A Wonderful Time for Barbecue
Winter Solstice and Saturnalia:
A "Pagan" Celebration
Holiday Gift Grilling
New Year's Eve:
The Ultimate Revelry
New Year's Day:
Fair and Bright
Clouds and Rain
Super Bowl Barbecue:
A Super 'Cue Party
Party-Time Outdoor Cooking
The Romantic Grill
The Daytona 500:
Race Day Barbecue
You might think it's weird that I would start a seasonal barbecue book with the end of the year, but I think of winter as a beginning and a new challenge for the barbecuer. Yes, it's true that I now live in Florida, and you're thinking, "How hard can it be to cook outdoors in January when the temperature's 65 degrees?" True, but it's also true that I used to live in Chicago, so I do have some experience with outdoor cooking in challenging conditions. I have personally cooked for a tailgate party in the parking lot at Soldier Field when the temperature was below zero. We had to use can koozies to keep our beers from freezing. Besides, recent surveys indicate that two-thirds of grill owners cook year-round, and you don't want to be on the short list, so layer up and get outside.
Keep the Cook Warm
The first priority is no frostbite for the cook. It's not that hard. Just use some sensible winter ideas. Try to cook during the warmest part of the day, midafternoon. Put a hook for your jacket and a rug for your boots by the door that you use to go out to the grill. Wear your long underwear and warm socks, and turn the heat down a little in the house so you'll also be comfortable when you're inside. Spend as little time outdoors as possible. If you position your cooker so you can see the temperature from the inside, you won't have to go outside much at all. I like to grill indirectly or cook low and slow, so that I don't have to spend too much time watching over the food. If you're really wimpy, you can get one of those heaters that mount right on the twenty-pound propane bottle. They work very well. Just don't light your pants on fire.
The Right Equipment
Obviously, cold air will suck the heat right out of your grill or smoker. But if you use a well-insulated cooker, like the Big Green Egg with its thick ceramic walls, it will be able to hold the heat in without using an extreme amount of fuel. If you don't have a well-insulated cooker, or don't want to buy one, you can use a fireproof welding blanket, available at welding supply stores, and place it over your grill when the lid is shut. This will insulate the grill and help prevent heat loss. Don't cover all the vents though, or you'll have no fire at all. It's also good to shield the grill from the wind as much as you can. Put it behind a fence, a wall, or even some bushes. Some of you more rural barbecue enthusiasts could also use the broken-down cars in your yard or your chicken coop to break the wind.
The Right Food
The winter barbecuer should avoid cooking things that will burn quickly If you are goingto grill, make it something quick like steaks or burgers. You don't want to have to babysit grilled chicken pieces with a sugary rub that could scorch during a short trip into the house. Instead, cook them indirectly. I like to cook whole chickens, game hens, roasts, and hams during the winter, as you can go out into the cold every half hour or so to check the food and fuel. Or grill foods that take a very short amount of time, like the Stuffed White Mushrooms in the winter solstice menu. It's a good idea to cook a full grill in the winter, too. You can freeze some for a later "bonus" barbecue from the microwave, but what I really like to do is cook a few other things that will join a different recipe at a later date. If I'm cooking a chicken for dinner, I'll also cook a roll of sausage to be used later in the Smoked Sausage, Leek, and Potato Soup, or some catfish for the Smoked Catfish Spread. By the way, the sausage freezes well; the catfish does not, but it will easily hold for a couple days in the refrigerator.
The cold will affect the total cooking time for food from the grill, particularly if it's combined with a howling wind, but once you get your cooker up to temp and the food on, it shouldn't be an issue. Allow a little extra time (and fuel) for getting the cooker ready. After the startup, keep the temperature up and the lid closed. Letting in a batch of subzero air will wreak havoc on your temp, and of course your time. Last but certainly not least, use a heated platter to transfer the food to the house. You can set the platter on top of a warm oven, or just run it under hot water for a few minutes and then dry it off. Try to cover the food with a lid or aluminum foil as quickly as possible, too.
