Friday, July 26, 2013

Outdoor Cooking

Have you seen the kitchen at the farm lately? No? Here, let me show you.

Messy, messy kitchen. Do you blame me for not wanting to cook in here?

It's gross. Not that long ago, it was actually clean, well the counters at least. Then Ghon removed more cabinets. Pulled more drywall. We had a spring infestation of ladybugs and stink bugs. Then, the ladybugs and stink bugs died. Flies come and go, and by go, I mean die. Same for spiders. Mice are likely still patrolling the area, though I leave absolutely nothing out for them. The cleanliness, or lack there of, of the kitchen has gotten a little out of hand. While I never claim to be the cleanest or neatest person in the world (I save that for Cindy and my BFF, Melissa), the mess really agitates me. The general dust, dirt, bugs and mice are why I use the refrigerator as a cabinet.Cleaning it up is my goal for this weekend.

When we spend a day at the farm, we have at least one meal, if not two at the farm. Other than demolition day when I heated a few things up on the stove, I've never cooked in the house. Almost everything has been cooked on the little charcoal grill I bought this spring. While it seems simple to throw some stuff on the grill, I have to admit, I've been a tad bit "grill challenged."

A little outdoor cooking education.
Used literally, the term "grilling" refers to cooking food over a direct flame or other high-heat source. BBQ, on the other hand, has three distinct differences. One main difference between grilling and BBQ is the heat source. BBQ uses indirect heat or low-level heat to cook foods - usually meats. Authentic BBQ takes all day, or even several days, to fully cook. This is due, in part, because of the low-level, indirect heat needed to cook the meat so that it becomes tender. But longer cooking times also allow the flavor to fully develop, helped along by the third important difference between grilling and BBQ. True BBQ will have a thick, tangy, mouthwatering taste that comes from adding wood smoke during cooking.

Excerpted from: BBQ Myths,

The closest I've come to true BBQ cooking is helping Ghon by adding more wood to the smoker or when I added the corn to the smoker on Memorial Day. If I counted all of the times I've grilled in the past, the total wouldn't come close to the amount I've grilled this year. I'd done a few burgers, steaks, and chicken before, but I typically left all outdoor cooking to Ghon. At the farm, the cooking usually falls to me. I do all the manual labor I can, but most all day work days at the farm, he is pretty involved and I dabble where I can while keeping an eye on the kids, feeding the fire, and fixing dinner.

After a couple months of grilling, I've made the following observations.
  1. Charcoal isn't easy to start. I've doused the briquets in lighter fluid, I've tried to build a pyramid and use fluid, and it seems no matter what I do, there is still some section that never turns to coal.
  2. Charcoal takes longer. Until now, I've only ever grilled on a propane grill. I can't really tell if there is a difference in taste between the two, but charcoal takes longer. Between the time to start the charcoal, have it turn to toasty coals, then the actual cooking time, the whole process takes an eternity. I find I have to start a meal about 45 minutes or so before I want to actually serve it. Yes, I just said 45 minutes is an eternity.
  3. I'm tired of cheeseburgers. The kids favor burgers and hot dogs on the grill. Ghon prefers burgers over dogs. Since the kids somewhat regularly have hot dogs for lunch at daycare, I don't make them often at home. So the ol' grilling standby is cheeseburgers. I declared a burger boycott a few weeks ago.
  4. I like grilled chicken. Ghon likes grilled chicken. The kid's toleration of grilled chicken is in direct correlation with the amount of ranch on their plate and the possibility of making smores. Same goes for pork chops.
  5. Since I don't use the kitchen, and no, I haven't broken out the chili/camp stove, sides have become minimal. I usually make sure the kids have a yogurt or an applesauce cup, but too many times, Ghon and I eat meat, and that's it. I've grilled some zucchini and Ghon helped me make baked beans once - by taking the lid off the can and setting it in the fire pit. That was cool. I set the lid back on the can, threw it in the fridge at the end of the night, and reheated leftovers the same way the next day. I've tried tossing whole ears of corn, unshucked, in the coals of the fire pit as well. That worked out pretty well. The last time I grilled, I cooked our sides at home. I found two metal serving pans, transferred the rice and veggies to the pans and covered them in foil. I set them on the grill grates to stay warm while I grilled the steak. Progress....
  6. I need to experiment more with foil cooking in the fire. I was a Girl Scout, but we used camp stoves the few times I camped. Ghon was a Boy Scout leader, but he cooked fancy meals on a camp stove. I threw some potatoes and green beans with butter into a foil pack and tossed it into the fire. Turned out OK, but I need some more excitement.
  7. It is possible to cook with a pot on top of the grill. Before Ghon put the can of beans in the fire, I'd lug a small saucepan to the farm with me and heat things up on the grill. The challenge was finding the right spot on the grill that did not interfere with the most heat for cooking the meat while also allowing the grill lid to close. It's like packing for vacation and trying to utilize all available space for all the baggage. It also requires more planning and makes more dishes. After working all day, who wants to wash more dishes? Not this chick.
  8. Ghon needs to BBQ more. Yes, BBQ, not grill. It's easy to set the smoker up in the morning, throw some meat on and 12 hours later have dinner. That's what I'm talking about!

I've decided to buy a propane grill. I'm watching the grill prices come down as summer progresses. I want something a little bigger than the charcoal grill I have now. That way, I'll save money on all the bags of charcoal, I'll have more room to cook, and if I find one with a side burner, I'll have another way to cook!

That said though, I do want to learn more about cooking outside.

What are your favorite things to grill? Have any tried and true foil pack recipes to share?

1 comment:

  1. I use a MAAP torch to light my charcoal. Lights quickly. Chimney starters (Weber) are also great.

    We're giving our gas grill to our daughter and son-in-law because I won't use it now that I've got my Big Green Egg. Get's hot just as fast as a gas grill and far more versitile.