Category Archives: Fire

Petite Tender with Grilled Pepper & Onion

When I was a kid, we often had chuck steaks. These were pretty inexpensive cuts, because they were kind of tough, but they had a lot of flavour. I recall being disappointed with a sirloin steak – a pricer cut with a fancier name, because though it was more tender, it was much less flavourful.

Fast forward a few decades.

I have not seen “chuck steaks” in a long time. The chuck, or shoulder region, is often sold as a roast (such a cross-rib roast) because the connective tissue that makes it tough breaks down with long slow cooking. But a few cuts from the chuck are gaining in popularity, because they are cut lengthwise, with the muscle fibre (like a flank steak), thus eliminating the tough connective tissue. The flat iron steak is one of these, and the petite tender (also called shoulder tender or bistro filet) is another.

The petite tender (a name that others me – choose a language and stick with it!) is shaped like a stubby pork tenderloin, about 6″ long. And it is one of the most tender cuts of beef, and full of that wonderful chuck flavour. This cut can be hard to find, so I was pretty excited to find they now carry it at one of my local grocery stores, Longo’s. But his wasn’t just beef, it was Certified Angus Beef (CAB). Oh, and did I mention it’s not an expensive cut? Yup, poor man’s filet mignon! So here’s what  did with it:

  • 4 Petite tender steaks, about 7 oz each (they were 2 in a package)
  • Steak spice (see my recipe here)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 large sweet onion (spanish or vidalia)

If you are using charcoal, you’ll want to get the fire going to make sure it’s ready when you are. Pat the steaks dry with paper towel, and coat liberally with steak spice. Make sure the spice adheres well to the meat – get your hands in there.

Chop the pepper in half lengthwise, and remove the stem and seeds. Cut the onion into thick rings. Get the grill up to medium high heat, season the grill with a little oil and put the onions and peppers (skin side down) directly on the grill. You can put a serious char on the peppers, as we will be removing the skin, but keep flipping the onion so it doesn’t burn. The onions are done when the soften up and get floppy and you think they might start falling through the grill. The red peppers should also soften up and loose their rigidity.

There are all sorts of recommendations for peeling roast peppers – from cold water to sealed containers to paper bags. If you have a favourite, use it, but once charred the skin scrapes off easily. Once the skin is off the peppers, slice them into narrow strips. Keep the onions and peppers by the grill, we’ll need them again shortly.

With the grill still at medium high heat (I run my kamado at about 500F), put the steaks on the grill at a bit of an angle to the lines of the grill. You might be tempted to cook these hotter – I often do steaks at 700F or so, but these are lean cuts and can scorch more easily. You may want to lightly coat the steak with a little oil to help prevent this.

I cook my steaks for 2 minutes, rotate them (to get cross-grill lines) and cok for another 2 minutes, flip them, 2 minutes, then bring them to a part of the grill away from the most intense heat, top with the onions and peppers, close down the vents and let cook indirectly for 4 minutes.

transfer the steaks to a plate or board, loosely tent with foil, and let rest for at least five minutes. Serve with veggies, potato, or salad of choice.

photo 4

If you want to guild the lilly, so to speak, you could mix in a little soft goat cheese with the onion and peppers, or a little herbed butter, which then melts nicely in that last few minutes of cooking.

This is a great way to serve a terrific cut of meat.

Enjoy!

Best, irreproducible pork chops.

Let me tell you a story of some of the best pork chops I ever made, and how the recipe can probably never be reproduced.

It was late spring, about two years ago. We had picked up some nice fresh Ontario pork chops, and I was looking forward to tossing them on the grill. Nothing exotic, just a little salt, pepper, garlic and glazing of sauce. When we got home it was starting to cloud up, so I rushed to get the gas grill started. I didn’t want to grill in a downpour, so I didn’t want to wait for charcoal to get up to temperature.

My wife helpfully suggested that we could cook them inside, but I figured there was time. And besides, grill vs pan? Come on.

So I tossed the chops on medium heat as the clouds darkened. after a few minutes I flipped them, and that’s when it hit.

To be honest, I don’t know what kind of storm it was, but terms like “microburst” and “supercell” come to mind. For about half an hour the weather was so severe I would not risk the 4 metre walk from my back to to the grill. Wind gusts must have exceeded 100 km/h. Rain was horizontal.  Chairs were flying. The grill, of course, went out.

When it passed, I did what any die hard outdoor chef would do – I went back out and re-lit the grill and finished off the chops.

I thought they would be mediocre at best, inedible at worst, but hey, grilled pork chops. But no, they were juicy and tasty. I think by heating, and then removing heat, and then finishing off I pretty much did an accidental reverse-sear.

So my irreproducible chop recipe is as follows:

  • start with 2 thick fresh pork chops
  • apply fresh cracked pepper, salt, and garlic powder
  • set the grill to medium heat, and cook 5 minutes per side
  • get hit by a tornado
  • once severe weather passes, relight the grill. Set to medium-high, cook chops for 2-3 minutes per side, add BBQ sauce of your choice, and grill for another 2 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 145F.

