Some might call vegetarian barbecue an oxymoron, but truly there are lots of great vegetarian options when it comes to grilling. Grilled vegetables and fruit make great side dishes, and many veggie dishes can be a satisfying main dish. They are also quick and easy to prepare. In general, vegetables should be cut to expose the maximum surface area to the grill, which in addition to adding maximum flavor, helps them cook quickly and thorougly. The following are five basic vegetable grilling principles:
1.) Build a medium-hot fire. Most vegetables respond better to moderate heat than a blazing fire. To test the temperature of your grill, hold your hand five inches above the grill grate. You should be able to hold your hand there for three or four seconds.
2) Make the (right) cut. Preparing vegetables for the grill is all about maximizing their surface area to increase the flavorful browning and sear marks, and prevent them from falling apart or slipping through the grill grates.
3) Brush wih oil. Applying a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil before grilling encourages even browning and helps prevent them from sticking to the grill grates. For minimum mess, lay the vegetables on a sheet pan,and use a basting brush. Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper before cooking.
4) Go easy on the char. Browning vegetables is one thing, incinerating them is another. For best results, keep the pieces moving to avoid hot spots, and grill until they’re just tender and streaked with grill marks.
5) Grill meat first. When grilling vegetables to accompany steak, chicken or pork, cook the meat first, while the fire is at its hottest. By the time the meat is done, the heat has subsided a bit, and the vegetables can cook at a more moderate temperature while the meat rests. (Most important with a charcoal grill, but works well with gas too, and waiting for the heat to subside is not an issue.)
Below is a very simple and delicious recipe which will delight any vegetarians (and even carnivores) you might know. It is one of my favorite grilled veg dishes.
GRILLED VEGETABLE RATATOUILLE
1 red onion
1 kilo aubergine
3/4 kilo courgette or summer squash
2 bell peppers (red and yellow)
1/2 kilo tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sherry (or flavored) vinegar
1/4 cup chopped (or torn) fresh basil
1 tablespoon frenh minced thyme
one garlic clove, peeled and grated to fine paste on rasp style grater
1) Prepare the vegetables by slicing into roughly 1/4 inch pieces. I n the case of courgettes and aubergines, cut diagonally (on the ‘bias’) to maximize surface area to be in contact with the grill. Aubergine need not be pre-salted, as is common in many recipes. Brush both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Whisk 120 ml. (4 oz.) oil, vinegar, basil,thyme and garlic together in large bowl.
2) Grill vegetables over medium-hot fire, turning once, until tender and streaked with grill marks, 10 to 12 minutes for onion, 8 to 10 minutes for aubergine and courgette, 7 to 9 mminutes for peppers, and 4 to 5 minutes for tomatoes. Remove vegetables from the grill as they are done, and cool slightly.
3) When cool enough to handle,chop vegetables into 1/2 inch pieces and add to oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm or at room temperature.
I’m often asked about my opinion in the great charcoal vs. gas grill debate. I do own both style grills and use them both frequently. Which I use, and for what, depends on several factors, including what I’m cooking, who I’m cooking for, and how much time I have.
I will begin by stating that, in my opinion, food generally tastes better being grilled over charcoal than it does gas. Even after a gas grill becomes properly ‘seasoned’, it can never replicate the delectable flavor that comes from the smoke produced from fat dripping on hot coals.
That being said, the next question is often “do I use briquettes or lumpwood charcoal?” I personally have a preference for natural lumpwood charcoal, as it is free of coal dust, binders, and other impurities often found in charcoal briquettes. Cooking with lumpwood charcoal, however, takes getting used to, because it burns much hotter and faster than briquettes, it is at times described as ”briquettes on steroids”.
As a result of lumpwood charcoal burning hotter and faster than briquettes, what a person is cooking on the grill sometimes influences their choice of charcoal. Lumpwood excels at very hot grilling, properly cooking things like burgers and steaks in a manner that suits them, i.e. hot and fast. When it comes to low and slow barbecuing of ribs, pork shoulder and brisket, that can take hours, some people reach for the briquettes which burn slower, and at a lower temperature.
