I’m going to take a page out of Huey’s book and engage in some shameless chest-thumping self-promotion.
I had the Best Smelling Grill In The Neighborhood this evening.
I don’t know if my competition even realized that it was a competition, so this may not be saying much. Also, my neighbor – the only really serious grilling competition in the ‘hood – did a midday cookout. However, I didn’t notice any delightfully interesting aromas filtering into the woodwork, so I’m assuming he did the Class A Child-Pleaser Burger & Weenie Roast. Neither of which will get your Best Smelling Grill status unless there are no other grills to smell.
Maybe it’s a Texas Thing. Grilling, and getting major Curb Appeal via Grill Aromas, is a significant status item where I come from. What I remember about visiting my mom in Portland is the smell of roasted coffee – absolutely everywhere including in the middle of an old-growth forest. What I remember about moving to College Station is the smell of grills cranking away 365 days a year. Rain, snow (yes, rarely, but it happened), sleet (more common), tornadoes, hail, blistering sun…no matter what the climate conditions du jour, the 3 mile bike ride (or bus ride) from home to the office was a proper Tour Du Meat. Every day. You could tell what half the neighborhood was having for dinner, just by taking a stroll. Chicken. Brisket. Ribs. More chicken (it was a student neighborhood, after all). Burgers and weenies. But mostly, some kind of…what is known in the rest of the country as…barbecue.
One thing I learned when I moved away from Texas is that “barbecue” or “barbeque” or (heaven help us) BBQ is a sort of generic term for what I think of as “cooking out” or “grilling”. “Barbecue” as a verb has a very specific meaning in Texas, and it involves red meat (NOT chickens), and lots of time, and – often – a 55 gallon oil drum that has been converted to a pit (“pits” are where barbecue happens, and can sometimes be used as grills, but it’s not very efficient to do so). When you “barbecue” in Texas, the meat darned well better be falling apart by the time it hits the table, and it darned well better not be sauced at any point before it hits the table. Texas barbecue is all about the rub and the smoke. And – just so’s we’re all on the same page here – it does not happen on a gas grill. See above, under “smoke”. And don’t even be thinking “smoke flavoring”. I can’t even hear you when you say those words, and I’ll stick my fingers in my ears and say “Lalalalalal” just to make sure I don’t hear those words. You might could use soaked wood chips in your grill, but if – and that’s a big “if” there – you could get barbecue with soaked wood chips on your gas grill, you’d have to be babysitting it and adding more soaked chips every 10 minutes for four hours so that there would be no point. Much better just to score a 55 gallon oil drum and convert it into a pit in your buddy’s welding shop.
If you’re just grilling then you sauce all you like whenever you want. But you don’t call it “barbecue”. It’s “chicken on the grill” or “steaks” (no modifier needed, because they are not cooked anywhere but on the grill. Or “burgers” or “weenies” (which can include hot dogs, bratwurst, sausages, etc. if it’s ground up and stuffed into something’s intestine, it’s a “weenie”), whatever.
The complicated bit is that the stuff you sauce your chicken, weenies, whatever with is referred to as “barbecue sauce” or maybe “BBQ sauce”. Which does not imply that you are barbecuing anything, or that the resulting product is barbecue. It might be, but in that case, as I mentioned, the sauce goes on the side.
So. I only have a gas grill, and I do not have the patience or the Appreciative Audience that is required in order to commit to actual barbecue, so what I do is grill. I don’t even cook out because “cooking out” implies 1) a respectable number of people, and 2) eating and/or drinking and socializing outside. Even if I had a respectable number of people to do this for, I do not have any suitable area for the al fresco eating/drinking/socializing. What I have is a big Weber gas grill that is shaped like a UFO, and a concrete apron just large enough that the grill doesn’t create a fire hazard for the building.
I like my grill. It’s almost perfect. The only fly in the ointment is that it doesn’t do two-level fires worth a flip, so I have to sear my meat and then pull it off while I cool the grill down for step 2. However, it’s perfect in every other way, so I can just suck it up on that angle. My neighbor – the only serious competition – has got one of those four-burner Williams Sonoma Grill-O-Ramas. Some ultra high-tech thing, with drawers and such.
Back to Huey, here, it’s my firm opinion that if you’re any good at grilling, you don’t need something full of bells and whistles like that. Someone who’s really good at grilling can make do with a galvanized metal bucket with a layer of sand and rocks in the bottom, and second-hand metal grill wired onto bucket handle with used bread twisty-ties.
