Whether it’s grilling, barbecuing low and slow or smoking and curing, outdoor cooking has been a technique that men have turned to since the dawn of time. The idea of cooking over a hot fire induced salivation and thoughts of carnivorous delight.
There is no cooking method more “manly” than grilling, but that doesn’t mean it has to be quick and sloppy. Grilling can produce some of the most savory and elegant dishes found in the world today, and here’s where we’ll celebrate them.
The History of Grilling
The history of grilling meat over an open flame dates back to the realization of fire over half a million years ago and the intrinsic benefits it had over preparing meat safely.
Since the Stone Age, man has been grilling, but by the time the actual act of barbecuing came around, most experts suspect it was many, many years later.
The term “barbecue” actually comes from the Spanish word “barbacoa” while is similar to a word used by the Arawak natives in the Caribbean which was the term used for a wood shelving unit that was used to grill raw meat and fish. The term “barbecue” actually simply mean’t shelving and was often used to denote a bed, which was obviously not something you would cook on. Or at least, you’d hope not to be cooked, considering the Arawaks were also responsible for the term “cannibal”.
It wasn’t until the mid eighteenth century that the term barbecue was adopted in America as a way of cooking. Increasingly popular along the Southeast seaboard, barbecuing was adopted in the form of Carolina-style pit barbecuing rather than using a pre-made or developed grill like we use today. Back in those days, they would cook an entire hog over hot coals from the ships for twelve to fourteen hours to make pulled pork that they would sauce using vinegar and random spices found on board. Served with coleslaw on the side, they would consume the pork on a bun which made for a full meal for all the ships men.
Despite the method of cooking over an open flame, backyard barbecuing as we know it today, didn’t actually begin until after WWII when Americans began to use barbecues at picnics and while camping for recreation or fishing purposes. With the explosion of suburban developments popping up by the early 1950s, men began to use grills in their, now, much larger back yards.
Within just a few years, most Americans were throwing or attending barbecues across the United States.
It was then, that a legend was born. Just outside Chicago, in a quintessential American suburb, a metalworker named George Stephen was growing frustrated with the the flat, open grills that were all-too common at the time. He had inherited the company Weber Bros. Metal Spinning Co that was known at the time for being a top manufacturer of harbor buoys. Taking one of his buoys, he cut it dead even along its equator and added a metal grate. He used the top of the buoy as a lid and cut slits to act as vents for controlling the temperature. Soon Weber Bros. was known for their Weber grills and today Weber remains one of the most popular and my favorite charcoal grill on the modern market. The great thing about them is they last and if parts wear out. you can easily find replacement parts. The Weber Genesis grill Sven Raphael Schneider use is probably 20 years old and just had a second set of burners. Considering it sits outside all year and has survived the harsh Minnesota winters perfectly, that’s pretty good. Just like with garments and accessories, it pays to invest in quality with a good grill.
Grilling, Barbecuing and Smoking
The first thing one must understand is the difference between grilling, barbecuing and smoking. Smoking, which is using concentrated smoke from a wood or coal source to cure or cook meat could easily be an entire article of its own, so for this primer, we’re going to focus on grilling and barbecue.
In layman’s terms, the major difference between grilling and barbecuing is time and heat source. Grilling is typically a faster form of cooking using a very hot direct heat source such as a flame to sear and cook the food in record time. Barbecuing on the other hand, is usually done low and slow which means cooking the food over lower heat using an indirect heat source, but for a far longer cook time which can often exceed an entire day. Often barbecuing will use the smoking method in addition to impart extra flavor into the meat.
Styles of Barbecuing
Apart from grilling there are four major styles of barbecuing that we as Americans know today.
The first is what we already discussed, being Carolina-style barbecue. Typically Carolina style barbecuing is sauce-heavy meaning much of the flavor imparted into the food is from the marinade or sauce used on the meat. This can range from sweet to savory and can include both beef and pork.
Texas barbecue is the second type, and probably my personal favorite. Since Texas is heavy on its beef, this style of barbecue usually opts for dry rubs on meat typically including brisket, steaks and chops.
Kansas City BBQ
Kansas City barbecue is kind of the go between. They focus on just about everything but what really makes it it’s own is the tomato-based sauces that are usually sweet and / or spicy hot.