Both grilling and barbecuing can be done with both types of charcoal, but adjustments must be made for optimum performance. The main thing to remember about using charcoal briquettes is, to NEVER begin cooking until ALL the charcoal is covered with a fine gray ash. Failure to properly pre-heat briquettes will result in off-flavors being transferred to the food, which is the charge most often leveled at the humble charcoal briquette. However, used properly, it can and does provide delectable results.
Gas grills are much more convenient than charcoal grills, which tends to make them more popular particularly in inclement climates. They would likely be the go-to-grill when you want a quick steak after a busy day at work. While it does not produce the same flavor that charcoal does, it is still most often a far more flavorful choice than preparing your meat in a skillet or in the oven. I use it most often during the week, but would usually not use it if I were entertaining, and wanted to really impress guests with my food. That is not to say that gas grilled food is not delicious…just not as delicious as it could be.
So, which to buy? Based on the above observations, purchase based on how/when you plan to use your barbecue. Weekend warrior who wants to occassionally entertain? Go for charcoal. Busy professional who loves grilled food? Gas.
If you’ve never purchased or owned a charcoal grill, I’d suggest you try a Weber Smokey Joe. It is a miniature kettle-style grill that can be placed on a picnic table, uses little charcoal, can easily cook for up to four people, and costs around sixty euro. Do not be tempted by the off-brand, inexpensive grills you see on sale at the various shops, as most often you get what you pay for, and these generally do not last more than a season or two.
Finally, the cheap, disposable grills so popular in the shops in summer do a fine job, but can be difficult to get good results on, particularly for the novice. This is ironic, as the inexperienced grillers are most often the people who purchase and use them. These grills burn quite hot, and regulating the heat/flame can be difficult or impossible, resulting in food that is burnt on the outside and raw on the inside.
Few things are simple or tasty as a simple flame-grilled chicken, seasoned and finished with barbecue sauce. Start by heating the grill, whether gas or charcoal. You will want a low to medium heat fire.
You can start with a quality whole chicken, then simply ‘joint’ it using a heavy chef’s knife. Start by cutting the chicken in half by cutting through the breast bone. Next, flatten the chicken out and seperate by cutting the two halves at the back bone. Cut off the legs, thighs, and wings at the joints.
With the chicken in pieces season liberally with your favorite barbecue spice rub, or salt and fresh ground pepper. On a charcoal grill, place most of the charcoal in a mound the center, with the charcoal spreading lower toward the sides. On a gas grill, place one side on low, the other on medium. Place the chicken around the outer side (cooler) part on the charcoal grill with thicker cuts like thighs and breasts toward the hotter center, and on the low-heat side of the gas grill. Cover and grill slowly 30 to 40 minutes, turning regularly.
To finish: The last few minutes of cooking, apply barbecue sauce to the chicken with a basting brush. On a gas grill turn up the heat to high to carmelize the sauce and finish the skin crispy, about three to five minutes. On a charcoal grill, leave the lid off the grill, allowing the fire to feed on the extra oxygen and move chicken over the hottest coals,ensuring the proper heat and char.
The key to grilling all chicken successfully, is to do it slowly until nearly ready, and only then finish it over higher heat to char and carmelize. Served with your favorite potato and veg, this a delicious, healthy and affordable meal that is hard to beat!
I’m confounded at how many people buy the pre-formed and shaped burger patties at the supermarket these days. They are often sold with fillers like bread crumbs, rusk, and worst of all, in America at least, the dreaded “Pink Slime” (aka LFTB)…and who wants or needs that? It is very simple to buy plain mincemeat, and form your own burgers by hand. You can make them as big or small as you want, and they will taste much better, like the kind you would get in a good restaurant. It is usually cheaper, as well. Here are a few tips for a great homemade steakhouse burger:
* I find it impossible to predict how mince will taste by looking at it in the package. Usually it consists of ‘trim’, or leftover bits from steaks and roasts cut from all over the cow. Not all cuts taste the same. Also, there is no guarantee it does not contain the afore-mentioned additives. I prefer 100% chuck, which is from the shoulder of the cow. It is known here in Ireland as the “Housekeepers’ Cut”. Any butcher, and most supermarkets, will grind this fresh for you, on request. Ground round is popular too, but I find it too lean (ideally you want 20 to 25% fat content) and not as tasty. Alternatively, if you’ve a food processor you can make your own mince by cutting the joint or meat into one and a half inch cubes and pulsing or grinding it well, to the desired consistency. This actually works quite well.
