There is still time for cookouts before the cold winter sets in. We used to call it barbecuing, but today it is called grilling. Whatever it is called, everyone loves to cook out of doors. Sniffing the tantalizing aroma and watching the slightly charred surfaces of the meat sizzling away over coals is exciting.
What goes on your grill may depend a lot on where you are—different regions and states have their own distinctive grilling styles. In the Southwest, spice rubs transform chicken and meat into an aromatic feast, and mesquite is the wood of choice for smoking and grilling. North of the Mason-Dixon Line, meat gets slathered with red sauces. And in the South whole hogs to racks of ribs are grilled, frequently with only a dry rub, and in Texas, it is usually slow-smoked.
But how you cook your meal is really up to you. You can put the meat directly on the grill, wrap it in foil and set it on the coals, put it in a cast-iron pot, do a meal in a hole, or even cook your meat strapped to the engine of your car so it will cook as you drive along. I have never tried cooking on a car engine, but there are cookbooks that offer directions.
Here is the basic technique taken from the book Unusual Recipes for the Adventurous Cook by Marina and John Bear: wrap raw food in three layers of heavy-duty foil, being sure the wrap is airtight—to keep food juices in and engine juices out. Place packet of food next to or wired onto the exhaust manifold of the car: those pipes coming out of the main engine eventually leading to the muffler. (On V-8 engines, the food packet is best fastened right on the engine block, between the cylinders.) Then drive at normal highway speeds. Cooking time will vary.
Hot dogs can be wrapped side-by-side and cooked 25 minutes. Hamburgers, wrap-ped side by side with barbecue sauce added, take 50 to 60 minutes. It should take about five hours to cook a chicken with half placed on each side of the engine. They say roast beef takes four and a half hours and should be turned over at the halfway point.
For salmon, which takes 40 to 50 minutes, smear foil with olive oil, cut fresh dill and add black pepper into oil. Place salmon on foil, top with more dill, pepper and salt.
Another technique is to cook in the ground.
ROAST BEEF IN A HOLE
Dig a pit larger and deeper than the cast-iron pot you will use to hold the food. Line the pit with small stones build a fire in the hole and let it burn briskly until there is nothing left but hot coals.
Put a 4-pound roast beef, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste, in the cast-iron pot. Peel 24 small potatoes, scrape and slice 12 carrots, and core 12 apples. Surround the roast with potatoes, carrots and apples.
Remove some of the coals, place pot in pit with the rest, and rake the coals back over the pot. Cover with fresh dirt about 4 inches thick. Cook 4-5 hours. Dig out the pot after the necessary cooking time has passed and open carefully to avoid getting dirt in the pot.
There are, of course, much simpler ways to cook outdoors.
A sizzling steak on the grill is the easiest—take a 4-pound chuck steak, 3 inches thick, and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of cracked black pepper onto both sides. When coals are red, with small flames licking from below, the fire is hot. A medium-heat fire is the best—it offers no flames and the coals are coated with a white ash, going red underneath. Grill the steak about 3 inches from the coals, 35-50 minutes. When you see little bubbles on the top surface, the meat is ready to turn. Flip steak with tongs and a turner. (Piercing with a fork wastes precious juices.) Turn only once; grill the second side a few minutes less. To serve, slice with sharp knife diagonally across the grain of the meat, at about a 30-degree angle. Keep the slices thin. Serves 6-8.
For smoky flavor, toss a handful of cherry-wood chips, or perhaps apple or hickory chips, onto the coals. Mesquite, alder and oak chips are good choices too.
Make ahead and keep on your kitchen shelf a dry rub of seasonings that can be put on the meat before it is cooked. Here’s a basic recipe: 1 cup of white sugar, 1 cup of seasoning salt, 1/3 cup each of chili powder, black pepper, and paprika, and 1 teaspoon of cayenne. To this, many different seasonings may be added for different meats—rosemary for lamb, sage for chicken or pork, and garlic for just about anything. Keep in a covered glass jar.
Relax, experiment, have fun!
There are still many weeks ahead for cooking outdoors with whatever method appeals to you. Who can resist that tantalizing, smoky aroma that comes with outdoor cooking?
HINT OF THE MONTH: When to salt your meat? Wait until you turn it to salt it, then only the browned side. Season other side as you take the meat from the grill. If you salt uncooked meat, the juices will be drawn out and you’ll lose good flavor.
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Marian Platt's regional narrative cookbook of Washington’s Sequim Valley, From My Kitchen Window, can be ordered by sending cash, check or money order for $25 (includes tax and handling/mailing costs) to Marian Platt, 434 Chicken Coop Rd., Sequim, WA 98382. Phone (360) 683-4691