International grilling atlas

July 16, 2008

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Ethnic grilling trends are gaining popularity and spilling into the realm of home cooks via cooking shows, magazines and recipe books. With so many new international grilling influences to inspire us, there’s no way grilling will become boring this year unless you fail to learn how to differentiate your churrasco from your hibachi. Use this hastily prepared and ill researched glossary to help you stay in the know about summer’s most popular international grilling trends:

Brazillian: Churrasco is the word used to described grilled meat in Brazil; however, it seems to also be used to reference the act of grilling itself. The picanha – a sirloin-style cut of beef – is the signature item cooked on a churrasco. Brazillian barbecued meals often use a spit (rodizio) to cook and serve a variety of meats. Unlike a North American rotisserie, these spits don’t turn. Instead they are cooked more like large kebobs suspended over coals.

Japanese: Cast iron hibachi grills are compact charcoal fueled devices used to make sukyaki and other classic Japanese preparations. If you play Cooking Mama, then you know that they also need to be fanned occasionally to keep the fire burning evenly. Because hibachi are small and the grates are close to the coals, Japanese barbecuing most often entails cooking small items such as kebobs that take only a few minutes to cook through.

Florentine: the cornerstone of Tuscan barbecue is a bistecca alla Florentine which is a porterhouse-style steak that’s grilled over very hot charcoal embers until the outside is well-charred but the inside is still rare. For authenticity, purists say the steak must be cut from Italian Chianina beef. As you can see above, the wood fired grate used to cook bistecca alla Florentine doesn’t have to be outdoors.

Argentine: in Argentina, the barbecue is called an Asado and it’s used to cook not just beef and chicken but also chorizo sausage and variety meats such as chitterlings and sweetbreads. The sauce of choice for grilled meats of all kinds in Argentina is chimichurri.

Championship grilling

May 22, 2008

The food I associate with summertime weekends is just as important as sun and fun. Together, these factors contribute to the mounting anticipation I feel as summertime approaches. Burgers, rotisserie-turned roasts and whole chickens, sticky ribs and buttery fresh corn are the foods that epitomize fantastic summertime weekends.

In the past, people like me have needed to work for their summertime grilling satisfaction. I’ve spent hours burning charcoal down until only embers remained, brined and marinated and rubbed meats with secret ingredients and then lovingly cooked the food, stopping often to baste and brush, hoping to produce great memory-making foods. Now, on almost any summer weekend, I can attend a championship grilling event where professional grillers make and sell ideal versions of these summery foods.

If you haven’t heard of it before, championship grilling is a ‘sport’ that’s perfect for people who like to eat ribs, inhale mesquite smoke and drink beer. It’s a macho domain that, although not athletic, is taken very seriously by those who participate. In fact, placing at the Memphis in May, Kansas City BBQ Society or Florida BBQ Association grilling events places any griller in the professional category and qualifies him or her to go to the world championships in Belgium (no, really, they do grill in Belgium. It isn’t only about French fries there). Here in Canada, we have some mighty fine grillers with a professional league of our own. Check out the Canadian Barbecue Association’s calendar of events for opportunities to get your fingers sticky this summer.

Hungry for more details about championship grilling? Delve into these online sources:


Celebrate spring by grilling!

April 14, 2008

All across this great nation spring is, if not in full bloom, at least in the air at last. That means that many of us will be turning our thoughts to grilling once again. The first flush of grilling euphoria is usually happily satisfied with a juicy burger or a competently cooked steak. To ensure that our first efforts this year are as enjoyable as the practiced ones were at the end of the season last year, I thought we should revisit the basics this week. This week I promise to share my grilling wisdom, such as it is. Whether you use this info this week or wait one or two or a few more, I hope this series of posts will put you in to a warm weather state of mind.

But, before we get cooking, let’s kick off the grilling season with some tips about buying a grill:

I find shopping (except for food and throw cushions – don’t ask, I know it’s weird) generally daunting but buying a barbecue can be a truly overwhelming experience for anyone. How do you choose between the copious number of models available within the staggering price range out there? It’s not easy my friends, so take a moment and read these few points. They might help you when you get to the store:

