By Nick Angelucci
Ceramic Grills are not a new idea and in fact have been around since ancient times. The modern versions available today, literally emulate the Japanese design called a “Kamado” which means “cooking range” and uses charcoal as a fuel source. The beauty of using such ceramic cookers is the ability to retain heat and in turn conserve fuel. The other advantage is that they are very durable and quality versions can last a life time.
For our first ceramic BBQ, we decided to try out the USA made Primo Grill – only because we where fascinated with its patented oval shape design. Obviously, not being restricted by a circular grill, an oval grill allows you to lay a large slab of beef brisket or even set it up for two zone cooking. It is also versatile enough to use as a smoker, direct charcoal grill or even as a hot pizza oven – with the added bonus is that it does look sexy!
Ordering your Primo Oval, it arrives on a small wooden crate and encased in cardboard.
Best to get delivery direct to your home as this is quite a heavy unit, but you can unpack and two people can lift it into a station wagon or rear of a four wheel drive if you can’t wait to get your hands on one.
Un-packing is very straight forward. Start by removing the outer shipping carton.
What you will see is the inner protective cardboard sleeve and you will notice and instruction sheet stapled at the top of the grill.
Once you remove the instruction sheet and top cardboard sheet, you will see the top of your new shiny black grill.
Obviously read that sheet stapled at the top as a guide to unpacking. You then remove the outer card and you will see that the grill is sitting on a soft base.
At this stage be careful when opening the lid as its not exactly stable at this point. Open your lid and support the grill in case it may topple. Then carefully remove the contents inside.
Once you take out the parts found inside, you can start to unpack them from their individual packaging. You will also find the handle which needs to be bolted onto the lid when you are finalizing your set up.
Inside the basic Primo Oval, you have grills as well as support grates that hold ceramic deflector plates. There is also an ash tool and a cast iron grate that sits at the base of the grill which can hold a dividing metal plate. Next you need to remove the cardboard that is sitting between the internal ceramic parts.
To make the unit lighter for lifting, remove the internal ceramic parts. Careful not to drop them as they can crack or chip if not careful.
Now that the BBQ is empty, you will find it easier for two strong persons to lift and position be it on the floor, on a bench or in one of the Primo tables that can be ordered with the unit.
At this point, we lifted the external shell into the rear of a Subaru Outback Station Wagon. As you can see – it just fits inside.
Once you get it home, you just need to set it on the included ceramic feet. If you don’t have room for a table or prefer it sitting on the ground then make sure the feet are positioned securely and that the ground is level and stable. You don’t want the grill to move, especially when its hot!
The only finishing touch is to bolt on the handle and check that the screws are tight around the grill as per instructions by the manufacturer. Place all the parts inside which will be a straight forward procedure and get ready for your first cook – no need to burn in or season as there are no nasty chemicals or paints inside from the production process.
The learning process on using charcoal and controlling heat in the Primo Oval is a short one, so play around with it a few times to get to know how to control it.
Our next blog entry will explain how to light and use your new Primo Oval, but also keep an eye on our facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/barbecues to check out what we are cooking and ideas on how to use your new Primo Grill. Pricing and availability contact us at http://www.bbqaroma.com.au
You may have of heard about the Mediterranean Diet right? How it promotes longer life and has been shown to ward off diabetes and well as cancer. Well this approach to eating for good health, stems from the island of Crete in Greece and especially to the style of peasant food that has evolved in that region.
The essence of such a diet also contains grilled meats and this is where charcoal barbecuing becomes part of a successful diet. Even though smaller portions of beef, lamb, pork and chicken are enjoyed, at least a couple of times a week, the fact that these are grilled meats gives reason to why Greeks are known for their own style of BBQ and healthy living.
The most popular style of Greek BBQ that most Australians are familiar with is the Souvlaki or Gyros- basically rotisserie roasted meats which traditionally was cooked over an open charcoal flame, now more commonly seen in fast food takeaways. On the Greek island of Cyprus they have taken this BBQ concept and adapted it into a horizontal style rotisserie with multiple spits and skewers in one cooker. This systems allows you to enjoy a range of cut meats but excludes whole large animal roasting like Lamb or Pork.
