[Note: This was originally published before the term “master” was declared toxic by the political correctness police. I thought it would be timely to revisit the subject of grilling before the Fourth of July weekend. A reminder … real Silverbacks are vegetarian. SB SM]
Deep, Philosophical Thoughts While Burning the Chicken
Hello … the Grillmaster here. For some, the lengthening days and warming temperatures mean the rebirth of roots and the call of the dirt. For me it means the sweet sound of sizzling flesh over open flames. Today I will open the mail bag and answer some of your “searing” questions about how to get the most from your grill.
1. Is it unmanly to clean a grill?
I used to subscribe to the theory that all grills were self-cleaning, and that cleanliness was simply a matter of getting the grill hot enough before cooking. Whether due to my accumulated wisdom or just a rudimentary sense of hygiene, I now wire brush my grill (before starting the fire, stupid) and rinse it with the hose before lighting the first match. I still make sure to pre-heat the grill before starting to cook.
2. What is the best fuel for grilling?
Aha, this is a key question. The ONLY proper fuel for grilling is hardwood charcoal, preferably made north of 45 degrees latitude. By being incredibly small-minded and snobbish about your fuel, people will assume that you know what you’re talking about with cuts of meat, utensils, and other nuances of the grilling process. It all starts with being snooty (not sooty) about your cooking fuel.
A side benefit of this is that you can release any pent-up hostility onto the people who don’t share your fuel predilection. In a day and age when you can’t make any kind of negative reference to someone’s gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual preference you can refer to someone as an “ignorant gas-grilling scumbag” without much fear of reprisal. Go ahead, slur away.
3. A friend used the phrase “advance planning” in conjunction with grilling. What were they referring to?
Not to worry. Things like marinating meat, menu planning, and table setting are sometimes grouped together under the category of “advance planning.” These, collectively, are essential functions that contribute positively to the overall culinary experience. The important thing for you to know is that “advance planning” is done exclusively by OTHER people, a group including, but not limited to, partners, spouses, significant others, kids, and guests.
A Grillmaster is like a matador. His function is to look up to sky and say “Looks like a good night to fire up the grill.” Then, when the time is right, he goes in for the glory of the kill. (Aside to animal rights activists, the Grillmaster is not in favor of bullfighting.)
4. How do you actually cook on a grill?
This is the easy part. Get the fire right, meaning glowing coals, no flame. Sear both sides via direct heat (i.e. direct exposure to the coals), then put aside onto indirect heat (i.e. with foil or some kind of barrier between food and heat), and cover until done. Do not overcook. It’s that simple, except for hamburgers.
Hamburgers are a separate subject, way too complex for the scope of this article, which is limited to the subject of grilling everything but hamburgers.
5. What does “everything” include?
If you can eat it, you can grill it. If you don’t believe me, get a copy of Steven Raichlen’s The Barbecue! Bible, (Workman Publishing). This book will keep you going all winter long with creative ideas about what is grillable. Steve Raichlen could grill cold cereal.
6. What do you think about in that period between when the fire has been lit and the coals are ready to begin cooking?
Hm-m-m … this is a very personal question, but for a moment I will set aside my Grillmaster facade and share some of my innermost thoughts. But first, let me open this beer. I use this time to think about life and art, and why are we here? Is there life after death and what causes washboard.? Who should the Red Sox use for middle relief, and should a separate basketball league be created for LeBron James?
Did you ever notice how so much of what we cook on the grill is called by a different name from what we call the animal itself. We do not, for example, eat “ground cow on a bun.”. We do not eat “pig cubes on a stick,” but rather pork kebabs. We eat countless parts of chicken–breasts, thighs, wings–but never hen or rooster. Pass me another beer.
I think about the past, about the 1950s, when Vermont was a vast plain roamed by great herds of Naugahydes and Spamalos. Now, the Naugas are all gone, their hides made into BarcaLoungers® and Spamalos are on isolated reservations, their meat available as precious tidbits of canned loin that you can buy at Shaw’s. Spam is quite good on the grill, especially on a skewer with chunks of pineapple, like they serve it in Hawaii.
I also think about who made the stars? And, of course, did we buy enough beer? What was the question? Hic.
7. Should Grillmasters, as is the custom with Native Americans, ask an animal’s forgiveness before throwing it on the grill?
This is an individual choice. America is a land of religious freedom. My own habit is to say a prayer before opening a tin of Spam, remembering the days when the Spamalo ranged free on the plains of Vermont.
8. How do I become a Grillmaster?
There is but one Grillmaster, and the position is currently filled.. Qualifications include years of vast experience, good looks, and, most importantly, a job at the local paper so you can make up your own title.
9. Can women become Grillmasters?
[The Grillmaster says nothing, but picks up a long, wooden pole.]
10. What’s the pole for?
It’s an 11 foot pole for questions that should not be touched with a 10 foot pole.
The identity of The Grillmaster is a highly guarded secret, protected by First Amendment rights.