Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Now, You're Cooking with Gas

The weather is getting warm and it's time to start grilling. Who doesn't love to grill?

Lots of people don't, I would say. And if you will permit me what I hope is a rare moment of holier-than-thou snarkiness, I'll tell you what I mean. Most people enjoy pressing the button that ignites the propane gas as it flows to their cooking apparatus, resulting in a controlled blue flame and thereby producing heat to cook whatever food is placed inside said cooking apparatus. They use a dial to control the flame. Although this may technically count as grilling, it is not what I mean when I say grilling.

I'll eagerly and gratefully eat whatever you cook however you cook it, so this isn't about being snobby. I just want to advocate for a different way of doing it. I love the way hardwood charcoal cooks food. It's so much better than the results with propane gas. I know there are inconveniences with this kind of grilling - lighting the coals, controlling the resulting temperature, knowing when to put the meat on, the lengthiness of the whole process, and so on. But the results are so vastly superior to the other kind of "grilling" that it's worth it.

Listen - my wife makes fun of me quite often for insisting on cooking this way. I understand that it requires patience and attention. And your wife/husband/domestic partner/friends/relatives/boss/colleagues/etc. will probably make fun of you too if you make the switch, but switch you should. Here are some photos from our first grilling session of 2010, the other night with my pal Adam.

We're talking about hardwood charcoal here, no chemicals, no lighter fluid, nothing. This kind of fuel burns cleaner and hotter than "regular" charcoal, such as Kingsford or something like that.

To light the coals easily and without using lighter fluid, which imparts a disgusting aroma and flavor to the food, use a chimney. Crumple up some news paper balls underneath, and fill the chimney with hardwood coals. The most important thing here is to leave the vents open underneath the grill so there is air flowing, feeding your burgeoning flame. There is also the choice of newspaper. The NY Times is still the paper of record, so use it, but which section? I personally find that the Sunday style section works best, but Week in Review is good, and so is Travel. Don't use Automobiles or Help Wanted as they will toughen the meat.

Light a match and ignite the balled up paper underneath the chimney. Things will get smokey very quickly, and that's fine. I like to wait until the coals are red about two-thirds of the way up the chimney before dumping them into the bottom of the grill.
When pouring the coals out of the chimney, dump them in a pile on one side of the grill. You're hardly ever going to cook over direct heat for the entire duration of the cooking time, but if you spread the coals over the bottom of the grill, you'll have to use direct heat the whole time. More typically you expose the meat to direct heat for a few minutes on each side to get that seared caramelized crust, and then move the meat to the other side of the grill, cover, and let it cook indirectly for the balance of the cooking time.

I like to be able to hold my hand a few inches above the coals for at least 3 seconds before I begin to sear the meat. This whole thing takes about 45 minutes - and that's before the actual cooking starts. Hence, BrooklynLady's frequent mockery. But she enjoys what comes off the grill, make no mistake.

On this early spring night I made Vietnamese style pork chops - marinated in fish sauce and garlic, and served with jasmine rice, grilled scallions and Nước mắm, the Vietnamese dipping sauce made of fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, brown sugar, and chilis. Except that we held the chilis because Adam brought over a bottle of 2007 Denis Bachelet Bourgogne Rouge, about $30, Becky Wasserman Selections, and you know how hard hot chilis can be on red wine.

This was one of those dinners that vanished very quickly and left everyone's hands rather greasy. I don't think the wine had finished opening up by the time we were done eating (leaf day until 8 pm, then flat out unfavorable), but who cares? A bite of pork in the dipping sauce, a spoon of sticky rice, a bite of grilled scallion...that was all that mattered.


Paul said...

Way to go Brooklynguy!

TWG said...

Looks like the charcoal took so long you were cooking in the dark.

Brooklynguy said...

yeah, i lit it at 7:30 and it gets dark at about 8:15 now.

Divorce and Separation Lawyers Brisbane said...

The gas BBQ is really not good as charcoal trust me. It always have some special smell in the meat. Love it...In my hometown we are doing BBQ charcoal all the time

Unknown said...

Nice one Brooklynguy,

You got me excited for grilling season. I've been having a lot of fun lately with the book Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. Check it out!

B8wine said...

Great post. Hopefully spring pollen season here in GA will be over soon, so I can take my grill out, and test what I've learned from the "Grilling for Dummies" book.