If you keep all these things in mind, cooking barbecue all year shouldn't be any problem at all. There are even some advantages to cooking during the winter. When the temperature is just right you can leave your beer outside or just use snow in your cooler. Think of all the money you'll save on ice! You'll probably see less of your freeloading neighbors, too. Odds are they won't be outside to smell the great food, so they won't be able to troll for an invite. Fewer people for a barbecue dinner means you have to cook less food, and that equals spending less money Barbecuing in the winter could actually get you to an earlier retirement. So there you have it: no reason not to barbecue during the winter no matter where you are. Your friends and family will be glad you did.
Winter Solstice and Saturnalia:
A "Pagan" Celebration
The winter solstice, usually December 22, is the shortest day of the year. It was called "Yule" in the days before Christianity, and that word came from the Anglo-Saxon "yula" or "wheel" of the year. The ancient "pagan" ritual called for the Yule log to be fired up on the eve of the solstice and burned for twelve hours. These days, charcoal, wood, or even propane will be our Yule log. Actually, the ancient Romans were celebrating the rebirth of the sun and a renewal of growth. It is just downright weird that this "new growth" is the official start of winter and longer days. Go figure.
At the time of the winter solstice, the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, which were feast days devoted to Saturn (god of agriculture), Ops (goddess of plenty, aka Mother Earth), Consus (god of harvested grain), and Janus (god of beginnings and gates, from whom we got January). And what, pray tell, occurred during Saturnalia? Well, it was a factio--a party, of course. And since the Romans cooked their food over wood, what could be more appropriate than a barbecue to celebrate the winter solstice? See how this works? I bet most of you never celebrated the winter solstice before. Now you have a new excuse to barbecue.
Stuffed White Mushrooms
Craisined Pork Roast on a Plank
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Whiskey Peaches over Ice Cream
Stuffed White Mushrooms
3 slices bacon 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeds and stem removed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced sun-dried tomatoes, packed tightly (the dry ones)
1 clove garlic, crushed 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth ¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 1 pound whole white mushrooms, stems removed
Nowadays we have many exotic mushrooms readily available, so the regular old white mushrooms seem kind of boring to me. I figure they need a pretty intense stuffing. I like to use dried products when I feel that way, like dried apricots or sun-dried tomatoes, because they are so flavor packed. So this recipe started with white mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and just got built from there. When you buy sun-dried tomatoes, there are typically two kinds available. One will be in a jar in oil, and the other will be dry and packed in plastic like dried fruits. The second is usually my preference; you'll probably find them near the produce department. I also use the regular white mushrooms. The store may also have fancy stuffing mushrooms, which are all the same size and pretty. These are a little more expensive and they are fine. I kind of like the different sizes, though. Some guests may want a small one and some may want a larger one.
I find this to be a perfect recipe to use a separate grate-type thing that sits on top of the regular grate. These are usually sold as fish grills and come in different shapes and sizes. Some are disposable and some are heavy and coated with little holes all over. Any of them will work fine. What they do is allow you to place all the mushrooms on the grill quickly, and then when they are done you just remove the whole thing, mushrooms and all, just as quickly.
* Yield: 6 to 8 servings
In a medium nonstick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon, drain, crumble, and reserve it. Add the olive oil to the bacon grease. Add the onion and saute for about 2 minutes.
Add the poblano, the sun-dried tomatoes, and the garlic and cook another 2 minutes or until everything is soft. Add the bacon and the broth and cook another 2 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and the Parmesan and remove the pan from the heat. Stir everything well. Check for salt and pepper and add as needed.
Let the stuffing mixture cool for about 10 minutes.
Prepare the grill for direct grilling at a medium-hot temperature.
With a spoon, stuff each mushroom very full. The stuffing should be mounded on top so the mushrooms look like they are wearing bad little toupees.
They now need to be grilled. If you're using a fish grill, set them all in position and put the whole thing on. If you're not, then place each one directly on the cooking grate. They will need to cook about 10 minutes over medium-high heat. Look for the filling to bubble, and they are done. The mushroom may get a little crunchy on the bottom, but that's okay. If you have one of those heavy fish grills, they may take a little longer.
