Monday, May 19, 2008

Real Men Barbecue with Charcoal

If you haven't cursed at coals, singed lots of hair, blackened your face or inhaled the equivalent of a warehouse of cigarettes, you're a namby-pamby backyard gas-griller, and much to flawless to be any fun to hang with. No sauce stains adorn those creased jeans. Gassy guys even grill in their favorite Tommy Bahama shirt. I call them patio men.

We have a Honda Civic Hybrid so I figure I get carbon credits for all of smoking I do each summer.

The weather has been unseasonably warm this past week in Southern California, so I broke out the barbecue a bit early. Break in would be the more operative words. My last barbecue bit the "planned obsolescence" dust after last season - two years and a goner. Maintenance might have had something to do with it.

For Christmas I had wife PJ buy me Weber's new "The Performer", about $300 at Barbecue's Galore. It had sat assembled in the garage since then, mocking me. I actually rolled it out two weekends ago, just to break it in, but was foiled. The Performer uses charcoal but is engineered to use small propane canisters, which when engaged allows a regular old button to be pressed, which then shoots a flame into the bottom of the basin, where you stack the charcoal. Brilliant.

The manual states that it takes both 14.1 oz. or 16.4 oz. propane cylinders. Wrong. I already had the green, squatty 16.4 oz. size in the garage. Screwing is usually pretty easy for guys. My green, squatty canister refused to engage, either clockwise or counter-clockwise. (Expletive deleted) I jumped in my car and drove to that Galore place. The sales guy on the floor was the one who sold me the Weber at Christmas. I handed him my propane canister and asked him to screw it in. It didn't. He took one off the shelf and tried. No go. This flummoxed him greatly since he was selling a lot of The Performer, to say nothing about how I was feeling.

What are the odds that the manufacturer messed up two products, mine and the floor model? Some days we will take those odds. He mentioned something about a blue, smaller, skinnier canister. The following week I picked one up at Ace Hardware, took it home and tried screwing again. No connection. Screwed again. (Expletive deleted) I headed to the Galore place. With the gouging gas prices, this Weber was becoming a costlier purchase. This time a different sales guy was on duty. He took the blue boy and after several initial tries, finally got the sucker to screw in. I drove home, and girded myself with more patience, but still checked the neighor's backyard to see if there were any children in earshot. Several tries later - Houston, we have CONTACT! New stuff shouldn't be such a pain in the ass.

The trial dinner was a huge success. The lump coal lit almost instantly. (I am beginning to prefer lump, though some pieces can be like a lump of log.) I didn't use wood chips this first trial - that would have been pushing my luck. I barbecued Ribeyes (served them with deep-fried shallots), barbecued corn-on-the-cob (with a garlic/basil/butter sauce), and barbecued artichokes.

I had never prepared artichokes on the barbecue before. I clipped this recipe from a Bristol Farms' newspaper ad and adapted it some.

1. Steam the artichokes the way you would regularly for 45-50 minutes until fork tender. I used a combo of chicken broth and water, a quarter cup of white wine, and
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. (If I'm not using the barbecue I also use a lemon, halved, 2-3 garlic cloves, several parsley sprigs, and a bay leaf.)
2. Meanwhile combine a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar, quarter cup of extra-virgin olive oil, and two minced garlic cloves in a large plastic sealable bag (when a recipe calls for mincing, I use my garlic press).
3. Allow the chokes to cool a bit, then cut in half, lengthwise, and scrape out the fuzzy centers. Don't touch those hearts! That's the filet of the choke.
4. Place the chokes in the bag and shake to coat.
5. Drain the chokes, season with salt and pepper and grill on the barbecue over high heat about five minutes, center side down, and then three minutes on the outsides.
6. Serve with a favorite choke dip. This recipe called for mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, chopped basil, smoked paprika and salt and pepper.

This is the way I will do chokes this summer, though I will vary the dips. This dip was great, but we have several we love.

The best part - I didn't have any flare-ups, barbecue or language. Must have been the Syrah.

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