HOW TO COOK: “American Style”:
Ever since I was a kid, the charcoal barbeque grill fascinated me. I remember the first time I cooked over charcoal too. It was probably the 4th of July in the 1970s. My first cooking gadget was a stick from my own backyard, probably even off my mother’s favorite bush, the purple lilac. I stripped off any leaves on the stick and stuck a marshmallow on the end. I believe it was my sister who first showed me how to properly toast a marshmallow without burning it. I did burn quite a few marshmallows in my day before learning how to get them a perfect golden brown (I never liked them burned). I find it ironic that my sister, who never even cooked more than an egg or bacon back then, was the one giving me one of my first barbeque cooking lessons. Yes, I believe toasting a marshmallow is cooking at its finest. Even as a youngster, I enjoyed the challenge of it. That Fourth of July, I ate as many marshmallows as I could stomach without getting sick, just so I could cook them. Even my brother and sister could only eat so many. Subsequently, I could not cook the entire bag or I would have. Thus, began my endeavors into grilling over charcoal for the rest of my life. I only hope that some of the BSA Scouts I have known acquired the very same marshmallow cooking techniques and that it helped inspire them to be great at grilling as an adult.
To grill burgers, hot dogs or even marshmallows, you don’t need some fancy barbeque grill either. I have used barbeques that were in my local park that sat there for years and were exposed to all of New York’s worst weather. They were simple barbeques made from a few cinder blocks and a rusted steel grate that we cleaned with a wire brush and covered with aluminum foil to cook on. The charcoal was always the classic Kingsford that needed lighter fluid to get it to start burning. I found that match-light (also made by Kingsford) had lighter fluid already in it, but to me seemed to make the food taste of lighter fluid.
To light the charcoal, you make a pile shaped like a volcano. Sprinkle lighter fluid on top and toss on a match. It will have a large fire flaring up and then slowly burn off. Then, wait until all the coals start to turn gray and then using tongs or a small hand shovel, spread the coals out to an even layer.
To the best of my knowledge, Scouts are not allowed to use lighter fluid so I learned in my BSA training class to use something called a charcoal chimney (see Gadget List). Even adults can learn valuable skills during camping trips (hint hint). Since there is no lighter fluid used, there is no lighter fluid taste coming off the charcoal. Thank you Scouting!
I use my charcoal chimney all the time now, particularly when Barbequing. What’s the difference between barbequing and grilling? You grill a steak, which means you’re cooking over heat quickly and to just the right temperature before pulling it off, letting it rest and cutting it up. There are chefs who are just trained in the art of how to work the grill. I’m sure that Peter Lugar’s and Blackwell’s Steak House have experienced and well trained chefs to cook those expensive aged pieces of beef to perfection. To me, there is nothing better than a two-inch steak cooked over charcoal and served with a baked potato, creamed spinach, or fresh string beans.
Barbeque, however, is low slow cooking. It is impossible to get a rack of ribs to cook so they are edible in ten minutes. There are tips and tricks to grilling great ribs on a gas or charcoal grill, but those involve aluminum foil and allowing them to cook slowing away from the direct high heat. We will get to that at a later day this summer I’m sure. If however you want true southern ribs, pork shoulder (aka pulled pork) or beef brisket THAT’S “barbeque”, then you need a new gadget called a smoker. Smoking is a completely different lesson in itself and this lesson is about grilling.
To grill on your “barbeque”, you must wait until those coals are gray all the way around or you risk having “yucky taste imparted to your steak”. You just want the slightest hint of the charcoal yummyness imparted to the steak, hamburger, hot dogs, or whatever it is you are grilling. A gas grill will never give you this flavor, unlike those advertisements in the seventies would tell you they could. They said that the lava rocks they sold with the grill back then would “flare up and impart the same charcoal taste”. Nope, they lied. Now, barbeque manufactures do not sell those lava rocks anymore, and with good reason! It was ruining the natural beauty of places like Hawaii by taking them away for no reason, sheeesh. So, cook on charcoal.
This Father’s day, or July 4th , go buy yourself a fairly inexpensive charcoal grill and fire that bad boy up using your new charcoal chimney. Then, open an ice cold beer, light a cigar, and wait. Take your time. Relax and chill while you grill. After the steak is done, toast a marshmallow or two and make some s’mores. Don’t even think about letting the kids or your drunk friends toast a marshmallow on your expensive boujee designer gas grill. It was probably built into the stonewall that’s impossible to replace easily and you will have a sticky mess to clean when the hot burning marshmallow falls off the that fancy ass skewer and lands inside the grill! YUCK! On charcoal, you would just have to clean out the ashes when the kids are finished. No muss, no fuss, no problems!
Go, have fun and grill your next steak or cheeseburger over charcoal, just like the Scouts do!
Welcome to SUMMER FUN! Enjoy the weather, the drinks and the food!
The Drunken Chef (Russ)
NOTES: Whether you choose wine or beer with your steak, may you have a healthy and happy Father’s Day! Even if you’re not a dad yourself, I hope you had a father figure you can always look up to.