Growing up, summertime barbecues in suburbia had a certain charm. I can still picture my dad, clad in a casual shirt and plaid Bermuda shorts, beverage in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other, manning the grill. Our dinner was often a little too well-done, but I know my mom appreciated the time off during grilling season. My dad was a big fan of starter fluid; he used a lot, and often wowed us with his daredevil antics, squirting the liquid into a burning fire—exactly what the warning label says not to do. Luckily, we never had any grill-related accidents, but our food often had that blackish, oily, chemical taste of starter fluid.
Fast forward to the crazy days of college—hot dogs (all we could afford) on a hibachi grill. We’ve all been there—not worth a lot of discussion.
Then, a friend gave Robert and me a new gas grill as a wedding/housewarming gift. He put it together and wheeled it five blocks down a busy avenue in Richmond to our new house! What a thrill. I hoped that Robert would take an interest in grilling, but alas, no luck. I thought that the gas grill would be an improvement—that it would be easier and faster than a traditional grill. Apparently I wanted it to be too easy, and often didn’t preheat the grill long enough—which resulted in poorly cooked food that stuck to the grates.
The Evolution of Grilling
Soon after we moved to Lynchburg, we met our friend Dan Carey and experienced a grill revolution. Dan had some crazy grill that he tried to explain to us, and luckily we weaseled our way into an invitation for a meal. The beef was caramelized on the outside with a great smoky flavor, and we were hooked. Dan’s grill is actually a version of a kamado-style grill, which had evolved from grills used for centuries in Japan. Made from ceramic and powered by hardwood charcoal, Dan’s grill is a brand called a Big Green Egg—EGG for short—so called for its signature shape and color. Dan became familiar with this type of grill while living in Atlanta; his wife Kim had had a Thanksgiving turkey that had been smoked on a kamado-style grill. Always interested in grilling, Dan and Kim knew that the EGG was perfect for them. “It’s the perfect man toy,” says Dan. “I get to play with fire…and I get to eat the outcome! I can roast, grill, smoke or sear—which gives me lots of variables to play with.”
Sarah Youell is a local expert on grilling and smoking on the Big Green Egg. She recalls that after seeing the EGG at a trade show (Sarah is responsible for the food section at Farm Basket), her daughter had also called to tell her about the grill soon after. For the last ten years, she’s been selling these grills, and sometimes does demonstrations as a part of a special event for Farm Basket. Since she also cooks on one at home, she has lots of “EGGsperience.” “Because it’s made of ceramic instead of metal, it holds the heat and moisture in, keeping the meat juicier,” she says. “It can also reach really high temperatures, or hold a specific temperature, so it cooks evenly too.”
Cheers for Churrasco
Worldwide travel is a part of Billy Carrington’s job at Consolidated Shoe. About 10 years ago, when the company was doing lots of business in Brazil, he became interested in a Churrasco grill, a type of rotisserie famous in South America. Churrasco is one of those funny words: It describes the technique, the equipment, and the resulting food. Billy uses mesquite chips and hardwood charcoal, and grills everything from large pieces of beef to chickens on rotating spits over the fire. “The fact that the meat is rotating and self-basting keeps it moist during the process —no matter how long it takes to cook,” explains Billy. Billy has some interesting techniques that he uses with great results; for his barbecued chicken, he marinates it in a mixture of lemon juice, water and sliced onions before cooking. After drying the chicken, he rubs it with his special spice rub, bastes it with more lemon juice and water while cooking, then finishes with his homemade barbecue sauce a few minutes before it’s done.
Another trick Billy learned from visiting Brazil is the technique he uses to cook steaks. He cuts his own ribeye steaks very thick—about 2 ½ inches—and covers them completely with a thick crust of kosher salt. He then grills the steaks for 4 minutes at a very high temperature, before moving them to the cool side of the grill for 20 to 30 minutes. When they’re done, he rinses the salt crust off quickly before serving.
Billy has reached levels that any self-respecting griller would envy: Besides the Churassco and regular grill, Billy also has a homemade smoker that a business associate from Texas had made for him, and a wood-burning oven inside the house.
There are lots of options, even if your patio can’t hold more than one type of grill, or your grilling repertoire isn’t as ambitious as Billy’s. Take the opportunity this summer to change your grill variables; try hardwood charcoal in your current grill, or add smoking chips in a new flavor, or soak your chips in orange juice or black tea instead of the usual water. Just leave out experimenting with starter fluid—trust me on that one!
Baked Bananas Balinese
Courtesy of Sarah Youell. Serves 8.
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup brown sugar
½ cup walnuts, finely chopped
¾ cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
8 large bananas (almost ripe, with a little green on the stems)
In a small mixing bowl, stir together the first six ingredients until well combined (can be made ahead and refrigerated). Cut stem ends off bananas. Carefully cut bananas in half lengthwise, without cutting through the skin on the other side. Do not peel!
Mound about 2 tablespoons of coconut mixture and spread down the length of the banana. Bake on a grill, skin side down, at 350 for 15–18 minutes. The skin will begin to pull away from the banana slightly. Serve with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce for a decadent dessert. For variety, serve with whipped cream and sprinkles of cinnamon. Enjoy!
Billy’s Spice Rub
¾ cup paprika
¼ cup black pepper
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients. Use liberally on meats and poultry. Keeps indefinitely.
Billy’s Barbecue Sauce
1 green pepper
3 cups ketchup
½ cup water
½ cup Worchestershire sauce
1 cup honey
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon Coleman’s ground mustard
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon Thai fish oil
Puree green pepper and onion in the food processor. Scrape into a heavy saucepan. Add all other ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened.