and recipes and putting my own spin on them — you know, making them my own. Now I have a wing recipe that’s pretty gnarly, and I even developed a killer reverse-sear for my steaks.
Most people, including my dad, sear the steak first and then cook it. But I sear it at the end. I’ll get a couple of nice tomahawk steaks, cook them to a good 125° internal temperature — which is right around medium-rare — then pull them off and let them sit for about five minutes while I turn up the heat on the grill. Once it’s up to about 800°, I drop the steaks back on just long enough to get a nice sear on each side to seal in all the juice and flavor.
So in a short period of time, I went from not knowing when to flip a steak, to now, when I go home for the holidays, I’m like, “Dang, Beef … my steak is better than yours!”
Actually, it’s pretty close. He’s still good, but I think I’ve got him beat now. We’re a competitive family. There’s a lot of trash talk. Sometimes, just for fun, my dad and I will each cook a steak at the same time and then have my mom do a taste test to see which one’s better. And she’s a tough critic. There’s a lot of … let’s call it constructive criticism.
We have a lot of fun with it.
I treat grilling a lot like I treat baseball, or anything I do, really: Every time I do it, I’m trying to be better than I was the last time. I’m always pushing my limits and trying out new things. And no matter what I’m grilling — steaks, wings, burgers — I’m trying to make it the best I’ve ever made. Most of the time it’s pretty killer. But sometimes I try a little something new and it’s not as good. That’s just a part of the fun, though, you know? Testing new things out and trying to get it right. So even if it’s not the best I’ve ever made, I’m O.K. with it.
As long as it’s better than Beef’s!