Smoke signals

November 16, 2009

grilling eggplant

A lot has changed since I was a kid. Today, apparently, it’s a tragic embarrassment to have your mom call across the street that it’s time to come in from playing street hockey to eat your dinner. I’ve been instructed to text my son that his dinner is ready. Apparently, he’ll still be able to claim me as his mother if I follow such instructions. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that I’ll be sent into exile.

Not so when I was 12 going on 13. In those days the only texts I knew about were the books in my school bag and I certainly didn’t take those outside to play or want to spend any extra time with them!

One way to get attention from the ball hockey players, basket shooters or skateboarders on the street is to grill something delicious that gets them coming to you. But grilling in cool weather presents some challenges you don’t face in summer time. So, in order to produce smoke signals that create enticing foods night after crisp, autumn night, follow these cooler weather grilling tips (not be confused with my winter grilling tips.

• Cook even small foods covered to retain heat
• Likewise, don’t leave the lid open too long when turning or basting food
• Increase the setting by one notch if the air is 10 degrees Celsius or more cooler than room temperature
• If cooking over indirect heat, rotate the food more frequently than usual.
• Bring larger foods (such as roasts and whole chickens) to room temperature before grilling in cold weather
• Take foods inside as soon as they are cooked so that they don’t cool down too quickly

This  Grilled Honey Spiced Eggplant (pictured above) is perfect for autumn grilling.


Multi-tasking grillers unite!

October 7, 2009

shrimp to grillIt might be autumn but I’m still grilling as often as I can. The only downside I’ve found to grilling, though, is that I find it difficult to be both in the house making a salad and side dishes and outside turning and moving little bits of food such as shrimp or scallops around.

My solution: throw ‘em on skewers! Not only will small foods not fall through the grating when they’re held together on a skewer, but turning four skewers takes much less time than turning 24 individual shrimp.

Got any multitasking tips you’d like to share? I’m always looking for ways to turn two hands into four.


Grilling glossary

July 29, 2009

grilling glossary

Label me lazy or christen me clever, but today’s post recycles some of my past links so that you (and truthfully me, too) have a glossary of all my grilling and barbecuing recipes and tips:

Buying and using grills and barbecues
Budget grilling
Grill master quiz
How to buy a grill
Lighting briquette
Winter grilling guide

Smoking and smokers
How to use cedar smoking sheets
How to use smoking briquettes
Matching meats with woods
How to turn your grill into a smoker

Cooking on the grill
Best rib recipe (2008)
Perfectly sticky gooey ribs (2009)
Burgers: basic and beyond
How to grill a steak
Chimichurri steak
Gourmet brie burger & cheeseburger tips

Grill safety
How to calibrate an instant read thermometer
How to use an instant read thermometer

Do you have a great grilling tip or a fabulous, hot-off-the-coals recipe you’d like to share? If so, please post it below. Links are welcome!


Briquette basics

May 18, 2009

charcoalchickenGrilling is unquestionably one of the most popular ways to quickly cook a great-tasting summer weeknight dinner. Although most of us love (and need!) easy dinners from Monday to Friday,  many people (including me!) are rediscovering the joys of cooking food slowly over a smoldering charcoal fire, on weekends and especially long weekends like the one I hope you are enjoying right this second!

What’s the attraction?  For me, it’s like aromatherapy; in the time it takes the briquettes to turn from black to ashen, I’ve taken time to inhale the wonderful smoky smells in the air and wind down.

If you’re thinking about giving charcoal grilling a whirl, you might want to read this primer on briquettes.  You don’t have to douse the barbecue with starter fluid or be frustrated by the fire cooling down when your chicken is half-cooked if you follow these guidelines:

•    It takes 30 briquettes to heat enough area to cook one pound of meat.
•    A five-pound bag of briquettes contains 75 to 90 briquettes.
•    To shorten the time it takes to ignite and burn down the charcoal, stack the briquettes in the base of the barbecue in a pyramid shape before lighting. Or, use a ‘chimney’ to start the fire. It’s easy, safe and my personal preference.
•    Start cooking when 70 per cent of the surface of the briquettes is ash-covered.
•    Charcoal briquettes typically maintain temperature for about an hour. To extend the cooking time, add five to six briquettes to the perimeter of the coals every 45 minutes. Most charcoal grill grates have hinged sides to allow the charcoal to be refreshed safely.

What do you prefer? Charcoal or gas grilling? If you grill using briquettes, are you a recent convert or a pro who can offer all of us some tips?

 

 

PS:  I’ll be featuring grilling tips and tricks tomorrow on CHEX TV in Oshawa and on Daytime Durham so tune in to hear more about outdoor cooking if you are in the area.


BBQ Time: Calibrate your thermometer

April 23, 2009

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Don’t you hate it when you find out that because you weren’t properly informed you wasted money?  I’ve long been a fan of metal probe-style instant read thermometers. As I’ve written before, they help you to cook meat not only safely but also to the perfect level of doneness. I knew these thermometers need to be tested frequently (especially after being dropped) but whenever I found one to be on the fritz, displaying a temperature out of whack with normal  temperature standards, I threw it away.

