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What's Cooking?: Fire & Food


July 4th is just around the corner as we commemorate our nation’s Independence Day.  Fireworks, concerts, and cookouts are welcomed expectations, a chance to get together with family and neighbors as well as embracing the start of the summer season.  It is a day of relaxation and to show off those barbecuing and grilling skills.   So let’s get ready to set out a display of our favorite foods and dishes for this special outdoor celebration.

Ever wonder what the difference is between barbecue and grilling since we often use these terms interchangeably?  Barbecue involves slow cooking in low temperature for a substantial length of time to absorb the smoke and spices on meats such as brisket, pork shoulder or ribs.  It does take time and “nurturing” as you select a dry rub recipe and/or wood chips to smoke the meat.  Then it needs to marinate for a period of time, at least overnight.  But it is all worth it when you taste the succulent “fall off the bone” pieces of tender meat with deep intense flavors.  I can just taste it!  Don’t have the time and want it quick?  Then grilling is the go to method in cooking meats such as frankfurters, sausages, burgers, steaks and chicken.  Grilling is also a wonderful for an assortment of fruits and vegetables which does not take long to cook.  Who can resist those beautiful charred stripes decorated on long zucchini and eggplant slices marinated simply in some olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper?  How about grilling fruits such as figs, peaches, pineapples or bananas creating desserts served alongside vanilla bourbon ice cream or honeyed mascarpone drizzled with rum caramel syrup?  Grilling caramelizes the natural sugars in fresh fruit so watch it doesn’t burn. The latest trend in grilling is the use of natural wood planks such as cedar, oak or maple are used as indirect sources of heat on the grill.  Food cooked on soaked planks garners the essence of the wood and is infused with the wood’s natural oils creating a mildly smoked taste while retaining moisture.  Fish such as salmon is especially delicious grilled on cedar planks.  Another creative use of indirect heat on the grill is cooking foods on salt blocks. The Himalayan salt block is a slab of 500-million-year-old salt carved out from a salt range in Pakistan.  It provides a soft cooking surface and slowly heated, it imparts a delicate and mild saltiness to the food as well as flavor complexity from the high quantity of trace minerals.  Due to its extreme low amount of porosity, the salt plates can be safely heated or chilled to extreme temperatures.  Serving your food on salt blocks certainly strikes a dramatic presentation of your food.

New books in this subject area show a diversity of techniques, fresh recipes, types of barbecuing, and boundless foods that can be grilled.  There are lots of rubs and marinades to experiment with and don’t forget those side dishes that everyone looks forward to.  Add something different that will make your cookout a fun experience and have your guests asking for your expertise.

Salt Block Cooking: 70 recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks by M.Bitterman

Latin Grilling: Recipes to Share, from Patagonian Asado to Yucatecan Barbecue and More by Lourdes Castro

Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction by Bobby Flay

Taming the Feast: Ben Ford's Field Guide to Adventurous Cooking by Ben Ford

Plank Grilling: 75 Recipes for Infusing Food with Flavor Using Wood Planks by Dina Guillen

Smoke & Spice by Cheryl Alters Jamison

The Essential New York Times Grilling Cookbook by Peter Kaminsky

Charred & Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang

Stephane Reynaud's Barbecue & Grill by Stephane Reynaud

Where There's Smoke: Simple, Sustainable, Delicious Grilling by Barton Seaver

Grilling Vegan Style! : 125 Fired Up Recipes to Turn Every Bite into a Backyard BBQ  by John Schlimm

The Asian Barbecue Book: From Teriyaki to Tandoori: 125 Tantalizing Recipes for Your Grill by Alex Skaria

Marinades, Brines, Rubs, Cures, and Glazes by James Tarantino

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