BARBECUE is THE one word best calculated to evoke pseudo-sophisticated scorn for square suburbia in the mind of the urban cave dweller. To him. the term conjures up a redfaced, perspiring executive who dons a chef’s hat and a funny apron that reads “Come an’ get it.” and proceeds to cremate 10 bucks’ worth of sirloin. This image is prevalent, alas, because in maybe nine out of 10 cases it's true. Only a small proportion of barbecue owners realize that what they have is not a portable sacrificial altar, but a means of cooking meat to a succulent turn which thousands 'ears of culinary technology have T unable to improve on.
Actually, the justification for the barbecue is simply that it will do things that are impossible with any other style of cookery. In the first place, the idea that the barbecue is essentially a grill best suited for cooking steaks is all wrong. Barbecuing a steak is a chancy chore, even for the expert, although the results can be worth the risk. It’s in other methods of applying heat to meat that the barbecue becomes a virtuoso instrument. The essential equipment is a 24-inch round barbecue with hood and motordriven spit, available anywhere for $15 to $20. Ten times the money won’t buy you a generally more satisfactory / continued on page 28
BARBECUES continued from page 13
Make meat delicious , fowl superb
cooking implement (including the built-in rôtisseries of expensive kitchen stoves ).
Avoid the temptation to buy the dozens of frilly accessories offered along with the barbecue — some of them useful, none of them necessary. Apart from standard kitchen utensils, all you need is a pair of tongs and a cheap paint brush for basting. You also need an electric fire starter (under four dollars), because the perfumed coal oil sold for the purpose can be dangerous and can smell up the whole neighborhood and, more important, your food. Add equal portions of imagination and common sense, and you're equipped to cook anything from poached eggs to chicken soup, although I don’t recommend either.
The barbecue is particularly suited to roasting, because of the direct heat and aroma of the fire, the circulating fresh air as opposed to the humid heat of an oven, and the even cooking and self-basting action imparted by the rotary spit. Apart from that, what makes the difference is the additional baste you keep lathering on the roast during the rotary cooking process.
It seems simple enough, but I'd love to retire on the money wasted by cooks who can't grasp the idea that in spit roasting, the fire goes he hind the roast, not under it. What belongs under it is a drip pan. This permits slow', even cooking, without flare-ups or charring, and the pan catches the baste and the natural juices, both for re-basting and for the most delicious gravy you ever tasted. In other words, after your coals are burning brightly, push them to the back of your barbecue pan.
The fire should be made wdth briquets molded from powdered natural hardwood charcoal (be sure the label says that — there are unsatisfactory substitutes). Some barbecue snobs argue that loose charcoal is the only fuel. Ignore them. It’s passable for grilling, but for roasting only the slow even-burning briquets make sense.
Most cuts of beef lend themselves to spit-roasting. One of the easiest and best is a boned rolled rump. Try rolling it in crushed rosemary first, or basting it with Roquefort salad dressing. Some outside fat is essential. Filet should be larded or have strips of fat bacon tied around it.
Pork is great, too. A perfect beginner’s roast is two loins, boned and trussed together, fat side out. Butchers are used to requests for these. Just ask. Veal is okay, but lamb is for experts.
Where the barbecue achieves its greatest glory, though, is in roasting fowl of all kinds. Chicken, turkey, Cornish hens and wild game birds reach a new greatness. They require constant basting. My favorite baste is a lot of melted butter, soy sauce, a little dry white wine, a dash of dry mustard, and a generous quantity of almost any herb: oregano, tarragon, basil — take your choice from the ever-expanding offerings of the herb sections of supermarkets and specialty shops. Commercial bastes, mostly tomato-based. have a good flavor, and they seal the bird, but if you want a
crisp skin, forget them. The same goes for bastes containing honey or other sugars. Fat and flavor are the essential baste ingredients.
The noblest barbecued bird of them all is the goose. 1 grieve constantly that so much of my life had passed before I discovered that the only way to cook a goose is on the barbecue spit, but I'm trying to make up for lost time (ducks respond gracefully to the same treatment ) :
Use a 10-12 pound goose. Remove all the fat from the cavity, and fill it with a couple of oranges, a lemon and an onion, all quartered, and a couple of chunks of bread sopped in red wine and dusted with garlic powder. Sew it up well and spit it carefully for balance — a heavy bird can ruin your motor if it is too off-centre. Prick the skin in several places to let the fat out (you’ll have to empty your drip pan a couple of times). Now let 'er roll. The bird will baste itself, but you can dab it with some soy sauce and black pepper to sharpen the flavor.
When it's done to a dark brown, the skin all over will have a thick crunchiness like nothing you've ever tasted, and the meat will be moist and delicately flavored with the grease-cutting sharpness of the stuff in the cavity (now discarded).
With this, as wdth any roast, it's a good idea to foil-wrap some potatoes and lay them atop the coals at the back of the fire for about the last hour, turning once. You can do pieces of squash, carrots, corn-on-the-cob and such in the same way, putting butter and seasonings inside the foil.
Roasting on the barbecue has some added benefits for the chef in that it requires his constant attention but little effort. The necessity of keeping a constant watch on the turning meat makes him unavailable for lawn mowing. kitchen chores and the like, but is not so demanding that he can't solace himself with long cold drinks, which serve the legitimate purpose of counteracting the dehydrating effect of getting too close to the fire.
There are hundreds of gourmetcalibre dishes suitable for the barbecue. All I can add in this space is the suggestion you stop regarding the thing as a hamburger-and-hot-dog mill, and start living. ★
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