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This New Year Get Back To Natural Barbeque Cooking
Happy New Year
Every New Year I hear dozens of New Years Resolutions and it seems I hear the same few every year. Gyms and Churches fill up for a month or two before things get back to normal. This year I would like to make a suggestion: Start Smoking. Cheap gas grills are in every hardware, housewares store and we all know we sacrifice flavor when we shift from a natural charcoal barbeque to a gas grill. The convenience of a gas barbeque grill is tempting because we can start cooking by pushing a button, clean up is easier and grill accessories are everywhere. Last year I purchased a ceramic kamado barbecue smoker, started using all natural flash-fired hardwood charcoal and got back to enjoying my food and the process of cooking it.
Slow cooking is generally referred to as barbecuing. Slow cooking is not the 450 degree BBQ ubiquitous in stores everywhere but a barbeque capable of holding an even heat less than 200 degrees. At lower temperatures, food will absorb flavor during the barbeque process which makes gas barbecues ill-designed for producing good flavor. Charcoal is best used with wood left soaking in water overnight.
My favorite slow cook barbeque is a kamado. The kamado design is a thick ceramic firebox dating back to Japan thousands of years ago. The ceramic holds heat well enough to cook for several hours with a fistful of charcoal. Vents placed top and bottom adjust to control air flow which affects the temperature within the BBQ. The idea is to burn the charcoal until the pieces are coated with a light layer of grey ash. Add well-saturated chunks of wood to produce mesquite, hickory, cedar or many other flavors of smoke. Barbeque cooks the food slow enough that little moisture sweats out of the food while flavorful rubbed spices and wood-smoke is soaked into the food. Done properly, ribs fall off the bone, turkey stays juicy and just about any food served becomes the best meal ever. Adjust vents for more heat to taste less wood and lower heat for more flavor.
Every holiday we smoke a turkey. We barbeque the turkey or chicken using the "beer can" method. I take a sixteen ounce beer and cut the top off the can pouring some beer into a separate bowl. I place basil, thyme, peppers and a variety of spice in to the beer can and in the bowl with the other half of the beer. I stuff the can into the turkey (or chicken) and place it balanced to stand on a ceramic plate on the grilling surface. The plate (or small brownie try) is there to force the heat from the fire to the sides of the barbeque and avoid any direct heat to the bird.
The beer can method of cooking produces amazing mixtures of flavors when smoked. I place my turkey in the kamado after setting the vents to stabilize heat at 175 degrees and adding a mixture of cedar and hickory wood chunks soaked in water overnight. The thick ceramic walls of the kamado do not conduct a lot of heat and a surprisingly small amount of hardwood charcoal and soaked wood is necessary for a six hour smoke. As the convectional heat (conducted in air) pulls moisture out of the turkey, the beer steams moisture from the cavity marinating the bird from the inside-out. Smoke permeates the outside layer of food adding flavor from the outside-in. Use the mixture of beer and spices in the bowl to baste the turkey as necessary. The combination of "beer-can-chicken" and smoking creates intermingling flavors that are impossible to create any other way. At such a low temperature, a 10lb turkey may take six hours to cook so get started early. Every time I do this, I am afraid the mixture of flavors will become overwhelming and every time it comes out perfectly subtle.
Easy Awesome Dinner
I also use my Kamado for barbeque versions of daily dinner platters. I take two packages of boneless chicken legs and thighs. I burn the charcoal down until it is coated with a light layer of ash and then add my soaked wood chunks. I cook these smaller pieces at a higher temperature of 350 degrees by opening the top vent while leaving the bottom vent almost completely closed (just opened the width of a credit card). Smoking food often takes a lot longer than grilling but with smaller food parts, I cook faster and the result is wonderful. The chicken can be barbecued as fast as if using an indoor oven but the hardwood charcoal and wood smoke adds enough flavor to make dinner memorable. At the quicker temperature, only enough smoke is absorbed to give a nice aftertaste of which ever type of wood was used. Sometimes I add a rub or brush on a marinade for a little added flavor before the smoky taste hits the palette.
As far as barbecues are concerned, my opinion is that the kamado cookers are the best solution. The process of cooking with a gas grill is faster and easier than lighting charcoal but the flavor is barely a shadow of what it can be with a good charcoal barbeque. The only exception to this is infrared grills which cook very fast and retain a lot of flavor but infrared is still outside the budget of most backyard chefs.
I only use hardwood charcoal when I cook. Hard wood charcoal can be harder to light so I use incendiary cubes that flare up made by Weber. Hardwood charcoal also burns hotter than the compressed wood charcoal briquettes recycled from discarded furniture and old houses. Hardwood charcoal is all natural wood that is flash fired at 40,000 degrees to instantly create the chemical reaction turning wood to charcoal. Common charcoal briquettes can contain chemicals that are not healthy for human consumption and lighter fluid can be absorbed by the walls of the ceramic smoker.
I use a gas grill but last year I determined to start taking the time to use my charcoal/wood smoker more often and I have benefitted from the change. It takes a little more time to cook bt the flavor created by all natural cooking is worth the extra time. With a kamado ceramic smoker I have the ability to smoke at very low temperatures, barbeque at mid-range temperatures and to grill at very high temperatures. The ceramic holds heat and flavor locked in the firebox for the flavor we all wish we had when we barbeque our food. I suggest this year you give it a try. Get back to all natural charcoal cooking instead of the tasteless speed of a gas barbeque and find out for your self.