*Season the beef before you make the patties. I like fresh ground black pepper and sea salt. A delicious Irish brand is Irish Atlantic Sea Salt, (sold at Super Quinn and others) from the Beara Peninsula. Season the meat, and shape the patties into the desired size. It is important not to overhandle, or pack them too tightly when forming them, just enough to keep them together. If you are having cheeseburgers, you’ll be amazed at how much better they will taste by integrating a quality grated cheddar into the mince itself before forming the burger patty, as opposed to adding a thin slice of ‘cheese food’ at the end of cooking.
*Whether cooking on a charcoal or gas grill, or inside in a frypan, burgers, regardless of whether they are being eaten medium rare or well done, should be cooked over very high heat. Don’t use a non-stick pan, as they are not intended for, and cannot withstand, high heat. Cast Iron or a well clad regular pan is best.
*A burger is only as good as it’s bun. Don’t put all this effort into preparing the perfect burger, only to scrimp on the bread. A fresh bap or blaa will make all the difference. They only cost about 35 or 40 cents, and are well worth it. You can toast them if you like by spreading them with some butter and putting them on a hot pan or griddle, but I like mine soft and squishy. I achieve this by a quick 10 to 20 second ‘zap’ in the microwave. (Yes, microwave.)
* While you’re at it why not make fresh-cut chips as opposed to frozen? I don’t even peel mine, but I do fry them twice to make them crispy. First on a moderate heat (about 125 celsius) for three to five minutes. Then I let them cool to room temp, and fry them again when the burger is nearly done, at 200 celsius, until golden brown. Be certain the potatoes you are using are the right variety for chips. This can vary by season, but should be advertised on the bag, e.g. “bake, boil, fry.”
*Toppings are a very personal thing. I like sauteed onions, and Mikes’s BBQ Sauce. If you prefer ketchup, it’s worth it (in my opinion) to spend a few extra cents on Heinz 57, as opposed to a generic brand. It is the standard bearer in the industry, and is what most ketchups are rated against.
This may seem like alot of to-do to make hamburgers, but it really isn’t. The few extra minutes you spend ‘cooking from scratch’ will richly reward you, your family, and guests when you sit down to eat. Enjoy! Mike
Ribs are one of my favorite things to eat. However, they really must be cooked properly, or they are a waste of time and money. I never buy the neon red wet-marinated and cut-up ribs I see in many supermarkets. I assume they are trying to replicate those Chinese ‘spare ribs’, that are on most take-away menus throughout the country. Those are belly ribs that are actually deep-fried. Now I like alot of things deep-fried, but ribs are not one of them.
I think it is best to purchase ribs fresh, (not cured or pre-marinated) in a full rack, or ‘sheet’ as they are sometimes called. There should be ten to twelve ribs in a rack of back ribs. In the case of belly ribs, I like to remove and cook seperately the sturnum, cartilage and rib tips effectively making a rectangular “St.Louis Cut” that looks similar to a rack of back ribs. (If you google “St. Louis Ribs” there any number of videos that demonstrate this procedure.) This results in a much better presentation, and also makes them easier to eat.On both racks it is important to remove the very thin membrane on the underside of the ribs, as this gets tough, dry and chewy when cooked.
If you are barbecuing the ribs in a low and slow fashion, then they should be done for about three hours over indirect heat, at about 125 celsius. It is best to use a grill thermometer that is placed on the grate, and not rely on the one in the cover of the barbecue. I prefer lump charcoal, but briquettes can be used. When using briquettes, always be certain the coals are COMPLETELY covered in a fine grey ash, as off-flavors are a result of the fillers and binders used in their production. Cover the ribs liberally with a dry rub, ( I recommend Mike’s BBQ Spice Rub.) If you’ve access to any hardwood chips or chunks, (apple, oak or beech) they can be added to the glowing coals for extra smoky flavor. Refrain from saucing until the last few minutes, as sauce tends to burn.The ribs are done when they pull easily apart. You can place a pan of water under them if desired. This is an especially good idea with back ribs, that have little fat, and are more prone to drying.
