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"Far and away the best thing yet on outdoor cooking."--New York Times
CHARCOAL GRILLS AND GRILL EQUIPMENT
So great has become the urge to cook over charcoal that the manufacture of barbecue equipment has become big business. However, an elaborately engineered grill is not necessary to enjoy this newest form of recreation. Your broiling facilities may be a piece of gridded iron, salvaged from an old stove and propped up on a pile of rocks, or it may be a gorgeous stainless steel cookery unit, complete with an adjustable firebox, an electric spit, and other such luxurious accouterments. Whatever your financial circumstances, whatever your available space, you can find some device that will fit your needs, at a cost of from a few cents to several hundred dollars.
A grate from an old oven, propped up on bricks, makes a good one if yard space is available. Another popular one is a Chinese wok, or the top of an old hotwater tank, set on a tripod or propped steady with bricks or stones. With this type of grill it's wise to put a few inches of sand in the bottom to make the fire bed level and to raise it a bit.
These are of several types, and there are many of them. There is the folding type, usually with a trough-shaped firebox and folding legs, and the bucket type, an insulated pail with a grill top and a cover. The latter offers the advantage of being able to carry the fuel to the picnic, ready to light on the spot. The Japanese hibachis, at least those made of cast iron, may be a little heavy for toting any distance, but they are easily moved from patio to indoor fireplace, or to station wagon. A hibachi is a little portable charcoal stove or "fire bowl," which has been used in Japan for centuries, mostly for heating purposes and keeping tea water hot and hands warm. It has captured the fancy of the American hostess, and hibachis are everywhere. A very small portable grill that sells for a few dollars is designed for individual use—an amusing if not too practical idea. The firebox is necessarily small, so only hors d'oeuvre or minute steaks or hamburgers can be cooked on them. A larger portable grill, one that folds and fits into a carrying case, is useful over outdoor fires or for persons who want to cook in their fireplaces but lack storage space. Then there's a folding device that is light in weight and low in cost. It uses aluminum foil for added heat through reflection.
This is probably the most popular kind of barbecue grill. There are four general types. One, the brazier, has a large shallow round firebox with a grill which may or may not be adjustable. Some of these are equipped with spits, either hand or electrically turned. Many families have used and enjoyed this type of barbecue for years. Another is the cart, or wheeled table.
This may be a simple grill with a firebox beneath, or a de luxe job that includes shelves under the firebox, a hood, a warming oven, cutting boards, and a spit, either manual or motor-driven. This is probably the most practical of all grills. We believe that the very fancy ones are no more functional than the simpler ones, but we also think that, if you do more than very occasional charcoal grilling, it is wise to purchase a well-made one with a grill sufficiently large to accommodate food for your usual number of guests, and with an electric spit if you intend to do any roasting. Manually operated spits are picturesque but too laborious for fun. We also believe that a stainless steel grill is a good investment. It requires a modicum of care and will look handsome for years. We recommend one that can be removed from its wheeled base, so that it may be transported in a car or used in brick or stone fireplaces inside or out.
The third type is the vertical grill. With this, the food cooks in front of the fire rather than over it. Some cooks like this idea, claiming that as the fat or baste cannot drip into the coals there will be no flare-up. This we admit to be true, but we believe that neither will there be flaming of the fire if it is properly controlled and, though we do not go all out for smoke cookery, we feel that a little flavor of the charcoal adds greatly to the palatability of the meat.
Still another grill is the one with multiple spits. Originally designed for skewer cookery, this type proves very useful for cooking meats and vegetables at the same time. For instance, potatoes can roast on one spit, spareribs on another, and onions on a third. Or lamb chops can broil on a grill while an eggplant and some green peppers turn on adjoining skewers.
Another type of charcoal grill is growing in popularity: the kitchen grill, the very newest thing in the modern home. These are being installed not only in palatial summer residences but in year-round suburban places and winter apartments. Charcoal cookery, it seems, is more than a fad.
Besides your charcoal grill, you will need a few other necessities and perhaps some niceties. Although the market is flooded with trick gimmicks which, supposedly, no charcoal chef can live without, we have kept our list down to a minimum. Few pieces of special equipment are necessary for outdoor cookery. These few, however, are invaluable.
[check] A TABLE. This may be a makeshift one, but it should be sturdy and a good working height. One with a hardwood cutting surface is ideal.
[check] GLOVES. Both canvas work gloves and fireproof gloves are all but indispensable. The work gloves are for handling charcoal, a method we think far more efficient than the use of tongs. The fireproof gloves are for use when adjusting spit or roast over the fire, moving the grill, spreading the fire, or other hot jobs.
