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.

 

Grilled tuna steaks

Tuna is an interesting fish. Most of us have had canned tuna, but fresh tuna is a completely different animal in taste, texture, and of course preparation. While the canned variety is inexpensive, fresh tuna can be quite pricey, upwards of $50 a kilo. But sometimes it goes on sale at our local grocery store, and then it is definitely time for this recipe.

Unlike other fish, I like to treat tuna steaks as actual steaks – I prepare them and cook them in a very similar manner to beef. Grilled tuna is meaty, takes flavours well, and is very nutritious. Depending on how hungry everyone is, I count on 150-200g (5-7 oz) per person, but have had the occasional feast of 1/2 pound or more.

Ingredients:

  • Tuna steaks, about 3/4″ to 1″ thick. 
  • Salt & pepper
  • garlic powder
  • lemon zest

Prepare the tuna as you would steaks: pat them dry, sprinkle both sides with fresh ground salt and pepper, garlic powder, and lemon zest. Lets sit for up to 1/2 hr while you get the grill heated up to let the flavours penetrate, and let the fish warm up to room temperature.

Get the grill hot. On my gas grill I cook on medium high to high, and on my charcoal grill I will cook around 500F. Season the grill with a touch of oil to prevent sticking, and put those bad boys straight on the grill. Unlike other fish, tuna does not fall apart when cooked, so using a topper is not necessary.

Cooking time is fairly short – over charcoal I do about 1.5 minutes per side, then finish off with another 30 seconds per side at a different angle (you know, for grill lines). On the gas grill slightly longer, maybe 2 minutes and 1 minute.

That’s it, serve right away. It does not need to rest like beef. It should be nicely seared on the outside, with the inside retaining some pink colour. Serve as you would steak, with a salad or your favourite veggies. If you want to sauce it up a little you can use just about anything from salsa to BBQ sauce. I quite like it with Danger Sauce myself.

Enjoy!

tuna

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.

Hops, hops, and more hops.

Let me be clear. I am now, and have always been, a hophead. I love hops. From old classics like Liberty Ale to Amsterdam’s Boneshaker to hyper-hopped beers like those from Dogfish Head and Stone. Love’em.

But…

Yes, there is a but.

There are many many styles of beer that are fabulous without being super bitter and more floral than my rose garden. And I fear that these beers and styles are being overlooked in the mad rush for ever-hoppier IPA’s. While the classic styles may face little risk of displacement in their home markets, being displaced from the North American market (where the hyper-hop trend is strongest) means reduced sales for these breweries, but also that the NA drinking public will miss out on a wide range of styles and really excellent beers.

So here’s what I do, and feel free to join me. I’m not going to boycott hoppy beers, far from, I will continue to enjoy them, but (and yes, another but…) I will make a conscious effort to by a craft beer of a more traditional style for every supper hoppy IPA I buy. That way when I am sharing beer with friends I can expose them to styles they might not otherwise encounter. So I’ll pick up some Musoka Summer Weiss when I get Mad Tom. Or Mill Street Organic when I buy Amsterdam’s Boneshaker. Or – and here’s the real winner – I’ll pick up a Beau’s Beaver River I.P.Eh. Because even though it’s an IPA, it is more traditional in it’s hopping – well balanced, delightful, and not over the top.

So who’s with me?

Danger Sauce

Why do I call this Danger Sauce? Well, because I can. Try it, and tell me if you don’t think it’s dangerous!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups Orange Juice
  • 1 cup tamoato sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups beer (I Barking Squirrel, a malty lager)
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1 tbsp cider vinnegar
  • 3 tbps guava paste, or 1/3 cup guava jam
  • 1 tbsp raw (turbinado) sugar
  • 1 tsp salt – I like non-iodized sea salt or pink salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp roasted cumin
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard

Measure out the OJ, beer, and tomato sauce into a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, get the dry ingredients ready. Chop the chipotle with it’s sauce. I have a hand-blender, so I add a touch of orange juice to the chipotle and whirr it up, making a nice paste I can add a bit at a time.

Once the liquids have reduced by about 1/4, add the dry spices, vinegar, guava sugar and mustard. Stir thoroughly, particularly if using guava paste – you want it to dissolve fully.

Let it simmer (stirring occasionally) for another 5-10 minutes, then taste to see if more orange or guava is needed, or more salt or pepper, then add about half of the ground chipotle. Stir, and after 5 min taste again. The hotness is up to you, add the rest of the chipotle if you like a kick to it, leave it out if you like a slow simmer from your chipotles. Or add more if you are a real hot pepper lover.

Simmer for 10 minutes more, then cool, and store in the fridge. Keeps for several weeks.

This sauce is great for glazing as well as a little dipping on the side. Goes great with poultry, but also darn tasty with pork. I would love to know what you think, so if you decide to make this sauce, leave a comment below. Enjoy!

Rustic Pizza

Just because we love cooking meat with fire, doesn’t mean that’s the only thing we can cook over fire. Pizza is great on the grill, and this rustic style of pizza, with the crust folded back over makes it almost like a calzone. It’s a family favourite that is tasty and prety easy to make.