Memphis barbecue is the quintessential barbecue in my mind. It’s pork ribs, slow cooked over indirect heat to produce some of the most savory ribs across the good ole US of A. It’s sticky, it’s sweet and it’s popular to eat.
Types of Barbecues and Grills
There are three major types of grills, being gas, charcoal or pit.
Today, gas grills are by and far the most popular on the market. Commonly using propane to ignite and hold the flame, they also use natural gas direct from the home. They are quick, reliable, consistent and the easiest to learn on. The come in various sizes and when building an outdoor kitchen, are often the most common found as the main cooking source.
Easily kept clean, they often start at one or two burners (the flame source) and extend past the five to seven mark. Ideally, you want at least two burners to provide you with the option of cooking on direct and indirect heat sources. For daily grillers and party hosts, the gas grill is one of the most worthwhile investments you can cook on. Starting at under $100, they range in price upwards of $50,000 for a gas kitchen or some custom models by companies like Lynx.
Aside from choosing a gas grill with two or more burners, you also want to invest in one with a good temperature gauge and, ideally, a marker that shows how much propane you have left in the tank. I myself always pick a grill that either comes with or has the option to attach an aftermarket rotisserie which makes cooking meats like chicken, duck, roasts or lamb a lot of fun.
A great benchmark gas grill is the Weber Genesis that should serve you well, no matter if you are a single family or an apartment building owner with 50 units – it will always work reliably. If you want to be mobile, take a look at these portable gas grill versions. You can even buy a stand for them that allow you to use it at home. While they are perfectly fine for burgers and brats, you will not get the same heat you would get from a full-size grill, and so it is not ideal for searing steaks or fish. Of course, you can use it for finer cuts, and it is better to have a grill than no grill at all, just bear in mind that is has certain limitations.
Charcoal grills are my favorite grills and I especially recommend the Weber 22″ charcoal grill or the Big Green Egg if you’re as frequent a barbecuer as I am. Although I own a large seven burner gas grill, I reserve my gas grill for quick grilling on weeknights when I’m tired or when I’m cooking for large groups of people. Sometimes, I’ll also use it as an auxiliary cook source if my charcoal grill is too full or I want to seperate the flavor profiles without them marrying together. A good example of that is if I’m barbecuing ribs and my homemade bourbon baked beans but want to quickly grill up some veggies on the side.
Charcoal grills burn much hotter and drier than gas grills for the most part which helps to sear the meats and invoke a naturally smoked flavor. Aside from making better food (in my opinion), they’re also far less costly than gas grills, but do require a bit of a learning curve and more of a time investment.
When buying a charcoal grill, my favorites are the kettle style or egg shaped grills which, in my opinion, provide a much more satisfying grill experience. The dome of the lid actually helps to allow both direct and indirect cooking and therefore makes it an ideal choice for your daily barbecue. They aren’t usually very large, but you can buy larger table grills. For the most part, charcoal grills come in camp size perfect for traveling up to about 25 inches or a little more depending on the manufacturer.
Unlike a gas grill, a charcoal grill relies on one of the following types of fuel to make and maintain the flame:
Charcoal briquettes are probably the most common fuel source for a charcoal grill, although the one that I don’t recommend. Often they come with various chemicals or additives treated into them such as borax, petroleum or coal dust. It makes them easier to light, but they aren’t as natural as the lump charcoal and can often alter the flavor of the food.
Lump Hardwood Charcoal
This is my go-to for the grill. Lump, real hardwood charcoal that’s untreated and left for me to play with. The lump charcoal is something we can consider organic, and like anything organic, is usually more expensive. However, not by much. If a large bag of briquettes costs you $16 at the store, the lump charcoal might be around $18. It takes a bit more effort to light, but it burns far hotter and imparts the smoke you’re looking for from a charcoal grill.
Like the fire pit listed below, the hardwood logs are also one of my favorite fuel methods to cook over. They are often used simply to enhance flavor, but if your money or neighborhood allows it, try using them in lieu of the charcoal. I will warn you though, it takes far more effort.
Not something to use as a primary fuel source, wood chips are used to impart wood and smoke flavors into the food. Able to be purchased in bulk or by the bag, wood chips come in a variety of flavors including hickory, cherrry, oak, pecan, mesquite and apple, among others. One point that’s noteworthy is that not all wood is conducive to cooking. If you try using your leftover Christmas tree you’ll be very saddened to find that softer woods impart some very harsh flavors into the food. You might as well add bug repellent to your marinade.