 

 

Thanksgiving turkey dinner, Kamado style

Up here north of the border we celebrate Thanksgiving a little earlier than in the US – on the second Monday in October. It lets us enjoy the vestiges of warmth before we plunge into winter. And here in Ontario at least, November is typically pretty rotten. Of course, there is the added benefit to those south of the border that recipes we try out can be posted for you to use for your thanksgiving feasts!

This year we had to feed seventeen people for thanksgiving this year, so of course we prepared enough food for 30. The centrepiece was a 10.3 kg (22.7lb) turkey that I was dying to cook on the Kamado grill, along with acorn squash, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and a bunch of things cooked inside as well (which doesn’t involve actual fire, so I won’t go into details here).

The turkey:

  • 1 10 kg (22lb) dinosaur descendent. Air chilled fresh is better than frozen, and free-range is best of all, but usually double the price.
  • Beer brine – I loosely followed this recipe from Traeger Grills, but used only 1 500mL can of Pilsner Urquell, which I quite like using for cooking.
  • injection – 4 oz garlic infused olive oil + 1/2 can Pilsner Urquell, and a dash of creole seasoning.
  • 3 navel oranges, quartered
  • fresh rosemary and thyme

I don’t have a fridge big enough to store a brining bird for a day or two, so I got up early and brined the bird for about 5 or 6 hours in a cooler, with plenty of ice to keep the temperature down. I tilted the cooler so I didn’t have to fill it all the way, and kept the bird breast-side down in the brine, while the back was not submerged. I could have made more brine, but why bother? It’s the breast that really needs brining.

After brining I injected the breast, legs and thighs with the beer and garlic oil mixture, stuffed the oranges into the cavity, and slid sprigs of rosemary and thyme under the skin of the breast as well as into the cavity. Lastly I rubbed a little more garlic-infused olive oil all over the skin of the bird, thus ensuring it was completely impossible to handle.

I set up the Kamado with lots of charcoal (I like to use Canadian maple, beech and birch which gives a nice combination of heat and aromatic smoke), and two good chunks of apple wood. I set the heat deflector to the lower position, and slid in a drip pan. I placed an old cooling rack between the deflector and the pan so the drippings would not burn and produce acrid smoke that would affect the flavour – this is a little thing that can make a big difference.

I roasted the bird at about 350F. I say “about”, because while the Kamado is great at low and slow, or seering heat, but I find sometimes prolonged cooking at medium high temps can be finicky, so I had to make sure to keep an eye on it.

Now here’s the shocker – it cooked completely in three hours.

Yes, 22 pounds of turkey at 350F cooked in three hours, or a little over 8 minutes per pound, and the temperature rose very quickly over the last 15 minutes or so, so I had to be on my toes to pull it out at the right time. In fact, I was a little slow and the extra two minutes it took me to get my stuff together allowed to to overshoot slightly, mostly because I couldn’t believe it was ready so soon. It is important to have a good digital thermometer for this!

Despite the food safety guidelines, I would recommend pulling the bird out before the middle of the breast hits 155F, and I have heard as low as 151F. I tried for 155, but it crept up to 158 by the time I got it out. I tented with foil and drapes a tea towel over it and let it rest for a little over an hour (because I had to cook the veggies on the grill afterward), and during the rest the breast temp crept up to almost 170. So yes, definitely take it out before it hits 155 on a bird this size.

Here is what it looked like just before I pulled it off the grill:

Roast Dinosaur

But wait, there’s more!

While the turkey was resting, I tossed in some more charcoal and laid out the acorn squash (quartered, basted with a little oil and brown sugar) and sweet potatoes on the grill to roast for an hour. Next time I will perhaps start the sweet potatoes in the oven ahead of time, as they take a little longer to cook through. Doing them over charcoal gives them a little extra flavour to make them that much more special. If you have an upper rack (“grill extender”) you can also do a pan of stuffing, to add a little smoke flavour.

This whole meal came out very well, and I was extremely pleased (as were my well-fed guests). I’m not sure why the bird cooks so fast – but the fact that there is not a whole lot of space around the bird with the lid closed is part of it I’m sure. Next time I will be a little quicker yanking it off the heat, but otherwise I would do it again the same.

 

Cooking with Indirect Heat

When cooking over fire you don’t always want the food directly over the flame. many cuts of meat and other foods need to cook slowly, more like baking or roasting than grilling, and for this we use indirect heat.

Indirect using a gas grill:

Heating indirectly with a gas grill is straightforward. Get all burners going to heat up the grill with the cover down, and once heated, turn off all burners but one. With my tube burner grill I leave on the one at the far left, and turn off the other two. This provides enough heat to keep the closed grill at about 300F, and anything on the right half is completely away from the flame. On my smaller H burner grill, there are only two burners, so one half is hot, leaving slightly less than half for indirect heating – though I can get higher temperatures because it is a larger burner. Interestingly, I find that the warming rack above tends to be hotter than the grill (heat rises, remember?), which is the opposite of cooking over direct heat.

