Just like summer, the outdoor barbecue season has finally arrived, and with it the opportunity to move the heat from inside your kitchen outside to your barbecue. Today on Food Matters, I talked to All Points West host Jo-Ann Roberts with some tips on the best accessories to help you enjoy your outdoor cooking this summer.
You might think that a guy like me would use his barbecue year round. I DO use my barbecue most of the year, but when we went through that cold and rainy stretch I just didn’t feel like going outside, I roasted chickens and braised lamb shanks instead. Now, I am ready to go out there and grill, especially since I just got a brand-new propane barbecue to play with!
Playing means using some tools and tips to go beyond the simple application of vegetables or proteins to the grill. Because I am getting a fresh start I called up my barbecue mentor, yes, I have a barbecue mentor, his name is Ron Shewchuk, he is an International Barbecue Championship and is the author of the cookbooks Barbecue Secrets Deluxe and Planking Secrets. I called him on Skype and talked to him from what he affectionately calls his ‘Fortress of Smokitude’ in North Vancouver. The first accessories we talked about were pizza stones, which are getting more and more popular. Ron says there are even stones made specifically to fit particular barbecues, and he loves the idea that you can recreate wood-burning oven texture and flavour with them: “You can pre-heat the grill with the pizza stone in it up to the point where you have the temperature that will make the pizza crust nice and crisp, but you an also add a chunk of hardwood to the grill, put it right above the burner as the pizza is cooking and you’ll get that smoky flavour and aroma just like you would in a wood-burning oven, it’s fantastic!”
Smoke is probably the one thing that is missing when you are using a propane barbecue. You’ve got the heat and the convenience but not that wood flavour you get on charcoal barbecues or smokers. The next accessory we discussed was the rotisserie. Ron admitted that he didn’t use a rotisserie for a while since he kept losing all the parts! But now he has a new grill that came with a rotisserie and he really loves it. I used to use mine a fair amount until the propane pipe leading to that burner developed a leak, so forget that. Of course my old rotisserie motor and spit don’t fit my new barbecue. But Ron says it is really worthwhile getting a rotisserie for its ability to create a great crust all around whatever you’ve got on the spit, whether you have a special burner for it or not: “The BBQ that I have has a special infrared burner above the surface of the grill so you are already getting indirect heat, and the key with the rotisserie cooking is that you don’t want to apply too much direct heat to whatever you are cooking. What I do is put the rotisserie burner on the top, and then the two burners on either side of my roast or chicken on high heat so that it more like an oven inside, but without the danger of potentially burning your chicken or roast.”
I haven’t had a chance to buy my rotisserie yet, so what I used instead for the show today was a classic beer can chicken recipe. But I have a special holder I call the chicken throne. It’s a ceramic container, wide at the bottom and narrow at the top to insert into the cavity of the chicken. I poured half a beer in the throne, yes, I drank the other half, slapped some rub on the chicken, used indirect heat as Ron recommended, and one hour later I had a beautiful, moist roast chicken.
The other dish I brought in was some slow-cooked and smoked barbecue pork side ribs. I do have a rib rack to use for large quantities, because Ron says ribs can take up a lot of space on your grill and a good rack allows you to stack them in an upright position so you can fit more on the grill. This one kind of looks like one of those file organizers you might keep on your desk. The one accessory Ron says you don’t really need is a fancy holder for your wood chips or pellets you are using to add the smoke. Just make a little packet out of tin foil and stab it with a knife a few time so the smoke can get out, and put it just above the burner, and that’s all you need to do, with one thing to remember: ” My experience is that you don’t really need to soak your wood chips or pellets in water before you put them on to smoke. Soaking them sometimes means they smoke too much, and then you just get the overpowering taste of the smoke and nothing else.”
I coated the ribs in a Cajun rub, refrigerated them overnight, then put them on the grill at about 250F for about three hours. While they were on I basted them a few times with a fruit juice, apple cider vinegar and bourbon mixture, then finally brushed them with my homemade raspberry chipotle sauce. To listen to my conversation with Jo-Ann, visit the Food Matters section of the All Points West website.
To listen to my entire conversation with Ron Shewchuk via Skype (I apologize for the lack of audio quality in some spots), just click here for the mp3:
One more note: Last Friday Vancouver-based celebrity chef Anthony Sedlak was found dead in his North Vancouver apartment. His family said he died from ‘a previously undiagnosed medical condition’. He was just 29 years old. I had met Anthony a couple of times, just as he started his career on Food Network Canada. In 2007 I did a feature on him for my ‘Food For Thought’ radio column. You can listen to that column by visiting my blog post for that week, right here.