Barbecue is a mix of talents. There is the choice of meat (or in some cases vegetables), the creation and choice of sauce, and of course the flame. Once the components are gathered together, then the real talent starts with the maintenance of the flame, smoke, turnings and sauce applications.
We are going to focus on the flame, and the types of flame sources for our barbecue. There are basically three main sources in use today: Wood, Charcoal, and Natural gas or propane.
Natural gas and propane
Gas grills are easy to light. The heat is easy to control (via knob-controlled gas valves on the burners), so the outcome is very predictable. They result in a very consistent and tasty result, although some charcoal purists argue it lacks the flavors available only from cooking with charcoal. Advocates of gas grills claim that gas cooking lets you "taste the meat, not the heat" because it is claimed that charcoal grills may deposit traces of coal tar on the food. Many grills are equipped with thermometers, further simplifying the barbecuing experience. However propane and natural gas produce a "wet" heat that can change the texture of foods cooked over such fuels.
Gas grills are significantly more expensive due to their added complexity, and higher heat. They are also considered much cleaner as they do not result in ashes (which must be disposed of) and also in terms of air pollution. Proper maintenance may further help reduce pollution.
This generally begins with purchasing a bag of processed charcoal briquettes. A charcoal chimney starter is a traditional (but generally underused) method for getting a consistent heat from your coals. Alternatively, they can be lit in a pyramid directly inside the charcoal grill after presoaking with lighter fluid.
After all coals are ashed-over (generally 15-25 minutes), they are spread around the perimeter of the grill, and the meat is placed in the center for indirect cooking. For additional flavor and attractive appearance, thicker cuts of meat may optionally be seared over direct heat (outer perimeter of grill) prior to indirect cooking in the center. Water-soaked wood chips (such as mesquite, hickory, or fruit trees) are often added atop the coals for an extra smoky flavor. The temperature of the grill is controlled by the amount and distribution of coal within the grill and through careful venting.
An alternative to charcoal briquettes is lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is wood that has been turned into charcoal but unlike briquettes it has not been ground and shaped. Lump charcoal is a pure form of charcoal and is preferred by many purists who fear that artificial binders may be used to hold briquettes in their shape.
The choice and combination of woods burned result in different flavors imparted to the meat. Different types of wood burn at different temperatures. The heat also varies by the amount of wood and controlling the rate of burn through careful venting.
The type of wood chosen is really what sets this method apart from the others. This is where the gourmet can really experiment. Let's go through some of the woods available to get a feel for the differences we can expect.
Golden Birch is very delicate & slightly sweet, typically used with fish, pork, lamb, goat, poultry, and light-meat game birds. As a smoke source Golden birch would be used to smoke Salmon.
Wild Apple is slightly sweet with a fruity smoke flavor. Used mainly for beef, poultry, game birds, and pork (particularly hams).
Sugar Maple has a mild smoky, sweet flavor. Good with lamb, goat, pork, poultry, cheese, vegetables and small game birds.
White Cedar has a fine light smoke, and doesn't add much in the way of other flavors. Ideal for cooking fish, beef, and pork.
Wild Black Cherry, is hard to get a hold of but offers a distinctively sweet and fruity smoke. Great with beef, poultry & game birds.
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