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 I have to thank my wife and daughter for sharing their secrets on this one – usually it is a big mystery until they hand me the pans and tell me to cook them!

Ingredients (okay, pretty much everything is optional here, it’s whatever you like, but this is what we use):

  • pizza dough (most grocery stores sell packages of premade dough)
  • 1 jar bruschetta
  • 1 ripe tomato – I like to use plum tomatoes because they contain less liquid
  • 1 red pepper, diced or sliced into strips
  • Mozzarella cheese – fresh mozzarella, aka bocconcini, is best, but any will do.
  • another cheese – ricotta, feta, or goat cheese, something a little salty is good.
  • sliced, sautéed mushrooms
  • sprinkling of basil

You will also need a pizza pan, and of course a grill.

Start by rolling out the pizza dough flat and round, and large enough so that it overhangs the pizza pan by 2-3 inches (5-8cm) all around. If you don’t have a rolling pin, an empty wine bottle works fine. It helps to spray the pan first with no-stick spray, or spread a thin layer of oil on the pan. Place the dough on the pan.
Dump about 1/2 cup  of the bruschetta on the dough, enough so that it just covers the area of the pan (ie, not onto the overhang parts). Lay out slices of tomato, the peppers, and the cheeses. Sprinkle the basil leaves on top, and then fold the overhanging dough over top, so that it covers half way or so to the middle.

Turn on the burner at one end of the grill, if you are using a gas grill, or use a deflector plate on a charcoal grill for indirect cooking. You want the temperature up around 400-425°F, which is hot enough that the crust will cook nicely, but not so hot that it chars the crust before the middle is cooked. You may need to rotate the pan to let it brown evenly. On my grill it takes surprisingly long – typically 40 minutes, but keep an eye on it, as the time will probably be different in your setup. It is done when nicely browned all over.

 

You can, of course play with the recipe. Add fresh basil leaves, or pitted kalamata olives, or (like me) leave out the mushrooms. Instead of bruschetta, you can sautée some onions and tomatoes in a little olive oil and garlic. Or heck, you can use a jar of pizza sauce, but I find the bruschetta just works a lot better with this type of pizza.
Enjoy!

 

My Standby Rub

If you barbecue frequently, you probably have a few different rubs. But if you are like me, maybe you have one basic rub that is tasty, and good for almost anything, particularly when you have to slap it together at short notice. If not, then feel free to steal mine, which I refer to as 4-3-2-1.

  • 4 parts paprika
  • 3 parts coarse black pepper
  • 2 parts sea salt
  • 1 part garlic powder
  • Plus, optionally, anything else I feel like at the moment, such as celery seed, onion powder, cayenne, or whatever I have at hand.

It’s a simple recipe to remember, and flexible. It can be used straight up as a spicy rub, or mixed about 1:1 with brown sugar as a sweet rub.

I’d be curious to hear what others use as their standby, all purpose rub.

 

To Spice or Not When Grilling Steaks

In many things, I tend to be a bit of a purist. I don’t want lime in my beer, I don’t want soda in my scotch. I want whatever it is to stand as it is. So it was with steaks. I liked to grill steaks with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt or pepper, so I could taste the steak, not the spice. But recently I have changed that stance. I have decided that adding a little spice to a steak adds more to the experience than it detracts from the “purity” of the cut of meat. And when done right, it tastes damn good.

I have by no means perfected a spice mix – but here is a typical combination that I might use. Sprinkle both sides of the steak with, in decreasing order of amount:

  • Fresh ground black pepper. If you don’t have a pepper grinder, then course black pepper, not fine.
  • Coarse sea salt, or other coarse salt
  • Cajun spice, such as Tony’s or Slap ya Mamma
  • Garlic or onion powder

Basically, I am a little heavy handed with the pepper, gentle (just a soupçon) of the cajun and garlic to give a little complexity to the flavour without it being obvious (in other words, cheating). And the salt somewhere in between.

This simple combination, particularly on slightly cheaper cuts of meat, really elevates it from steak to Steak.

Defining Beer

In some places, people refer to “Beer and Ale”. In others, they refer to “Beer and Lager”. And, sadly, in some they refer to “Beer and Malt liquor”. So what is beer? Apart from wonderful I mean.

At it’s simplest, beer is a fermented beverage made from grain. Under this definition, many things (including Sake) count. But for purposes of not getting way off track, let’s call beer “a fermented beverage made from grain, primarily barley but also wheat and other adjuncts, and usually flavoured with hops, but may contain other herbs or spices.”

Beer comes in many, many styles, not simply lager and ale. There is also porter, stout, wit, lambic, abbey, weiss, alt, kolsch, schwarz, Saison, bière de garde, barley wine, bock, maerzen, and a host of other styles, with brewers adding new styles all the time.

I could ramble on about these styles, but it will be much more fun for you if you just go out and try some to see what they are like for yourself. As this site grows, I will post my own thoughts and reviews of beers, brewers, and styles, so check back to learn more.

 

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.

Three things that go really, really well together.