There are many accessories one can buy to help aide in the barbecue experience. Here are some of my favorites:
BBQ Utensils and Tool Kits
A must have for every grill jockey, the BBQ tools you need include lifters, tongs, brushes, mops, forks, knives and a bbq cleaner or scrubber. These are required for a positive grilling experience and I always recommend going with a quality brand such as the kits available from Weber. I should mention I am not endorsed, sponsored or paid by Weber. I just really love their brand. Try going with longer tools which help prevent burns and always invest in a good pair of grilling gloves.
For charcoal grills only, a chimney starter is an inexpensive and worthwhile investment that prevents you from having to use lighter fluid which can sometimes be harmful and impart flavors you don’t want into your food.
Ideal for shish-kabobs and other vegetable or meat skewers, these are great, inexpensive accessories to keep stock of.
Beer Can Chicken Stands
It’s exactly what it sounds like. While many people just stand their chicken on a beer can, these are great for securing the chicken just a little bit better to ensure it doesn’t fall over.
Forget using this as an option. This is an absolut must! Every piece of meat is different, and cooking time depends on so many factors, that you can never accurately eyeball it, and you definitely don’t want to overcook great cuts of meet or fish. While there are thousands of meat thermometers out there, nothing is as good as this instant thermometer. It really does measure the temperature instantly and it can be used for all kinds of meat and fish but also baked goods. Forget about bread or cake that is overbaked and steaks that are either over or underdone. This thermometer is worth every penny.
For checking how hot your fire is, use this quick guide:
If you can place your hand four inches over the fire for 1-2 seconds it’s hot. For 3-4 seconds it’s medium-hot, for 5-6 it’s medium and for 7 or more it’s medium to low.
Rotisserie or Spit
Many barbecues come standard with them, some come with the add-on option and others don’t allow it. If yours does allow one, get one. They basically rotate your meat slowly so you don’t have to. They make for the very best when it comes to roast chicken and lamb.
Racks, Trays and Pans
You can get special hamburger racks, fish racks and other pans. I always pick one or two up everytime I see something new. I also recommend having a short stack of throw-away aluminum drip pans.
Ideal for fish and various meats, wood planks are great for cooking on. They separate the food from the grill and prevents it from falling through, while imparting an extra flavor profile directly into the food. Simply soak in cold water for an hour before using and they’re good to go. These things are cheap, but make sure you throw them away after each individual use.
Spray Bottles and Squeeze Bottles
An asset to every chef, this is a great place to put your marinades, oils and vinegars. I always have at least one bottle of some sort beside me at the grill. It’s also handy to keep a spray bottle with water for flare ups.
Mops and Brushes
This is obviously included in tool kits, but having a selection of bbq mops and brushes is almost essential when using marinades and other sauces. I prefer mops in most cases, especially with briskets and ribs, but brushes tend to be easier to clean. Try them both!
There are two types of seasoning typically used with bbq. One is rubs and the other is marinades.
A dry seasoning of various herbs and spices, it can be as simple as using a smoked sea salt infused with alder, apple, cherry or oak woods or a mixture of pepper, garlic, salt, paprika, parsley, thyme, rosemary and any other type of seasoning you can imagine. Despite the zest from citrus fruits being watery, if they are the only watery substance in the rub, it still classifies as a dry rub and not a marinade or sauce. One of Sven Raphael Schneider’s favorite rubs is smoked salt, whereas I really enjoy volcano salt that I import from Hawaii. One tip: Pepper burns. While it’s a great addition to a rub, keep it off until later in the cooking process if you’re cooking at high heat directly over the flame.
The reason you don’t see the word sauce listed under here is because the difference between a marinade and a sauce is that the food is cooked and “marinated” in the marinade, whereas the sauce is added after the food is cooked, often at the table side. Marinades can be a basic barbecue sauce to a house made marinade for fish, chicken, veal, beef or any other food you put on the grill. What’s important to note with marinades is that you need to be very careful about bacteria growth. As an example, you never want to introduce the marinade to raw poultry and then use the same marinade on cooked poultry. Always keep two separate parts if you plan to reuse the marinade and avoid letting raw meat touch the portion you’re reserving for later.
When using a marinade, unlike a rub, you want to let the food rest in it for a few hours, sometimes even a few days. It really depends on what you’re cooking and you should ALWAYS consult your health department to find safe food handling procedures for your region.
