OPINION – Last week as my son and I walked through our neighborhood, a scent on the breeze stirred my inner caveman. Someone was grilling.
Warmer weather always seems to bring out a primal urge to cook with fire. Whether it’s hot dogs, burgers, or prime filet, everything seems to taste better fresh from the grill. As a concession to my vegan friends, yes, even grilled vegetables taste better.
Serious grill masters tend to be a bit fanatical, but those who are closest to them appreciate this quality when it’s dinnertime.
The only way to develop one’s grill skills is through lots of practice. Anyone with real mastery of this type of cooking has experienced his or her share of burnt offerings. But few things will win friends like a perfectly cooked steak or a killer rack of ribs.
Here are a few tips for beginners along with one of my favorite entrees.
First, there is a world of difference between grilling and barbecuing. Grilling involves cooking the food over direct flame or coals with high heat so that the food is done in a matter of minutes. The temperature for grilling is at least 500 degrees and ensures that the meat is seared so it remains juicy. Natural gas, propane, and charcoal can all be used for grilling.
Barbecue, on the other hand, involves a much lower temperature with indirect heat or smoke and longer cooking times. The key to success when barbecuing is to keep the temperature very consistent, say around 225 degrees, for many hours at a time. This requires more specialized equipment.
A charcoal grill with a separate smoke box helps to provide indirect heat to the cooking chamber. A good quality temperature gauge helps keep track of the temperature for the flavor that only comes from low and slow cooking. A chimney starter will help get the charcoal going and can provide a steady supply of live coals to maintain your desired temperature.
Lump or briquette charcoal or wood chunks are the preferred fuels for barbecuing as they provide immense flavor. Briquettes are cheap and store well but I have become fully converted to lump charcoal for my smoker.
Lump charcoal is a bit more expensive, but it lights easier, burns hotter and cleaner and has no binders or additives like briquettes. I like to use the lump charcoal to bring my smoker up to temperature and then add chunks of my favorite wood to provide exquisite, smoky flavor.
Hickory is the standard for most barbecuing, but other favorites include mesquite, apple, cherry, pecan, and alder.
One of my favorite treats is a pork loin roast that has been brined in a mixture of ½ cup of kosher salt and ½ cup of light brown sugar dissolved into 2 quarts of water. I also like to add a sprig of fresh rosemary and a small handful of peppercorns. Let the loin roast brine in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours and then rinse and butterfly it.
Next I stuff the loin roast with a couple of nice big spoonfuls of minced garlic and some cracked black pepper. This is topped off with slices of provolone cheese and as much baby spinach as it will hold. Tie it all together with butcher’s twine and allow it to come to room temperature before placing on the smoker.
I place it on the smoker at 200 degrees and do not allow the temperature to exceed 220 degrees. When I place the loin on the smoker, I add to the coals a few chunks of hickory or alder that have been soaking in water for at least 30 minutes. Then it’s just a matter of keeping the temperature constant for the next six hours by adding coals and wood chunks as necessary.
When the meat comes off the smoker, it’s allowed to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. Even those who are averse to spinach find themselves going back for seconds. Expect fights over the leftovers the next day.
If this sounds like a lot of work for a simple meal, just remember that we’re talking about a labor of love. Not just the love of cooking with fire, but also the enjoyment of watching friends and family experience a mouthwatering treat that was hours in the making.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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