Infoplease BBQ Primer
WHETHER you spell it BBQ, Bar-B-Que, or Barbecue, it all means the same thing: Good times in the backyard. Sizzling, juicy meat cooking on the grill. Cold beer and warm sunshine.
Summer is barbecue season, and so, in the never-ending quest to inform and educate the public, we here at Information Please have gathered some interesting facts, history, and basic tips on the barbecue. Before you put another shrimp on the barbie, check out Information Please's feature on the all-American barbecue.
First off, there's a difference between barbecuing and grilling. Most backyard chefs are actually grilling rather than barbecuing. Grilling involves placing the food directly over the heat source, be it coals, gas-fired flame or whatever. Barbecuing means cooking food slowly via indirect heat and smoke.
Barbecue purists tend to look down their highly-trained noses at grilling. Grilling generally involves smaller flippable pieces of meat like hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken wings, and steak tips. You won't find a bag of briquettes or a jug of lighter fluid near the true barbecuer's pit.
But for most of us "grillers" these things work just fine. In fact, gas grills are invaluable to those who love to cook outdoors but don't have the time for other types of grills.
Barbecuing primarily involves wood-fired flames that produce smoke that slow-cooks the meat, adding extra flavor that coals or propane won't. Barbecuing is usually used on larger pieces of meat like pork roasts, beef brisket, and ribs.
Marinades and Sauces
For a superbly juicy piece of meat, nothing beats a quality marinade. There are dozens of different ways to marinate pork, beef, and chicken. Try out a few until you find your favorite.
Ideally, you want to marinate the meat in a deep dish in the refrigerator from overnight to up to 24 hours. In a pinch, you can marinate the meat for an hour or so with regular Italian salad dressing. Like many things in life, a little marination is better than none at all.
According to a recent article in Maxim magazine, the best all-around barbecue sauce is by Firehouse. "This best-of-show has a nice, full tomato flavor, a rousing spiciness, and adjustable heat (Choose from one-, two- and three-alarm versions)."
Grills come in many shapes and sizes from the tiny back-porch hibachi right on up to the king-size professional wood smokers that can handle upwards of 100 pounds of meat at a time. Another type of grill that has become popular recently is the water smoker. The water smoker is either electric or coal-burning. Burning wood chips and boiling water combine to slow cook the meat while the circulating steam constantly bastes the food to keep it juicy.
Here are some basic tips for the next time you grill, barbecue or go over to the know-it-all neighbor's house for a cook-out:
- Make sure to clean the grill properly. Some people use a wire brush to clean away any food remnants. It's best to first heat the grill, cook off any remnants, and then brush off. This helps sterilize the surface before placing the food on the grill.
- Once the grill is hot (if using coals let them burn a minimum of 30 minutes to cook off most of the chemicals), brush cooking oil onto the grill so the food won't stick and possibly tear.
- Try using some wood or wood chips on top of the coals in order to give the food extra flavor. Nice cooking woods include oak, maple, and mesquite. Stay away from soft woods like pine. To produce more smoke, and therefore more flavor, soak the wood in water for a little while before cooking.
- In order to avoid uneven cooking, don't overload the grill with food. For best possible results cook fewer pieces in order to preserve the presentation and quality of the food. Remember, when it comes to any kind of food, everyone wants quality over quantity.
- Monitor the grill at all times. It's too easy to overcook food over an open flame. Turn meat and marinate often. Remember, too, that it is always better to slow cook the meat. Just be careful you don't keep the guests waiting too long, or they might send out for pizza.
- Serve the food right away. Meat will continue to cook even after it's removed from the flame, if left to sit it will dry out and become less appetizing.
Sadly, historical documentation on the origins and development of the barbecue over the ages has been sketchy, and surprisingly, few scholars have embraced the subject as one deserving serious academic study. Information Please, however, pored over every available source to bring you the most complete history of barbecue ever attempted. Basically, it goes like this:
People have been cooking over fire since cavemen roamed the world. Just watch any episode of the Flintstones. Fred and Barney ate tons of Brontosaurus burgers. Opinions on how the modern barbecue originated vary: some think the French popularized it, others look to the Caribbean. The consensus seems to be that barbecues came to the United States sometime during the late 1700's.
By far the most authoritative source for barbecue information on the web is at barbecuen.com. They have everything from recipes and how to's, to an entire section for beginners.