Using such a BBQ is relatively easy as you simply use chunks of meat be it either prior marinated or straight on and basted. The three long spits at the top are driven by one motor through a gear system, where the tips of the large spits are put through a square hole on the motor driven end. These longer spits turn high above the charcoal tray and best for larger size cuts of meat which take longer to roast. The portions of meat for the longer spits are on average as big as your fist, but also ideal to mount whole chickens using prongs to hold them in place. You can roast all three long spits at the same time but its recommended to rotate them from the top and bottom levels for even cooking of all the roasting spits.
The eleven short skewers just above the charcoal tray below is the other system of roasting and requires smaller cuts of meats. They are again driven by one motor and the thin square shaped skewers poke through a gear system that turns all at the same time. Being closer to the charcoal and using smaller cuts, the cooking process is much faster on the lower level.
When you buy your BBQ, all the components are flat packed in the box. It seems at first a daunting task but basically the hardest part is attaching the legs.
First thing to do is to screw in the caster wheels which is a great idea to make your BBQ movable on level ground – be it if you see rain coming and need to move to simply storing in the shed for the next weekend of BBQ.
The wing nuts also make it easy to skewer in the legs to the main body of the BBQ and useful wooden handles screw in in the ends which means your hands are well away from hot metal if you needed to move the BBQ during a slow cook.
Final parts like the rotisserie turners simply slot in and easy to remove if you needed to quickly store.
You get 2 motors with this BBQ – One larger 240V motor for the bigger skewer rods and a smaller battery operated motor for the shorter skewers that sit across at the lower level. Both motors slot into a mount that hangs the motor on the gear system. The bigger motor will turn up to 8KG of balanced weight and the smaller D-Cell Battery motor will drive 2-3KG of the smaller skewers.
The Souvla also includes a useful stainless steel grill so in actual fact you can use this BBQ in three ways.
The only recommendation from the importer in Australia is to add some sand in the base of the BBQ to act as a heat buffer when using charcoal. This is to prevent the metal from buckling if you have a fair bit of charcoal inside the tray.
This BBQ is now available at BBQAroma for $500 inc GST. The BBQ body, skewers and grill are all made in Stainless Steel which gives this product more durability and extended use life. More information, please contact BBQAroma Australia.
Many of us would not have hear of Smoked Brisket, let alone tried one living in Australia. It is simply not found here and for those that want to re-create this American-style favorite, we simply can’t find that cut readily available to buy on a whim. So why would you want to make this?
Smoked brisket is best know in the US and has evolved there, thanks to the many BBQ Joints serving it. Its an inexpensive cut from the forequarter of beef which contains mostly working muscles, meaning that the meat i
s going to be mostly tough if not cooked properly. Hence cooking brisket can be inexpensive as well as delicious when cooked in the low and slow method.
The most difficult part here is to find a butcher that is willing to help you. I approached my local butcher down the street – Aldo’s Meats in Leichhardt and checked out his cool room for a forequarter beef which contains the brisket cut.
I was really after a brisket straight off the forequarter with the “deckle” or rib cap attached – an extra smaller muscle on top of the brisket point end. It is not necessary to have the deckle, but for bigger cuts of beef the deckle does provide some extra fat and flavor that will baste the leaner brisket flat during its cook.
In selecting, I asked my butcher to source me a larger forequarter from a Young Beef – most butchers carry Yearling Beef which will give you a smaller brisket. Best to confirm with your butcher if they can order the bigger sized beef to get a decent sized brisket with deckle attached.
It is also import to make sure your smoker can handle the physical size of your brisket. The one I got from the Young Beef forequarter weighed in at 4.5KG or 10lb which I paid at $9-$10/kg from Aldo. It just fits inside my electric Bradly Smoker rack but you will need to do some of your own trimming when you get this large cut home.
I spend a little time removing some of the fat layer but I leave a layer of fat on top to help keep it moist. On the underside I remove the silver skin and trim it so that it sits squarely on my wire smoking rack. For those using the digital Bradley Smoker units or Hark 2 door gas cabinet smokers, you would probably want to be aware that such a large slab will take up most of your rack – In fact any bigger than 5KG+ will possibly trap the smoke under the brisket and prevent proper air flow as well as creating two heat zones during your cook, until the slab starts to shrink.
This is where a proper offset BBQ like the Hark Tri-Fire or a Yoder Offset is best used. More space for more smoke to flow around means bigger cuts and more mouths you can feed.