Now for the good stuff. Recipes are easy to come by and whether they’re from a book, an app or a Google search, you can easily find grilling recipes just about anywhere. I’ve never been one to actually use recipes and I hardly ever measure. A pinch of this, a dollop of that, here are a few of my personal recipes you might enjoy. Just remember the amounts are approximate so play around with it to your hearts content. Here are three of my favorites:
Coarse Ground Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Cup Soft Butter
Of all the cuts of meat, ribeyes are my personal favorite. Prepare the absolute hottest grill you can and let it get hotter. While the grill is preheating take your fresh steaks out of the fridge and let them sit on the counter until they get to room temperature. With many cuts of beef, pounding them can make them more flavorful and succulent, however, no need to do that with a ribeye. Pat the steaks dry and rub them well with some olive oil. People always say “grease your grill” but I say “grease the meat”. Leave the grill alone. Once your meat is oiled up, season it well on both sides with coarse sea salt. That’s it. No pepper, nothing else at this time. Why? Pepper burns and over a hot flame it can impart some pretty nasty flavors into your beef. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to add it. Just not right now.
In a separate bowl crush some fresh black pepper balls into coarsely ground pepper and add some red pepper flakes, finely chopped tarragon, rosemary and parsley, and minced garlic. Then take soft butter and mix it all together into a paste. Leave it in the bowl.
Many people will tell you to only flip your steak once. I say do it every thirty seconds. Or more. Don’t believe me that you’ll get a better crust and even cook to your steak? Try it. About a minute before your steak is done season it with some coarse ground salt. Once the steak is cooked to your liking (mine is rare), take it off the grill and put it on a plate to rest. Scoop a little of the butter mixture onto each steak and loosely cover them with foil. Let them sit for about 10 minutes. Then serve. Done. Want an extra zip? Add some bourbon to your butter mixture before mixing it. Just don’t serve it to children or operate heavy machinery. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Fiery Spit Roasted Chicken
1 Large Free Range Chicken
2 Cans of Guinness Beer
Coarse Sea Salt
Coarse Ground Pepper
Dash of Cayenne Pepper
2 Large White Onions
Take your chicken and give it a good wash before patting it dry. The trick is PAT IT DRY! This is what ensures the crispy skin. Lay it inside a lipped baking ban just big enough for it. Take the block of butter and begin smearing it all over the chicken, inside and out. With the leftover butter, place it in a bowl and add half a can of Guinness to the bowl. Whip the butter into a smooth paste and rub all of it inside the cavity of the chicken. Take all of your dry seasonings (salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and garlic powder) and rub the entire bird with it giving it a thin coating on every inch of skin. Shove one whole, but peeled onion into the cavity, followed by stuffing the fresh thyme, sage and rosemary inside the crevaces and finally the apple and the last onion. Truss the bird and attach it to the rottisserie for cooking. Preheat your grill to around 400F and insert the rod with the chicken on it onto the grill and rotator. Place a large drip tray with a little water in it just below the chicken and cook for about 1-1.5 hours until the skin is crispy and the juices run clear throughout. Here’s the trick: Every 30 minutes, take a spray can filled with olive oil and the other half can of beer and give the chicken a good spray. Oh yeah, that second beer we mentioned… That’s to drink so get to it.
Louisiana Corn on the Cob
Peaches and Cream Corn on the Cob
Salt & Pepper
Dash of Cayenne Pepper
Dash of Lime Juice
Old Bay Seasoning
Peel back the husks and remove any excess, ensuring you leave the husks attached at the bottom. Soak the corn in the husks for about one hour in cold salt water. Soak BBQ string as well. Preheat your grill on medium-high heat. Once the corn is soaked, take the butter and all the seasonings and mix into a paste in a prep bowl. Pat the corn lightly dry and season with salt and pepper lightly. Using the string tie the husks around the corn and place on the bbq. Keeping a close eye on it, continue turning the corn until each part is fully cooked. Remove the corn and peel back the husks. Smear the Louisiana butter mixture on each corn and tie the husks back around the corn. Cover the corn loosely with foil to allow the butter spread to melt. Enjoy!
Recipes aren’t difficult to find, whether it be plank grilled salmon with a peach salsa or slow cooked baby back ribs with a tangy sauce. Get creative and make your own recipes. And remember to share them in the comment section below!