Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Not so quick hits...

While the CC spots are running on WBZ, here are some tips on grilling or smoking:

68 inches...taller than I am!

With the proliferation of BBQ shows on TV, and with many of you knowing that my patio is covered with four different barbecuing devices, I have frequently been asked “smoker v. grill?”   The answer…“depends”.  Depends on whether you have time, or you want to cook fast. 

I enjoy smoking foods.  I have a couple of specialized smokers…a Primo Oval XL and an Assassin 28, shown above (a highly specialized competition model whose pit builder’s slogan is “slowly smokin’ the competition”).  But you don’t need to invest in any real equipment beyond a kettle grill.  With coals on one side and the meat on the opposite on the top grate, you have a makeshift smoker.

With time being such a precious commodity, most people don’t embrace the idea of a smoker because the culture of smoking meat is based on the concept of “low and slow”.  Low temperatures take a looooooooong time to cook food; but that’s how the magic happens.  Low temps over long periods of time renders fat and breaks down the collagen in meat, making the toughest cuts of beef tender and melt in your mouth.

To me, there’s nothing better than dining on succulent meats kissed by smoke, but we can talk about hot and fast grilling too.


Grilling speaks for itself, and its what we do mostly up here in the summer.  If you want to cook a thinner cut or meat or vegetables quickly, there’s no better way than over a hot bed of coals.  I have a gas grill (Weber), but I also have a Weber Performer charcoal grill.  I hear people complain all the time that it takes too long for charcoal to heat up, but that just isn’t true; letting a gas grill heat up for ten minutes is about the same time it takes to heat up a full chimney of charcoal. 

For those that don’t understand the concept of a chimney starter, I have covered this in other discussions, but imagine a large coffee can filled with charcoal.  Light some newspaper in the bottom, and let the fire build from the bottom.  In ten minutes, those coals will be ready to go; just dump into the grill and get cooking.

In any event, and regardless of the cooking vessel used, grilling or smoking allows you to enjoy the primal experience of cooking meat over fire.  In my world, there’s almost nothing better.

Grilling tips

As we reach the summer time, as there are a number of bbq restaurants, nothing beats a backyard bbq with family and friends.  With bbq-ing and smoking as my avocation, I thought I’d offer some of my tips.

a.              Don’t be afraid of charcoal.  I dare say most people here use a gas grill.  Turn the propane on, hit a button and hopefully the grill lights.  Most people complain that charcoal is messy, but mostly it takes too long.  Using a chimney style start, which is essentially a big can with a handle, can get the charcoal burning hot in 10 minutes, without the need for smelly or foul-tasting lighter fluid. 
b.              Use natural hardwood lump charcoal or briquettes.  Kingsford is the big player in charcoal, but you get a nicer, smoke-wood flavor, by using natural lump, which is real wood burned down to coals.  The pieces are irregular, but burn hot and long, and impart a delightful smoke flavor.  If you want consistent shape, there are some brands that make natural hardwood briquettes.  Some of the more popular brands of natural lump are Cowboy, or Royal Oak, both of which are usually available at local big-box retailers.  These start easily in a chimney starter without lighter fluid;
c.               Make sure you start with a clean, hot grill.  I always pre-heat my gas grill for 10 minutes, then I scrape any residue off, and I lightly oil the grates with a paper towel with some canola oil on it.  If I’m using my charcoal grill, I do the same, and let the charcoal get the grates really hot;
d.              Learn fire management.  Whether on the gas grill or a charcoal grill, have different heat zones.  I have a big pile of burning coals on one side, and a lot less on the other.  This allows me to move the food away from the fire if there are flare-ups or cooking too fast.  Same in a gas grill;
e.              Use the grill like an oven.  I love the flavor from the bbq.  In the nice weather, and sometimes not so nice, I love cooking whole meals on the grill.  Many gas grills have multiple burners, so you can create a convection oven at a specific temp;
f.               Season.  Many people complain that their food is burned after grilling.  The secret to avoid that-avoid saucing until the end.  Most commercially prepared sauces, especially bbq sauce, have very high sugar contents.  Sugar burns easily and will burn long before the food is done.  The secret is to sprinkle spices liberally on the meat, called “rubs”, cook, and sauce them at the very end, just to add a little glaze.  If you watch carefully, you’ll get great results without the burnt meat;
g.              Try “smoking”.  Everyone has seen the bbq shows on TV that are becoming so popular.  For a real treat, people should try smoking.  If you have a kettle grill, you can smoke by building a fire on one side, getting some wood chucks, like oak, maple or hickory (available at big box retailers) and placing them on the smoldering fire.  Chicken will only take a couple of hours, and while longer than regular grilling, will be well worth the wait.  If you want to engage in the hobby in the more serious way, purchase a Weber Smokey Mountain, the best entry-level vertical smoker;
h.              Don’t forget your veggies.  Vegetables grilled are a fantastic treat.  I toss peppers, baby carrots, mushrooms and onions in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and throw them on a disposable perforated grill pan (to make sure things don’t fall through the grates) for a while.  You can also do potatoes, but I usually steam or microwave them for a while before grilling, to make sure they get cooked through.

Until next time America...get out there and light up a smoke!

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