Season of the Grills
Art: Don Weller
Why do men barbecue? “Manning” the grill is a mark of social identity—the ability to sear and season a steak, beer in hand, a test of masculine prowess. You can buy a George Foreman grill, but don’t look for a Martha Stewart model.
Why don’t women barbecue? The tempting reply might be, “Because men do.” But, increasingly, that would be the wrong answer. In fact, it would be the wrong question. As time marches on, so do our social boundaries. Wo-men are surgeons, soldiers, secretaries of state, and yes, barbecue masters. What was once a burgers-and-franks male domain can now be shrimp or peaches on the grill, and “You go, girl!” a directive to start up the coals and take up the tongs.
Charcoal or Gas?
One man’s progress is another’s unnatural sin when the discussion turns to propane gas vs. charcoal grilling. Propane grills are clean, convenient, and wonderful in winter, but in my opinion, too facile to serve as a measure of masculinity. In fact, in some macho circles, suspicion exists regarding the manhood of “propaners.” More liberal observers see it as a lifestyle choice, others believe you’re just born that way, while most folks are going both ways.
Park City food writer Ted “Chef” Scheffler manages to go three ways as the proud owner of a “20-year-old classic Weber kettle grill, a bargain basement two-burner Char-Broil gas grill and a cheap-ass Brickman smoker.” His studiously déclassé trio serves specific purposes. Scheffler uses the Weber for crisp pizzas and whole fish, the gas grill for more ordinary efforts—burgers and chicken breasts—and the smoker for “low and slow” production of pulled pork and Peking duck. And with a handful of woodchips in the Weber, “you get smoky-flavored paella like the ones cooked outdoors in Spain.”
Charcoal imparts more flavor and higher heat than smaller propane grills, but new-fangled and pricey gas grills generate thousands of BTUs, with smoker boxes and Flavorizer® bars to fuss over. But the high end doesn’t always bring happiness. Last year, Snake Creek Grill restaurant owners Barb and Mike Hill bought a “turbo, fuel-injected multi-port barbecue” for their home, and according to Mr. Hill, “we’ve lamented the decision from day one. Our 6-year-old Ducane was just getting to the point that all of the burners were worn out. That is when a gas barbecue works the best,” he observed.
What To Burn
Kingsford charcoal rules at barbecue competitions, but there are intriguing alternatives. Kamado ships “extruded coconut charcoal” from the Philippines. It burns slow and hot, and we favor it for our Weber smoker. For routine grilling, hardwood lump charcoal, pure and unadulterated, is another favorite.
While hickory is the woodchip of choice, there’s a forest of flavors available, especially with the expanding opportunities on the Internet (or in your neighbor’s yard). One rule of thumb is to use milder fruitwoods like cherry and apple when grilling seafood and chicken, and hickory for meat. A heavy hand with mesquite can overpower any nuance of what’s cooking, especially when combined with a layer of hot Cajun spices rubbed in to the poor unsuspecting chicken breast, so use a gentle touch.
The Main Course
One informed observer of recent barbecue trends is Davee Schuh, head of Valley Game and Gourmet, the main supplier of game to Utah restaurants. Recently, she’s seen a lot more interest in game birds, buffalo, venison and elk for summer grilling. Venison, duck and ostrich sausage are readily available. Ostrich fajitas with black beans and avocado will prove both appetizing and entertaining. Smoked buffalo tenderloin salad with apple vinaigrette and similar enticing ideas are on Valley Game and Gourmet’s Web site, at www.valleygame.com. Use the farmers’ market or fresh garden produce to complement favorite toppings.
Grilled fruit offers yet another summer recreation opportunity. While simple ripe peaches are a sublime summer treat, a bit of grilling and a hint of sugar or honey add to the culinary pleasures of the fruit. Dust off the ice-cream maker, grill fresh peaches, pineapple or plums, and melt the ice-cream on the warm, (slightly) charred fruit. Deer Valley Executive Pastry Chef Letty Flatt suggests serving peaches with mascarpone and honey, attractive on their own or as a dessert topping for whole wheat pizza.
The current world of barbecue involves the new-fangled and the old-fashioned; the ever-growing, wonderful world of the Web and the age-tested farmers’ market; slick new chrome-plated grills or the rusty, trusty Weber. With its blending of change and tradition, contemporary barbecue allows the best of both worlds—even if it’s not only a man’s world any longer.
Bob King’s day job is in American Studies with Utah State University. He has written about food for various Utah publications for 15 years. He owns a Weber smoker and charcoal grill, and flips burgers and moves hot charcoal around with his bare hands.