At an average of $15 each, that means that over the last few years, I’ve thrown out well over $100 worth of instant read thermometers!  That’s money I could have spent on dinner out at a nice restaurant, a facial, bonbons, beer or some other necessity of life. (Or, I guess I could have saved it,  but whatever.). 

Essentially that cash went into my trash can and then into land fill since almost all instant read thermometers can be calibrated. I learned this info when I took a safe food handling course on Sunday and I’ve been mad at myself ever since for not knowing that these tools are easily adjusted.

As I got over the initial embarrassing sting of how I’ve wasted money, I realized that if one person doesn’t know about something, there are likely others who aren’t informed either. So, today, just in time for grilling season, I’m going to teach you how to check your instant read thermometer for accuracy and how to fix it if it fails the test. 

  • Step One – Testing:  Fill a glass with equal parts cold water and ice cubes to make an ice slush mixture. Insert the instant read probe into the centre of the mixture being sure not to touch the sides or bottom of the glass. If the thermometer does not read 0 degrees celsius (or 32 degrees fahrenheit) move on to step two.  Otherwise, clean the probe and put it away.
  • Step Two – Calibrating: Turn the thermometer so that the face is away from you. On the underside of the thermometer, look for the nut that attaches the probe to the casing that holds the face. Use a small adjustable wrench to turn this nut gently. Retest the temperature and readjust the nut until you get the appropriate reading. Note:  Many models have a wrench built right into the same holder that keeps the probe clean and protected!

Did you know how to test and calibrate an instant read thermometer before reading today’s post?  Or, am I the only one who didn’t know how to do this task?

NB: If you need info about how to use an instant read thermometer, check out this post from last spring.


Getting ready to grill

March 2, 2009

cedarwrapped-troutAh, my precious grill. How I miss thee. Sigh.

As the winter starts to wind down, I’m more than a little excited about getting out into the backyard so that I can have regular dinner dates with an open flame once again. Last week I ducked out for a clandestine quickie to try out a new grilling technique. While I’ll certainly be using my tried and true recipes when the weather warms up, I’m also excited to have discovered the Cedar Smoking Sheets pictured above.

I don’t know much about the origins of this concept (one package I read said they were Japanese-style but none of my Japanese friends seem to have used them before), but the idea is clever: you soak these supple sheets in water, wine, tea, etc. and then wrap them around raw pieces of fish, chicken, cheese and such before trussing them closed and placing the bundles on the hot grill.

The result: smoky flavour and no scorched or torn pieces of food.

Have you tried these sheets? If so, how would you rate your attraction to them? Do you love ‘em, like ‘em or think they’re just not all that?

FYI: I bought my first pack online but I know that Sobeys will be carrying these sheets in their stores this summer.

Links to other grilling related posts:
Smoke Chips
Smokin’
International Grilling Atlas
Best Rib Recipe
Instant Read Thermometers
Burger Tips
Spring Grilling
Cold Weather Grilling
Cheeseburger Tips


Be a discerning smoker

November 5, 2008

Stepping outside on Saturday evening to go to my car, I was reminded of how wonderful grilling food smells on the cool, crisp, leaf-scented air. Ahhh! I just stood there for a few seconds and breathed in the mingled scents of the neighbours’ grilling pork chops and my maple leaf-covered lawn. A truly Canadian form of aromatherapy!

As I was driving away, I fantasized about how that aroma could have been even more enticing if my neighbour had added some wood chips to his grill as it was preheating to add a smoky element.

Smoke has been a growing flavour trend for several years, but now it’s being more clearly defined on menus and food package labels so that consumers can choose the type and intensity of smokiness they prefer. Besides the wide variety of regular wood chip varieties sold at most hardware stores, these new wood ‘biscuits’ are making adding smoky flavour to your food ever easier. All you do is add one to the grate as you preheat the grill. Once the grill is hot, the biscuit will smolder and fill the covered grill with great smelling smoke. Then, after you cook, you dip the spent biscuit in cold water and toss it in the composter. No muss, no fuss!

Truthfully, I think most home grillers can get good results using almost any combo of untreated wood chips, some water, a foil pan and food; however, aficionados who want to match their smoke to the most appropriate foods can use the following guide to help them:

Fruit woods (apple, pear, peach, cherry, persimmon): cooking poultry, fish, shellfish, pork (chops and tenderloin), veal, cheese and fruits
Hard woods (hickory, maple, mesquite): game, poultry, stronger cheeses, tuna and steaks
Soft woods (cedar, alder): salmon, arctic char, trout, turkey, pork (chops and tenderloin), creamy cheeses and fruits.

If you have more basic questions about wood smoking on a home barbecue, check out this post from earlier in the year.

Do you grill into the autumn or pack away the propane until spring?