Saturday, May 26, 2012

So You Think You Can Grill?

Freedom finger.
Memorial Day.

Grilling.

It's as American as tarte tatin. As American as vamos a ver el partido de los Gigantes en el estadio de béisbol. As American as Liberty Cabbage.


I could riff on that jazz for hours, daddy, but I've had a cocktail (required accompaniment to grilling), and I want to be in this subject and out of it, quick and precise, like ninja.

I got a Zipcar early this morning so I could stop by the local supermarket and get supplies for this weekend, but also to demo some techniques.


Constrained as I am by my self-imposed time limit (publish! everyday! like a blogging boss!), let's dive right in and talk about some key tips for grilling.
  •  Gas. Gas is for cheaters. And Communists.
Whether you are a vegetarian or a carnivore (as we at Chowbacca! enthusiastically are), some living thing has given its life in order for you to ingest it for subsistence. What greater tribute to the fallen (cow/sheep/pig/chicken/mushroom/asparagus/whatever the hell seitan is/zucchini) than to build a pit of fire in its honor? Surely, on the day or Memorializing, you can do that?


Or you can turn some knobs like a big lazy stupid wuss.

Seriously though, it is simply not possible to get the same level of heat burning propane (sorry Hank Hill) on your average outdoor gas lit grill. And while gas grills these days come with some very attractive accoutrement, the humble Weber even in its most basic incarnation now comes standard with some useful bells and whistles (folding grill, ash collector, utensil hooks).

Continuing with the tips:

  • Extremely high heat and smoke impart flavors not possible using different cooking methods.
  • Chunk coal is better than brickettes.
  • Match-light brickettes. Do not use. Ever.
  • Distribute coals to one side of the grill so you have a hot side and a cold side (direct and indirect heat).
  • Learn to use your grill's lid and vents to manage convection.
  • Get a chimney - a metal coal-starter.
  • Use wadded up paper, old newspapers, grocery bags, junk mail or tour guides to light the fire.
  • Go not get "We Didn't Start the Fire" stuck in your head while writing this...here comes the carnival!*
And don't forget: girls!

PS - I invite the controversy this will hopefully generate, you gas or match-lit coal using heathens.



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* The Carnival:



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I employ a two-phase grill starting method demonstrated in these pictures.

What you are looking at is this:
  • Fill and light the chimney with brickettes for your "starter fire"
  • Dump when those are white-hot and then cover with lump coal, which burns hotter and faster than brickettes.
  • No need to re-use the chimney, unless you have a spare grill and want hot coals at the ready (this is a technique my pal Ravi employs frequently) -- you can re-coal if you have food that takes longer to cook as long as the food is on the "indirect heat" side of the grill.
  • When you are done, lid your grill and close all the vents -- the fire will extinguish itself quicker when deprived of its primary source of fuel: oxygen.
Starter fire, lit.
Starter fire is now ready.
Arrange coals to one side of grill.
Top with lump coal, allow to burn "white hot"
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Heat management:



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She brings the rain, it feels like Spring.
Coming soon! Ravi (mentioned in the video) has thrown down the gauntlet vis-a-vis BBQ ribs.

Proper, sauced, smoked BBQ ribs.

Joining this year is yours truly, along with last year's defeated challenger Nathan Sheehan of 25 Lusk.

I will be employing my secret weapon - the Chowbacca! "secret" BBQ sauce. I do not fear giving away this much ahead of time - BBQ is as much about nuance and flavor as it is about technique, skill and execution.

I will win.

The kombucha man cometh
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These two smelled smoke and randomly stopped by. Remember this, ladies love a fellow who can cook.
And now a bit of trivia, and some music.

Originally Memorial Day was called Decoration Day, which was observed to commemorate the fallen in the Civil War. The name was changed after Word War II.

In many areas of the American South, Memorial Day is still referred to as Decoration Day.

Jason Isbell wrote a ballad called "Decoration Day" while a member of the American Southern-rock band The Drive-By Truckers. The song appears on the Drive-By Truckers album of the same name.

Isbell now tours with his own band, the 400 Unit. The Drive-By Truckers continue to tour. Both are worthy artists to check out and, should they play a show near you, see live.

I consider Isbell to be one of America's greatest modern song-writers.

Here's Isbell performing "Decoration Day" in an acoustic set in North Carolina. Enjoy: