Chillin' and Grillin'
by Lynn Kerrigan
"There may be religious, political, athletic, or sexual images that stir deeper emotions—maybe—but nothing in the realm of Southern food is regarded with more passionate enthusiasm by the faithful than a perfectly cooked and seasoned pork shoulder or slab of ribs."
—John Egerton, Southern Food
Outdoor cooking—either barbecue or grilling is basic. It's about burgers, paper plates and lemonade in plastic cups. Even in its fanciest forms, with marinades, wood smoke and spice rubs, outdoor cookery is far more straightforward than most other kitchen gyrations. It's one of those activities that creates a true appreciation of summer. Ask five Americans what "barbecue" means and you'll get five different answers. For that matter ask five people how they spell the word and you may get just as many. Barbeque, barbecue, BBQ, Bar-B-Que—I've seen them all. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary (a ten pound tome I keep on my desk), defines "barbecue" as:
1. A social or political entertainment, usually in the open air, at which meats are roasted over an open hearth or pit. 2. A framework, as a grill or spit, on which meat or vegetables are cooked over an open fire. 3. Pieces of beef, fowl, fish, or the like roasted over an open hearth, especially when basted with barbecue sauce.
4. To cook sliced or diced meat in a highly seasoned sauce.
According to the dictionary, the word barbecue is derived from the Spanish, barbacoa, a raised frame of sticks. Another source I have says "barbecue" comes from French-speaking pirates, who called this Caribbean pork feast de barbe et queue, which translates from beard to tail. In other words, the pig roast reflected the fact that the hog was an eminently versatile animal that could be consumed from head to toe.
Everyone's definition is correct. An Easterner might say a barbecue is a backyard affair where a meal is cooked on some type of grill. A neighbor from the south who invites you to a "barbecue" is probably summoning you to come taste his slow-cooked meat. A Yankee might refer to his barbecue-sauced hamburger casserole as a barbecue dish. Grilling and barbecue are synonymous to many people, but purists insist that true barbecue refers to slooow cooked meat. The material used to cook the meat isn't important be it charcoal, wood chips or an open fire. It's the method (slow) and the cooker (a high degree of temperature control) that matters. I've read accounts of cooking pork shoulder for 16-20 hours at 210 degrees. The reason for the slow cooking time is to break down the connective tissues in the meat and render the fat out. A friend prepares great ribs by marinating with either a dry rub or liquid marinade overnight in the refrigerator. The marinade, he explains, must contain an acidic ingredient like vinegar which helps break down the fat. He takes the meat out of the fridge a couple hours ahead of cooking time to allow it to reach room temperature. Then he cooks the slab for around 5 hours at 210 degrees and bastes with leftover marinade up until an hour before the ribs are done. He claims people rave about his ribs.
However, neo-culinarians believe that marinating for long periods of time does little to increase flavor. Rather, brushing sauce or marinade on the meal during the last hour (or less) of cooking is the best way to impart special flavor to meat, fish and poultry.
However you do your barbecue, define your barbecue or spell your barbecue, it's the season to pull your outdoor cooker out of storage and clean it up for its rigorous work ahead-brewing up a summer full of good food and good memories.
Here are some facts, tips and resources about grilling and barbecue:
- Trim excess fat from meats before grilling to avoid flare-ups.
- Bring meat, fish or vegetables to room temperature before grilling which helps promote even cooking.
- If food has been marinated, dry well by lightly pressing with a paper towel.
- In 1913 Henry Ford developed the process to turn wood scraps into charcoal briquettes. 58% of grill owners favor charcoal as a fuel but grilling purists say wood is best.
- A full 70% of regular barbecuers say they like to grill because they simply like being outdoors.
- Brining—Perhaps the least-known technique for preparing grilled food is brining—soaking meats and poultry in a solution of sugar and salt. This supposedly adds juiciness and tang.
The 1997 Weber GrillWatch Survey revealed that steak bumped chicken off of the top spot for the first time in several years. The top 10 favorite foods to grill lined up in this order: steaks, hamburgers, sausages/hot dogs, chicken pieces, ribs, potatoes, corn, pork chops, fish and other vegetables.
For answers to any barbecue questions, cooks may call the Weber Grill-Line, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CDT, through Labor Day. The number is 1-800-GRILL-OUT (1-800-474-5568).
While you're on the phone, ask for Weber's newest free barbecue booklet "All American BBQ Entertaining," which offers regional barbecue menus, grilling suggestions and safety tips.
Kansas City Barbecue Society
11514 Hickman Mills Dr.
Kansas City MO 64134
Phone: (800) 963-5227 or (816) 765-5891
Fax: (816) 765-5860
Monthly newsletter. $30/year membership fee.
Dallas, TX 75217
(214) 398-4374 Fax: (214) 398-1614
Barbecue publication issued 10 issues a year.
National Barbecue News
PO Box 981
Douglas. GA 31533
Phone: (800) 385-0002 or (912) 384-9112
Fax: (912) 384-4220USA Smoke
Rt. 2 Box 73-B
Hico, TX 76457
Phone: (817) 386-3875
Fax: (817) 386-5629
Monthly newsletter. $22/year.
The Backyard BarbeQuer
PO Box 767
Holmdel, NJ 07733
Phone: (908) 975-0675
Fax: (908) 946-3343
Great newsletter, nicely designed and chock full of barbecue recipes and news for people who grill year round. Bimonthly. $24/year. $44/2 yearsOn-Q BarbeQue
The Cookshack's newsletter may be downloaded directly from the web site in pdf. format. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, call them at the above number and they'll help you out. BBQ & Grilling Newsletter
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Barbecue'n On The Internet
The best barbecue newsletter I've read. Deliciously funny and full of great recipes. Sign up for a free subscription.
Have a great grillin' and chillin' summer!
Copyright © 1997, Lynn Kerrigan. No portion of this article may be reproduced for publication without express, written permission of the author.
This page created 1997 and modified February 2007