… we can’t be chillin at the same time since that’s a Food Network show though I do smell
summer right around the corner. Literally. Once summer’s sun extends into the early evening,
you can smell the aroma of that afternoon grill being fired up throughout the neighborhood. It
first starts just as winter is making its exit (yes, Hawaii also experiences the four seasons though
changing temperatures and leaf colors aren’t involved). It might be that isolated smell of
grilling steak in February on a Sunday evening. Then as March and April roll around, you also
detect it on Saturdays, maybe even Fridays. Once we’re into summer, the unmistakable aroma of
grilled steak and chicken permeate the air most weekends, even on some weekdays.
Choose Your Combustion
For starters, you must first choose your combustion of choice, gas or wood.
If you prefer gas, most gas grills are specific to only liquid propane or natural gas so a converter
is necessary if you’ve already made your purchase and your gas source is the opposite. If you
haven’t made your purchase yet, then you have several other decisions to make before swiping
that Visa or MasterCard. What type of grill – built in, stand-up, tabletop? How many Btu’s of
heat – 12,000, 20,000, 40,000, raging inferno? Cast iron cooking grids, stainless, porcelain
coated? What about the heat sink – ceramic briquettes, stainless steel, direct heat? Decisions,
decision, decisions. My personal choice would be dual. A stainless steel stand-up grill with 500
to 700 cubic inch capacity with porcelain coated cast iron cooking grids over ceramic briquettes
to hold all of the 60,000 btu’s created by the 3 cast brass burners with a 15,000 btu rear
mounted infrared burner and a 15,000 btu side burner PLUS a table top stainless steel 14,000
btu infrared grill for those away-from-home grilling sessions or when simply preparing a meal
for the Mrs. and myself. Before you invite yourself for a meal, I DON’T have either grill nor am I
certain that my dream stand-up grill is even available with those specifications.
Gas is faster and it’s easier to regulate heat though purists will say that you won’t get the same
flavor as using wood and can never get the heat hot enough for proper searing.
For those who adhere to the natural combustion method, the two main sources are wood or
charcoal. Aficionados will swear by their wood of choice whether it’s oak, cherry, apple or
mesquite (kiawe in Hawaii). Equally loyal to their product is the charcoal camp whether it’s
Kingsford, Grill-Time or Royal Oak. If you invested in Microsoft in the early 80s, then you
might as well go with authentic Bicho-Tan charcoal.
Your grill choices will be limited with wood burning models – mainly round kettles or limited
rectangular models (though some have crank shafts to adjust the depth of your heat source). I
would suggest purchasing a chimney starter if you opt for the wood burning grill since they
significantly reduce the time to obtain perfectly glowing embers. If you do decide to go the
commercial charcoal briquette route, look for brands that don’t contain lighter fluid or other
additives as these actually can give your final grilled masterpiece funky flavors.
Is Smoke Okay Even if I Don’t Inhale?
As I mentioned on a previous column (June 2004, Summertime Cookin’), when we cook over
direct fire, we potentially produce smoke and charred food. Along with that delectable
barbequed flavor resides an unwanted guest, benz(o)pyrene which has been identified as a
potential carcinogen. Since most of us don’t consume grilled food on a daily basis, it’s probably
inconsequential. If you do use your brand new Frontgate grill on a regular basis, two simple
cooking techniques can reduce the production of benz(o)pyrenes while maintaining all of that
great flavor. Purchase a grill that uses some type of heat pan or heat shield that creates a barrier
between the food and direct flame. There are stainless steel, porcelain, ceramic or natural rock
shields that serve to maintain heat and also prevent flare-ups when any fat source drips into the
flames. You can also place the heat source on one side of the grill and cook your food on the
opposite side so whatever drips doesn’t go directly into the flame. Both minimize flare-up,
excess smoke and potential carcinogens from forming.
For those already initiated into the Grillin fraternity, there is more to life than steak, sausage
and chicken. Vegetables also make great grilling material and there’s even extra firm tofu that
can be grilled.
Since it takes effort to set-up, prep, cook and clean the grill (yes, cleaning is also an integral
part of grilling as you don’t want your grill surface to look like a crime scene from C.S.I. or the
underside of a 20 year old Chevy engine), I usually prepare more food than the one meal or
recipe dictates. For instance, I’ll also marinate chicken breasts no matter what the original grill
fodder was intended to be. After slicing the chicken breasts, I’ll save them in freezer bags for use
later in salads, pastas, soups or stews. I’ll do the same with turkey sausages – grill, slice then
freeze for later use. During zucchini season when prices are lowest, I do the same. Though
zucchini doesn’t freeze nicely, you’ll have a handy, low calorie side dish the rest of the week
(ditto for bell peppers, onions and most root veggies).
Here’s a tasty alternate salad when you fire up your grill.
The Gochiso’s Grilled Veggie Panzanella
2 zucchini quartered lengthwise
1 large red onion sliced in 1 inch slices with rings kept intact
1 green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper, seeded then quartered lengthwise
½ pound of white or crimini mushrooms skewered for easier grilling
¼ cup light olive oil or canola oil
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
1 two foot long whole wheat baguette, split lengthwise and cut roughly 1 inch cubes
(Make sure the bread is stale, it is ok if it is rock hard). Place in large mixing bowl.
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp canola oil
1 small clove garlic finely chopped
1 tbsp rinsed, drained capers
Fresh black pepper
1 large ripe tomato, roughly chopped
8 to 12 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade sliced (thin long strips)
Place veggies in a plastic bag with oil, Italian seasoning and salt and black pepper. Grill veggies
on a very hot grill until grill marks appear – don’t overcook veggies, they should still be a little
firm. When veggies are done, roughly chop into 1 inch pieces – mushrooms can be whole, halved
or quartered depending on size – then place all veggies over stale bread cubes (along with juices
from veggies) then cover mixing bowl with shrink wrap. The residual heat, veggie juices and
steam will penetrate and soften and flavor the stale bread. Mix next seven ingredients and pour
over bread/veggie mixture. Toss then add copped tomatoes and basil. Serve at room temperature