[check] TONGS. These are invaluable for turning steaks and other broiling foods, and for lifting potatoes from coals, corn from grill, and pots from hooks. They are inexpensive, so it's smart to have more than one pair.
[check] THERMOMETERS. You will see in Chapter 3, under the heading "Temperature of Finished Meat," why we consider these important. One should be attached to the spit so that, when turning, you will know the heat to which your meat is subjected. The other thermometer, even more important, is one to determine the interior temperature of the meat that is cooking. We prefer one with a round dial—it is easy to read without performing gymnastics to do so. Regular meat thermometers have one great disadvantage—their lowest temperature marking is usually 140°, making it impossible to get a proper reading for rare meat. We use, instead, a thermometer that registers from 0° to 220°, thus enabling the cook to know when the meat has reached room temperature as well as the cooking one.
[check] SPRINKLER BOTTLE. A large bottle with a sprinkler top, such as is used for dampening clothes. This to douse overexuberant flames.
[check] BASTING BRUSH. We sometimes use a faggot of parsley or other herbs, but we have to admit that a good long-handled pastry brush does a better if not so picturesque job. We both reject, and violently, the use of a cotton dish mop as a swab.
[check] PLIERS. These are necessary for tightening the holding forks, if your spit is round, or for squaring up the spitted meat before balancing, if your spit is square.
[check] HINGED BROILERS. One will do, but three is the ideal number:
1. A basket grill—a sort of shallow hinged box made of wire with a long handle—is perfect for thick, whole fish, lobster, chickens, and other foods that may be difficult to turn. It is also obviously quicker to turn five or six at one time than to do them individually.
2. A hinged grill with medium grids for thinner pieces of tender meat, such as fish fillets or steaks, sweetbreads, and such.
3. A hinged broiler with fine grids for such small tidbits as oysters, kidneys, chicken livers, and shrimps.
[check] DRIP PANS. These are essential for all spit roasting. Properly placed, they will catch all the drippings from a roast as the spit turns, preventing the fat from dropping into the coals and causing a conflagration, as explained in Chapter 2, under the heading "Flaring."
[check] SKEWERS. These are necessary for shish kebab, shaslik, and all foods cooked en brochette. They may be simple ones of metal or wood, or elaborate steel ones with wooden or decorative handles. Heavy wire with an end looped for a handle is a satisfactory improvisation. Also inexpensive bamboo chopsticks may be split and used, though they should be soaked in water 1 hour to prevent their burning.
[check] UTENSILS. It is fine to have special knives and long-handled forks and spoons for your outdoor cooking, but ordinary utensils, borrowed from the kitchen, will do nicely. Better your pet sharp kitchen knife that can be honed to razor sharpness than the indifferently bladed one with a fancy handle in a matching "barbecue set."
[check] SALTS AND PEPPERS. A large pepper mill that grinds coarsely, or, even better, one that can be regulated from fine to very coarse is helpful. Also a large shaker with big holes for coarse salt. We like kosher salt because it is coarse.
[check] APRONS. We see the advantage of an apron, but we think that a plain bibbed one, made of heavy duck or denim, can be used both indoors and out. As for those with "funny" slogans and decorations, we don't find them irresistible.
[check] TOWELS AND POT HOLDERS. These are important, but again may come from the kitchen. Large pot holders with rings, for hanging close by the grill, are indeed handy, and so is a towel rack within reach. Paper towels, as in the kitchen, are invaluable.
[check] CARRY ALL. It is nice to have a handled wicker or wire basket, or one of the wooden tool trays that carpenters carry. Herbs and other seasonings and all small utensils may thus be carried to the scene of the cooking.
[check] CARVING BOARDS. These, too, may come from the house, but they are important for both cutting meat before and carving it after the cooking. Have good sturdy ones of hardwood—perhaps two or three of different sizes.
Electrical equipment has an important place in outside cooking. Porch, patio, and terrace are all close enough for connections, and the use of many of the new portable appliances will give added pleasure and ease to dining al fresco. They serve two functions: the cook is enabled, if there is but one, to officiate at the charcoal grill and at the same time to enjoy the guests and prepare such last-minute dishes as are not cooked over charcoal; and the food will be freshly made and piping hot come serving time.