Craisined Pork Roast on a Plank
1 boneless pork loin roast, 3 to 4 pounds, cut in a jelly-roll fashion 5 slices bacon ¼ cup finely chopped onion 1 cup Craisins (sweetened dried cranberries) 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 2 tablespoons butter 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage 1 teaspoon lemon zest 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Dr. BBQ's Pork Seasoning (see here) Butcher string, or any cotton string 1 maple cooking plank, soaked in water for at least 1 hour (cedar will work)
Cooking on a plank is a great idea during the winter. It's a very forgiving way to cook indirectly Just don't overcook the pork loin roast. * Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Cutting the pork roast is best done by a butcher, but if you've got a sharp knife and are a little adventurous you can do it. Just start on the bottom so you can hide the seam later. Take your time, cut all the way across the roast a little at a time, and unroll the roast as you go.
In a large skillet cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove the bacon, drain, crumble, and reserve it. Add the onion to the bacon fat. Cook for a minute or two, stirring occasionally, and then add the Craisins and the walnuts. Continue cooking until the onions are soft. Add the butter, salt, pepper, and sage. Cook just until the butter is melted, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and the crumbled bacon. Mix well. Add as much of the breadcrumbs as you need to soak up all the juices. Stir well. Transfer to a bowl and cool at room temp for at least 30 minutes.
Prepare the grill for direct grilling at a medium-high temperature.
Unroll the prepared pork roast. Sprinkle the inside liberally with Dr. BBQ's Pork Seasoning. Spread the stuffing evenly over most of the flat roast, just leaving a 1-inch border all around without stuffing. Roll the roast back up, trying to shape to a uniform thickness. Cut individual lengths of string and tie the roast every couple of inches. Do the 2 ends first to hold the stuffing in. Try to keeps the knots in a line for a nice presentation. Trim the loose ends of the string as close as you can with scissors. Season the outside of the roast liberally with Dr. BBQ's Pork Seasoning. Take the plank out of the water and put the roast directly on it. Put the plank and the roast directly on the grill.
The plank should get hot and even smoke as the heat dries it. Cook until the pork reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. This should take 11/2 to 2 hours. Remove the whole plank to a baking sheet. Tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Carve and serve right from the plank.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
2 large acorn squashes 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped 8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced 3 cloves garlic, crushed One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth 1 tablespoon dried basil 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper ¼ cup seasoned breadcrumbs ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
I was lucky enough to be drawn as a participant in the "I Know Jack" grilling contest last year, a fun part of the Jack Daniel's World Championship Barbecue cookoff. Each contestant is given a new Fiesta Gas Grill and a bag of ingredients. You get a half hour to come up with a plan and you can use a couple of your own ingredients. One of the things in the bag was an acorn squash. So I quickly made a stuffing and put the whole thing on the grill and it came out beautifully This is not exactly the recipe I made that day. It is, however, the recipe I would have made if I'd had the proper ingredients and a little more time. * Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Preheat the oven or prepare the grill for indirect grilling at 350°F. With a sharp knife, cut the tops off the squashes. Save the tops. With a spoon, clean out the cavity well. Cut the point off the bottom of the squashes so they will stand up straight. Lightly salt the inside of the squashes and set aside.
In a large skillet on medium heat, pour the olive oil. Let it heat for a minute or so and then add the onion and green pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally Add the mushrooms and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms get soft. Add the tomatoes, broth, basil, salt, and pepper and continue cooking until everything is hot and coming together. Remove from the heat and add the breadcrumbs and cheese. Blend well, adding additional broth if it looks too dry.
Stuff each squash with half the ingredients. Brush the top rim of the squash with olive oil.
Put the squashes in a pan and cook for about 1 hour, or until the flesh is soft when checked with a toothpick. I like to serve these whole with a big sturdy spoon, and suggest that the guests get some squash from the side along with their stuffing.
Whiskey Peaches over Ice Cream
1/2 stick butter
One 29-ounce can sliced peaches, drained ¼ cup brown sugar 1 ounce Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey 4 bowls of chocolate or vanilla ice cream
* Yield: 4 servings
In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the peaches and cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally Add the brown sugar and continue cooking and stirring until the sauce evaporates to a point where you have more peaches than sauce. Remove from the heat and add the whiskey. Stir well. Spoon over the 4 bowls of ice cream.
DR. BBQ'S "BARBECUE ALL YEAR LONG!" COOKBOOK. Copyright © 2006 by Ray Lampe. Foreword copyright © 2006 by Dave DeWitt. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y 10010.