• BTU’s (British thermal units) measure a grill’s maximum heat output. More doesn’t mean better, just hotter. Plus, the more BTU’s, the more gas the grill burns and the more expensive it is to operate.
• Assess your needs. For most families a 400 square inch grill is sufficient and will allow you to grill more than one recipe at a time. Remember that you only need a space about the size of one hand to cook enough food for one person.
• Buy a grill with a rotisserie spit attachment if you like to cook whole chickens or large cuts of meat. Rotisserie cooking bastes foods continuously with natural juices and prevents food from scorching. It’s one of the summertime pleasures I look forward to all winter long.
• Manufacturers say modern stainless steel grates are better than cast iron or porcelain grates found on less expensive grills since the convex shape of today’s stainless steel grates traps heat, making up for the fact stainless steel is a poor conductor. Stainless steel and porcelain also won’t rust and don’t need to be seasoned the way cast iron does. That said, professional chefs stand by their cast iron grills for durability, even heat distribution and great grill marks. Whatever the material, grates should be thick enough to sear meat nicely.
• Natural gas grills cost significantly less to operate than propane grills and you never have to worry about running out of fuel. That said, the cost of having an outdoor natural gas hook-up installed is at least $125 and it cuts down on the flexibility of moving your grill. This is a consideration since more of us are barbecuing year round and most people like to move the barbecue to a more sheltered spot once fall arrives.
• Check for wobbling. If the stand wobbles on the showroom floor just imagine what cooking will be like when it’s sitting on interlocking brick.
• What’s under the grill? Good gas grills have ceramic briquettes or heat deflector plates that disperse heat evenly, create smoke when juices dribble down, and act as a buffer between the heat source and the food to prevent flare-ups.
• Ignition switches help to light the grill safely and quickly without using lighter fluid or matches.
• Domed lids reduce cooking time, conserve fuel and trap in the smoke that makes food tasty. High domes mean larger foods like turkeys and roasts can be cooked. Best quality grill lids are coated in porcelain to create a thermal convection style-cooking chamber.
• Consider how difficult the unit will be to assemble and transport home. Average assembly times for gas grills is 2 1/2 hours so you may want to buy from a store that offers assembly and local delivery (usually about $50 extra).
• Charcoal grills have the advantage of being portable but require patience and finesse to create a good fire. They are less expensive at the outset but over time cost more to fuel than gas grills. Good charcoal grills have a steady base, a firebox that is easy to empty, good flow through ventilation, an easily raised or lowered heavy-duty grate and a domed lid with adjustable vent holes in the top.

And that is what I have to say about buying a grill. May the force be with you as you shop!

Grilling year-round

January 10, 2008

Winter GrillingStatistics reveal that many Canadians now use their grills year-round. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of this interest in winter grilling is that low-fat foods taste great when they’re cooked over a flame.

Although the basic principles of grilling apply in every season, there are a few safety considerations that are unique to winter grilling that are important to keep in mind.

At our test kitchen we’re always working out of season. That means that we develop turkey recipes all summer for winter publications and then grill all through February for summer magazine articles. (In the picture above that’s recipe tester Rob Heidenreich and test kitchen manager Sabrina Falone’s arm cooking up summer recipes last week).

After years of shovelling snow off the patio to spend the day grilling, we’ve become savvy and safe cold-weather grillers. Here are our tips for cold-weather grilling success:

1. Gas grills with higher BTU ratings heat up quickly even when it’s very cold so if you’re purchasing a gas grill and know that you want to use it in cold weather, opt for a unit with a BTU rating per square inch that is higher than 125.

2. If you haven’t used the grill recently, check all gas lines, burners and jets for possible blockages. Insects such as spiders may pick these places to build cocoons for the winter and their homes will prevent fuel from flowing freely to the burners.

3. Avoid wearing scarves or wide-sleeved jackets that may dangle into the flames and catch fire. Instead, opt for snugly fitted sleeves and a turtleneck sweater or a fleecy neck warmer.

4. Although the garage may seem like a wind-sheltered, inviting spot to grill, the comfort is not worth the safety risk. Instead, set up the grill at least 10 feet away from the house to avoid the risk of a fire or an explosion that can result when grill flames and stray vapours from the gas furnace, water heater or the lawn mower’s fuel tank meet one another in an enclosed space.

5. If necessary, brush off all snow on the grill to speed preheating and shovel the surrounding area to prevent a dangerously slippery skating rink from forming under and around your grill.

6. Position your grill out of the wind to conserve heat.

7. Many metals and almost all plastics get brittle in very cold weather so handle the knobs on the grill gently to avoid snapping them off.

8. To ensure that foods cook evenly and that cooking times aren’t unreasonably lengthened in cold weather, make sure the lid of the barbecue is closed during cooking. Peeking too often will allow heat to escape and extends cooking time.

A final word for today’s entry: M is your mystery letter for the day.