Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Thrill of the Grill!

I like to use firewood. What's in those briquettes anyway?

Since the dawn of time, humans have cooked meat over fire.

Many still do. In modern times we call it "grilling" or "barbequing".
We flock to the hardware store to gaze upon the newest, shiniest grills- especially those with multiple functions; the flashy models with side burners and rotisserie spits all housed in pristine stainless steel bodies. Many of these cookers sport optional accessories in nearby display racks: infrared remote thermometers, digital probe heat sensors, special pans and baskets to grill fish, vegetables and fruit. Next to the 12 inch aim-and-flame lighters are stainless steel suitcases holding 14 and 20 piece deluxe grill tool sets that fill the shelves just down from the all-weather fitted grill-covers with velcro tabs for extra security. There are bags and bags of charcoal; from the basic black briquette and traditional cubes of charcoal studded with "all-natural" wood,  to small-batch boutique lumps of charred mesquite, hickory or apple wood.

All that to cook food over fire.

If you filter and dig, tossing aside the glitzy tools and ornaments, you find that all you need is a heat source and something to hold the food. The exploring Spanish of the 15th century found the Arawak people of the West Indies cooking fish and other meats around a fire on wooden apparatus that they called "barbacoa". The word has come down through history to the modern term we recognize as Barbeque, or even Bar-B-Q.

Many people confuse "grilling" with "barbequing". Really, the difference is simple. Grilling is a quick cook, almost the open-fire version of a saute. Barbequing is a long, slow cooking method which renders the food item soft and tender with deep, complex flavors that incorporate the natural flavor of the food with the flavor generated from the heat source.

Most fish, vegetables or fruit can't stand up to the long cooking methods involved in barbequing. Pork, beef and chicken are the common choices for barbeques. Some pit-masters opt for dry "rubs" which are made up of multiple spices and salt, mixed together and rubbed over the meat, to create a flavorful crust as the meat cooks over split firewood. Some choose a "wet" style sauce (that can be made from literally anything, but usually has a tomato base) and use gas as a heat source.  Or vice versa. There are very serious national and international competitions that seek to find the best way to barbeque. Books are written, sides chosen and awards bestowed on whoever creates the best, most tender, most flavorful dish that is wrought through a day-long sojourn on what is usually a hand-made, thoughtfully engineered, often creatively painted and finished barbeque rig.

But still, it all boils down to humans cooking food over fire.

Personally, I like both dry rubs and wet sauces. I use whatever ingredients I have on hand, usually opting for fresh herb sauces in the growing season, and dry spice rubs and sauces in the winter. As many people know, there are countless bottled barbeque sauces and rubs available in the marketplace. Most are relatively expensive for the small sized containers. They also tend to be cloyingly sweet and sticky with ingredients that I don't want my family to ingest. I make my own and always have extra to store.

Winter'rest Farm Honey-Bacon Barbeque Sauce

1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes or sauce
1/3 c. bacon grease
1/3 c. local honey
1/4 c. paprika
1/2 c. organic apple cider vinegar (its worth it)
1/4 c. cumin
1/3 c. chili powder
2 TBSP kosher salt
1/4 c. black pepper
1/4 c. sugar (brown is best, but whatever you have)
1 large onion diced small
1 TBSP cinnamon
Pepper flakes to taste

Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottom sauce pot.  Bring to a boil. (Watch this, boiling tomato sauces will spit fire) Cover and reduce to low. Cook, stirring occasionally until the sauce has reduced to the desired thickness. Cool and bottle.

The fun of barbeque sauce is that you can use whatever you like. Keep things like bacon grease or stocks from weekly cooking to add to your sauce. Use the bottom-scrapings of jams and jellies that are languishing in your fridge door- just heat them slightly to liquify and pour into the pot. Anything with the flavor profiles that you like can be added. The hardest thing you'll have to do is run your sauce through a strainer before bottling.

Refrigerate your house-made sauce for future uses. If you are a capable canner, by all means, can your barbeque sauce and store it in your pantry!

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