One of the things I dreamt about from the confines of my marina apartment in San Francisco was was barbecuing in my backyard-to-be. I salivated at the thought of barbecuing at any time, on any day. Just fire up the grill and drop on a salted and peppered rib eye or marinated chicken thighs. I had no idea where or when or how I would get that backyard grill. For years and years it was just a dream.
Grilling is sacred to me, in a way. I know this because of what I don’t do while grilling. I don’t listen to music. I don’t check my phone or do any kind of work. I have no desire to when the grill is on and the food is cooking. Treating the grill as a sacred space probably stems from my summers learning the art of grilling at Pinecrest Lake where my family has a cabin.
Pinecrest is grilling at its most rural: a granite fire pit, cedar and pine logs, and a heavy iron grill. When you’re grilling with wood, you have to pay attention. Timing is everything. You have to prepare the coals, which means starting the fire 45 mins before you start grilling. Then when the food is on, depending on how long it needs to cook, you may need to stoke the coals or add more wood. My uncle John would choose the size of the log and select pine or cedar based on what he’s going to grill. It’s a very active process.
The gas grill I have now, a Copper Weber Genesis E-310, is far more convenient. I don’t have to wait more than five minutes for the grill to pre-heat, and the hood keeps the internal temperature at a steady 350 degrees when all three burners are on medium. I don’t have to worry about that temperature shifting as the coals flare up and flame out. It’s a safer way to grill but it’s still a challenge. It’s just a different flavor.
Grilling is relaxing. It’s about the smells and sounds, the appearance and texture, the time and temperature. It’s also when I most enjoy a drink. Beer tastes better when I’m grilling. So does scotch.
Another grilling ritual I have is to play this game a friend introduced me to a long time ago. It’s simple. There’s a hook, a string, and a ring. The objective is to swing the ring up to the hook and catch it. I play it when I know the temperature is right and the hood needs to stay down for a bit. I’m getting pretty good at it. If you listen closely to the video below you can hear the grill in the background.
Preparing food, especially meat, is a humbling experience. I’ve heard others who are far better cooks than me describe the meditative and calming aspects of cooking. I like a good steak, but when I handle a raw rib eye, I appreciate where it came from. I respect it and acknowledge in a deeper way than when I’m given a prepared plate at a restaurant. It’s a perspective you can only get from cooking.
This is my most recent BBQ. It’s a whole Trader Joe’s chicken and four husks of corn. I now barbecue corn with the husks on. I find that it works better than a foil wrapper because the natural husk keeps the moisture in and preserves the heat. Keeping the husks on the cooling rack with the hood down prevents them from burning. This bird took about an hour and a half at 350 degrees of indirect heat. That’s with the side burners on medium and the center one off.
The other perk about cooking a whole chicken is the cavernous carcass with the bits of dark meat and cartilage that’s hard to pick off is the perfect starter for a soup. This one below will be a kale chicken noodle soup.
I love my CrockPot too, but that’s another story.