Over Charcoal:

Indirect cooking over charcoal is much the same as over gas, but requires a little more hands-on work. What you want to do is get the fire going at one side of the grill, and place the meat on the other. You also want to raise the grill up as high as it will go, to keep the food from cooking unevenly. Many grills, like Kamado style cookers, have heat deflector plates for low and slow cooking. These are thick ceramic plates that are placed directly over the coals, so the heat has to flow around them, allowing you to cook indirectly over the entire cooking surface.

Cooking over indirect heat is fairly simple and intuitive, and the more you do it the more you will learn the idiosyncrasies of your grill, and it will become completely second nature.

 

Tagliata

Tagliata is something I fell in love with on my trip to Italy a few years ago. Basically, it is a steak cooked rare, sliced thin, laid over a bed of rocket (arugula), drizzled with a little olive oil and topped with shaved parmesan cheese. Simple, elegant, and tasty.

I’ve had my Kamado grill for less than a week, but decided it was time to dry some high-temperature searing of steak – mostly because I found a nice Angus top sirloin on sale at Longo’s… So here’s what I did:

Meat – as I mentioned, it was a top sirloin steak, about 1″ thick, and about 0.63 kg (22 Oz). I seasoned it with salt, pepper and garlic powder, letting it sit for about an hour with the seasonings on it.

Fire – I stoked up the Kamado, getting it up to about 650 F.

Beer – nothing to do with th erecipe, but I had  Red Racer White while cooking…

Other preparations:

following a suggestion from one of Steven Raichlen’s books, I mixed a little olive oil, garlic, and fresh rosemarry sprigs and spread it out on the bottom of a baking dish for the meat to rest on when done. I also washed and spun some arugula and spring mix greens.

Cooking the steak turned out to be quite easy. I gave it about a minute, rotated, another minute, flip, give it a minute, rotate, and shut the vents down to drop the combustion way down, and left it for three minutes. Then a I transferred it to the dish of oil, garlic and rosemary (I just used two or three tablespoons of oil, not 1/2 inch like Raichlen), let it sit for a minute, then flipped it and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then Sliced it thin.

For serving, lay slices of the steak (which was actually more medium rare – have to go hotter and faster next time) over a bed of arugula, drizzle with a little olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and shave some parmesan on top. I also had a spring mix salad, with some craisins and pumpkin seeds, which we love, and for fun I threw on some red peppers to grill while the steak was cooking.

I must say, that seared-over-charcoal flavour of the steak is substantially better than the steaks I did on the gas grill, and I used to be really happy with those.

Now, here’s a little bonus with this recipe: go light on the steak, with lots of salad, throw on the grilled veggies, and you have a super-tasty, grilled delight which is actually healthy for you. Sure, once in a while it’s great to really go for glory with the meat, but not every day. That 22 oz. of steak fed a family of four, with leftovers.

On Meat, Fire and Beer, or Why I Started this Blog

So, show of hands if you don’t like grilled food.

Thought so.

Growing up in Toronto, barbecued steaks, burger and chicken meant summertime, outdoors, relaxation, and all the good things in life. I don’t know if this is why grilling and barbecuing mean so much, or if it is just hard-wired in our DNA (possibly taking up a significant portion of the Y chromosome…), harking back to meat and fire meaning nourishment and security. But whatever the reason, there is something special about meat and fire.

I grew up enjoying outdoor cooking, and I could grill up some mean food, but it was only a few years ago that my eyes were opened to really, really good grilled food, and the difference between good and exceptional food. I was in Florence, Italy, and watched the chefs carefully preparing the fire for Florentine steak, and ate those steaks whole, as well as sliced thin over arugula (called “tagliata”). That’s when I decided I needed to learn to up my game on the grill.

The following year, we had a family reunion and I got to spend some time with my cousin Patrice, aka Chef Juke, and I learned a fair bit from him about low-and-slow smoking. So last spring, when I had some birthday money burning a whole in my pocket, I bought myself a smoker, and have been putting it through its paces for the last few months, to the point where I can reliably make excellent pulled pork and other delectables.

Over the last few years I have learned a lot about outdoor cooking, and much of that I learned from other enthusiasts online. So  wanted to give back, and share what I have found works for me, what doesn’t work for me, and generally help others along the path to mastering the art of meat and fire. I am by no means an expert yet, I still have much to learn, but learning is much more fun when you do it with others.

So there you have it. The back story of Meat, Fire, Beer.

Oh wait, the beer part…

Going back again to my youth, I was fortunate to be raised in a family that appreciated different types of beer, so sampling different beers and learning to appreciate the styles was part of my upbringing. I had the opportunity to try cask-conditioned ales in the UK, and exotic imports from all over the world. Eventually I tried my hand at homebrewing, and became an accomplished all-grain brewer and certified beer judge. I had to give up brewing when I moved to Europe for a few years, but the proximity to so much good beer made up for that (when I came back to Canada, two small children meant little time for brewing, but I am feeling that itch again, so I suspect it won’t be too long before I am at it again). And good beer is a natural companion to grilled meats and barbecue, so naturally it is part of this site as well.