Should you only own, or prefer the convenience of a gas grill, there is an alternative method. Steam (not boil) the ribs by placing them in a pan or pot suspended over water in a vegetable steamer, wire rack or similar device. Sprinkle with a rub, cover vessel tightly, and bake/steam them at 175 celsius for about an hour or until they are tender. Don’t over cook them. (If the meat “falls off the bone”, they are over done.)Then finish them over direct flame on the grill, brushing them with barbecue sauce toward the end, when they’re properly charred.
Both of these methods result in delicious ribs. Whether you use back or belly ribs depends on whether you are in the mood for a strip steak (back ribs) or a rib eye (belly ribs). Belly, aka ’spare ribs’ are a more forgiving cut to cook, and less prone to drying because of their increased fat content.
Ribs are just one of the things covered in Mike’s Barbecue and Grill Master Class. Check out Mike’s website at www.mikesbbq.ie for more information. Time to ‘get your Q on’!
Welcome to Mikes Irish BBQ blog! We will share weekly updates and articles on all things grilling and barbecue. Have a question or subject you’d like addressed? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That said, let’s get to blogging…
Barbecuing vs. Grilling
The main thing to remember is that grilling is done ‘hot and fast’, directly over the heat and/or flames. Examples of items best grilled are burgers, steaks, and sausages. (Although they are grilled differently, we’ll cover that in another post.) Barbecuing is done ’low and slow’, over indirect heat for long periods of time, usually three to twelve hours, depending on the item being cooked. Typical items that are barbecued are pork shoulder, beef brisket, ribs, half-chickens, as well as larger sausages. The meat cooks slowly with charcoal, rendering the fat, and creating smoke which gives the meats a very distictive, smoky flavor. Local hardwoods (apple, hickory,oak,maple, mesquite) are added sparingly to glowing charcoal as seasoning, and vary depending on what is indigenous to the area. It is common to use a dry-rub on the exterior of the meat, which over hours creats a nice crust or “bark” which is coveted by barbecue enthusiasts.
Some barbecue grills are best for grilling, and some best for barbecuing. Others do both quite well. The most popular and prevalent brand is Weber. Weber is a company from Chicago that invented and popularized the ‘kettle’ grill that we see in so many Irish gardens. It was introduced after World War II, and as soldiers returned from war and cities extended to suburbs, within a few years you could walk through just about any neighborhood on any sunny weekend and feast your olfactory senses on the smells escaping your neighbors back garden. The kettle grill is very good for both grilling and barbecuing.
In addition to the charcoal kettle grill, there is the gas grill. As the name would imply, they are powered by a propane cylinder and initially used lava rock in place of charcoal. Over time as the grill was used, the lava rock would ‘season’, retaining the rendered fat, seasonings and sauces, increasing smoke and flavor the more the grill was used. These days most gas grills use ‘flavorizor bars’ or shields which are designed to serve the same purpose, and evenly distribute the flame throughout the grill. The gas grill is best for grilling, but may be used to barbecue as well. There are hundreds if not thousands of gas grill manufacturers’, but Weber is considered by most avid grillers’ as the gold standard.
Finally, there is the smoker, or ‘pit.’ This is a grill specifically designed for cooking low and slow, and it may or may not include a water pan, which is designed to keep cuts of meat moist throughout the long cooking process. It is called a ‘pit’ after the initial barbecuing devices which were often merely a hole or pit in the ground, lined with bricks and covered with a grate. It is not uncommon to call any smoking device a pit, even the large, stainless steel automated rotisserie type smokers found in commercial barbecue restaurants in America. The most common home smoker model is made by Weber, and is called a Smokey Mountain, or WSM for short.
Any and all of these devices will deliver delicious food. I own them all, and use each one depending on my mood, occasion and food being cooked.
Mike’s BBQ offers a class in West Cork covering all methods of al fresco cooking. Check out our website at www.mikesbbq.ie for details.
Happy grilling & barbecuing!