Ask me how I know that.
Someone who’s really good at grilling can build a wood fire in a pit with some rocks around the edge, slap a second-hand metal grill on top of the rocks, and go to town.
Ask me how I know that too.
So. Multiple LP tanks, six burners, warming drawers, electronic timers…
This is not to say that my neighbor is an incompetent griller. I regard this grill more in the light of a technophile’s toy, right up with the motion-sensing web-cam that surveys our common front porch. My neighbor, as I said, is the only real competition around.
Tonight, I had the terrain largely to myself. I could smell various and sundry grills heating up for the purpose of undercooking hamburgers, overcooking weenies, and the occasional chicken that was coated with store-bought sauce before being slapped onto the overheated grill.
My grill, on the other hand, hosted chicken with a home-made sweet-and-hot sauce…apples, brown sugar, thyme (and some more thyme sprigs thrown on to the grill with the meat), a hefty dash of mango habanero sauce. And my new Secret Weapon: Aunt Sally’s Blazin’ Tequila Glaze. That stuff, mixed with my home-grown sauce, and painted on for the last two minutes of cooking time?
While the chicken was setting up, I laid out Secret Weapon Number Two: roasted corn.
There are a lot of ways to roast corn on the grill, and most of them suck. They dry the corn out, or they fail to cook it. I, thanks to my Studies Of The Grill, have The Way. And, because I am feeling generous, it being the holiday and me having won Best Smelling Grill and all, I will share it with you all. Roast your corn this way, and the world will beat a path to your door. Casual bystanders will prostate themselves at your feet for the secret. Family members will feud over the secret when you die. You may even become the central figure for strange new religions.
So, grasshoppers, here is The Way of the Roasted Ear.
1. Start with really good fresh corn. If you live in New England, any corn marked “Georgia” at the grocery store is not fresh. Preferably, buy the corn off the farmer who grew it. Best of all, go out and pick it yourself.
2. This step is painstaking, but it’s where the glory lies. Cut corners here, and none of the above honors will be heaped upon your head. Be very very careful. Start peeling the corn, one piece of peel at a time. Do this until you get to the innermost layer of peel. It’s white, it’s thin, and if you look under it, you see kernels. This is where you stop peeling. Do not expose any of the kernels directly to the air.
3. Regard the innermost layer of husk. Being very, very careful not to tear it or remove it, pull it away just enough to get at the corn silks. Pull them off and throw them away. Do not put the corn on the grill with those silk threads still on it. They will get black and powdery. Nasty.
4.Be very, very careful. Put the innermost layer of husk back. You should be looking at the nekkid ear through a thin veil of organic nightie. Leave it that way until you’re ready to eat it.
5. Go heat the grill up. Turn the burners on Maximum Blast. Grill should be 500, maybe 600 degrees when it’s ready.
6. Put the grill lid up and load on the ears. Be careful not to displace the husk. Close the lid and wait two minutes.
7. Put the grill lid up and rotate each ear 1 quarter turn. Close the lid and wait two minutes.
8. Repeat twice until every quarter of every ear has been exposed to the grill for two minutes. By this point, you will see outlines of the grilled kernels showing through the thin little husk. Now you’re done. Load them up and take them inside, and get ready to beat away the Ravening Hordes from the door, because they will be around after your grill has been pumping this aroma through your ‘hood for the last eight minutes.
You may not want any butter, because if you started with good fresh corn and followed these directions exactly, the nekkid corn will transport you bodily to heaven. But if you’re in the mood for some exotic action, try my Garlic Lime Pepper Butter:
Take a stick of butter out of the oven and let it soften up while you’re doing the rest of this.
Whack of a small handful of cilantro and stick it in your food processor with the chopping blade in. Peel three fat cloves of garlic and drop those in the food processor. Pulse to cut that all up and mix it together.
Squeeze two limes into the food processor. Add a generous sprinkle of dried chipotle powder. Add a tablespoon of good grainy salt, and cut the butter into chunks and load that into the processor too. Pulse, scraping the sides down as needed, until a green lump forms in the machine. Take this out, put it on a plate or in a teacup, and stick it in the fridge to harden back up. Apply liberally to anything you can find, especially the roasted corn.
I leave you all with this piece of hilarious Evolution in Action. I am assured that the wiener dog was not given the roman candle, but seized it of its own initiative.