THE ELECTRIC BROILER AND ROTISSERIE
Perhaps the most popular of appliances for outdoor use is the electric broiler and rotisserie. This either to take the place of the charcoal unit or as an auxiliary to it. There are many families who enjoy cooking and eating outside but who, for one reason or another, are unable or unwilling to use a charcoal fire. The electric broiler and rotisserie is their next best bet. Almost all the recipes for broiled and roasted foods given in this book may be used in this kind of electrical unit, and in most cases the cooking times are the same. The only exception is in roasting large pieces of meat, for there are few rotisseries on the market that will accommodate a 20-pound turkey or a 5-rib roast. Watching a piece of meat turn in an electric rotisserie is almost as enchanting as when the fuel is charcoal. The only real difference is in the lack of charcoal flavor in the food. This deficiency some cooks attempt to overcome by seasoning the meat with charcoal salt or liquid smoke. We reject this method because, to us, it has an artificial flavor. What's more, we see no need for it—most meats either broiled or roasted in these infrared appliances are sensationally good eating. For using them, follow the instructions that accompany them and use the recipes in this book.
ELECTRIC SKILLETS AND FRYING PANS
These appliances are most useful for outdoor dining. Anything that is to be sautéed may be done in them, and in addition the deeper kind may be used as "cookers," for casserole dishes, beans, stews, spoon breads, and the like. They are also invaluable for sukiyaki, a dish that fits beautifully with the informality of eating outside. What's more, they have controlled heat, so that they require less attention than range-or grill-heated skillets or saucepans. When recipes in this book may be prepared in one, we indicate the fact.
DEEP FAT FRYERS
Here's another kitchen appliance that takes to the great outdoors. French fried potatoes and freshly fried doughnuts are two deep-fried foods that go perfectly with outside eating—the first with any and all grilled meats and fish; the second for breakfast, lunch, or supper served under the sky. The deep fryer has other uses, of course: delicate corn fritters to serve with broiled chicken, tiny savory croquettes that make perfect appetizers, delectable beignets des fruits for summer desserts ...
This is an auxiliary appliance that will serve you well. For soups, especially those hearty soup-stews that are so right for outdoor appetites; for casserole dishes, too, long- or short-cooking ones. The electric cooker (and the electric bean pot, as well) will produce many main dishes, or dishes that are perfect accompaniments for the yield of the grill. Recipes will be found in Chapter 16.
We include here chafing dishes that are heated by alcohol as well as electric ones. The latter, however, are faster and so more suitable for actual cooking, while the slower ones do nicely for keeping food warm. Also, the deep-type automatic skillet makes a fine electric chafing dish—actually better than most, because the heat can be regulated. You will find the chafing dish ideally suited for meat sauces (see Chapter 20), as well as for appetizers, meat accompaniments, and desserts.
HOT TRAYS AND TABLES
These electrically heated trays, and the wheeled tables with their tops heated the same way, are niceties for outdoor service. Dishes prepared either inside or out can be kept at eating temperature. Dishes kept warm by candles serve the same purpose, but not so efficiently. They are, however, far better than risking cold food.
OTHER ELECTRIC APPLIANCES
To say that the electric blender and the electric mixer are especially adapted to the outdoors would be to exaggerate, but certainly both are useful in the preparation of food indoors, and many cooks use the blender for iced summer drinks and cold soups that are made on the scene. The coffee maker is as useful outdoors as it is in, and the electric grill, toaster, and waffle maker are all ideal for breakfasting on the porch or patio.
Although this is not electric (at least we don't know of an electric one), the pressure cooker is invaluable for some types of outdoor cooking. Campers, especially those vacationing at high altitudes, find they make cooking far easier and quicker, and save fuel as well. Yachtsmen, trailer travelers, and other cooks who are handicapped by a shortage of fuel find a pressure cooker of great value. Recipes for its use will be found in Chapter 22.CHAPTER 2
FIRE AND FUEL
Anyone who can cook cannot necessarily cook over coals. What came naturally to our ancestors—the making of a cooking fire—has been almost entirely supplanted by the use of gas and electricity. Yet a generation that eagerly discarded the coal range as a nuisance has just as eagerly taken up cooking over charcoal. That these new enthusiasts sometimes go to unnecessarily laborious lengths to achieve a proper fire is unfortunately true. Actually the task should be an easy one, and will be if this simple method is followed.
There are three customary fuels for cooking over coals. Wood, not often used, is ideal. It should, however, be sweet-tasting and non-resinous, such as wood of any fruit or nut tree, or grapevine, or a hardwood such as hickory, oak, or maple. Charcoal, made from hardwood and available in various-sized chunks, is perhaps the most frequently used fuel. Lastly, there are briquets, which may be made of charcoal, anthracite, or some by-product such as fruit pits.
Excerpted from The Complete Book of Outdoor Cookery by James Beard, Helen Evans Brown. Copyright © 1997 Helen Evans Brown and James A. Beard. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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