As we enter the month of May the days get longer, the sun shines brighter and we begin to move our cooking operations outside. Years ago, using the char-grill meant that Dad would fire up the grill with charcoal lighter (or gasoline) and throw on some steaks, burgers or hot dogs. As with everything involving food, things have changed.
We now have a covered grill heated by natural wood charcoal that is started with a chimney starter or an electric coil. (Or a propane-gas grill, which is very convenient.) We have water-soaked hickory, mesquite or cherry wood chips to add some fl avor and we know how to arrange the grill for indirect, slow cooking, in addition to the traditional hot grill for searing. And Dad isn’t the only one doing the cooking.
But much has not changed — the fun of hanging out on the deck with friends and the smell of all that smoke circulating around the neighborhood. Here are a few ways to break in the grill:
BEER-BRINED, HICKORY-SMOKED CHICKEN
Remove the giblets and excess fat from a 4-pound chicken and rinse under cold water. Place the chicken in a deep casserole or dutch oven.
Bring 4 cups water to a boil and add 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup kosher salt. Stir to dissolve and remove from the heat. Add 2 cups of ice cubes and 1 can of beer. Pour this brine over the chicken to cover and refrigerate overnight.
Prepare a seasoning rub by combining 2 tablespoons smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.
Cover 2 cups of hickory chips in cold water and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the brine and dry with paper towels. Brush the chicken lightly with canola oil and sprinkle on the seasoning rub. Place the chicken breast side up in a V-rack set inside a small roasting pan.
Light your char-grill and wait until the coals begin to turn white. Push the hot coals to the sides of the grill, leaving an empty space in the center. Sprinkle the soaked hickory chips on top of the coals and cover to preheat the grill for about 10 minutes.
Remove the lid, place the grill over the coals and put the pan with the chicken on the grill. Cover and cook for about 1 1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees internal when placed in the thigh of the chicken.
Note: In order to maximize the use of the grill, wrap baking potatoes and sweet potatoes in foil and place around the chicken. Peel whole carrots, brush with oil and season with rosemary. Wrap them in foil and cook along with the chicken and potatoes.
KENTUCKY BOURBON STEAK
Purchase a 2-pound boneless sirloin steak. Prepare a marinade by combining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons chili sauce, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons minced shallots, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon. Place the steak in a shallow casserole and pour the marinade over it. Refrigerate 4-8 hours, turning once.
Remove the steak from the marinade and dry it off with a paper towel. Let it come to room temperature while preparing the grill. Light the char-grill and wait for white coals. Rub the grill with an oil-soaked paper towel.
Spray the steak with no-stick and place on the grill. After 3 minutes, turn 90 degrees to form crosshatch marks. Turn and cook to desired doneness (120 internal for medium-rare). Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before carving.
To make a bourbon sauce, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan and add 1/4 cup minced shallots. After 2 minutes, add 1/4 cup bourbon and 1/4 cup beef stock. Bring to a boil and let it reduce to half of its volume. Remove from the heat, stir in 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and swirl in 2 tablespoons cold butter.
CHAR-GRILLED POTATO SKINS
Scrub 4 large russet potatoes clean under cold water and cut into quarters or sixths lengthwise. Using a paring knife, cut out some of the fl esh, leaving about 1/2-inch thickness.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a bowl along with 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 teaspoon each of kosher salt and ground pepper. Toss the potatoes in the oil mixture and place, cut side down, on the edges of the hot grill. Cover and cook about 20 minutes, turning once, and being careful not to burn. Serve with above steak.
CEDAR-PLANKED VEGETABLE BUNDLES
Soak an untreated cedar shingle or cooking plank in water for 30 minutes.
Trim the ends off 1/2 pound of green beans; trim and peel 1 bunch of young carrots, leaving the stem on; trim and peel 3 parsnips and cut them into 3-inch pieces; trim 1 bunch of thin asparagus. Use string to tie each type of vegetable into a small bundle (or bundles), as tight as possible.
Bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil and add the bundles. Bring the water back to a boil and simmer for another 3 minutes before removing with tongs.
Remove the cedar shingle from the water and place it over hot coals on the grill. Cover and let it cook for 5 minutes on each side and then place the blanched vegetables on the hot plank. Cover the grill and cook for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.