The process to prepare your brisket before smoking is very simple. Just heavily blanket your brisket with a packet rub but you can make your own or simply do equal parts course salt and cracked pepper. If you want something quick then the Mad Hunky all purpose rub is one to try. Just simply sprinkle evenly on all sides until all you see is rub. Sounds like over kill but that is just one layer of flavor you will experience when eating the finished product.
You can add the rub and then place it back into the fridge overnight to give the rub a chance to infuse into the surface or you can go straight into the smoker. However make sure you let your brisket rest to get close to room temp before placing into the smoker which should take at least an hour or so.
Get the smoker to the temperature before you start – you are aiming for 115 degrees Celsius (240F) and it does not have to be spot on but keep with in this range. Choosing the smoke wood is also important but also a personal preference – I tend to use PECAN which is part of the Hickory family and not so pungent. Some will prefer Hickory and others like the stronger Mesquite for smoke. You could even mix your wood, say Hickory and Apple – its all up to you.
So in goes your brisket with the smoke smoldering and close your door and leave it alone. Your smoke time should go on between 3- 4 hours and then it continues to cook at that same constant temperature.
Its also a very good idea to stick a digital thermometer probe in the thickest part and at an angle to measure the middle of the brisket. Have the cable come through the door (away from the heat source) and monitor the internal temperature to know when your brisket is ready.
The internal temperature you are aiming for is anywhere between 88 to 95 degrees Celcius (190-203F) which is well beyond well done stage but don’t worry, it won’t burn or taste like charcoal. You should expect a long wait before you see your brisket again so be prepared.
This is the long cook method and can be 12 or even 20 hours depending on your cooking temperature. But if you want to speed the process up you can “Crutch” or foil your brisket when its internal temperature reaches 71-75 degrees C. Foiling basically speeds up the tenderizing of your beef which can cut the cooking time down to half.
Once your brisket reaches its internal cooked temperature of 88-95 degrees Celsius, you then take it out of your smoker and it needs to rest. Resting is best done by placing your dark hunk of seasoned meat into some foil to hold in its juices so it can reabsorb as it begins to relax and cool. I like to further wrap it in a couple of tea towels and then a couple of table cloths which I then place in my home oven (turned off of course) or even an esky. You can let it sit in there for up to 3 hours before you unwrap it and serve.
You can begin slicing it after 30mins but best give it some more time. When you start to slice always remember you must cut against the gain. If you go with the grain then it will have a stringy texture so observe the gain on your slab of meat in the beginning. Make a mental note before you put your rub on so that you will get more tender slices of beef when you get to this stage.
Sometimes you may even want to separate the deckle at the top from the flat on the bottom as they have different grain directions. But if you are like me, you wouldn’t care as once you unwrap and place it on the chopping board – you just want to get straight into enjoying your masterpiece!
This is great as a meal on its own, or thrown in between slices of bread. Great cold the next day and you can see that such a large cut will feed the family for some time.
It is very rare to see this type of coal fired stove anywhere in the World, let alone at a farmer’s market in the inner west of Sydney. It is also extremely rare to find an enthusiast with an urge to
roast up a few kilos of chestnuts for complete strangers to try and enjoy!
Yet on the 18th of May 2013, our gentleman friend (whom has fond memories as a boy of this street food from Palermo), decided to do just that – bring in his home-made, coal fired chestnut stove and roast up some white coated chestnuts, which originated from his birth place of Sicily, Italy.
At first glance, the stove resembles a 3 stage rocket without the nose tip or flight fins. The bottom is the first stage and supports a grate inside on which the coal sits on. It also has an opening below the grate to allow not only air to rush in for the combustion process to occur but it is also the area where you light the stubborn coal from, which in this case is using a blow torch.
That’s right, I said coal – actually the correct term is coking coal (coke), which is created by baking mineral coal, which comes from the ground, in an airless furnace (pyrolysed) leaving behind mostly carbon matter in the process. Basically what you get left is a rock like substance which burns and produces little to no smoke as well as leaving little sulfur residue behind once it is ignited and burnt as a fuel.
You just do not find coke fired stoves or heaters anymore. Possibly due to the fact that the fuel itself does leave you with a mess when handling it. The cleaner gas and electricity stoves and heaters have for a long time totally replaced coke burning combustion apparatus.
Today coking coal is predominately used in industry as a fuel for furnaces in metal work and there is no real demand anymore for coking coal in the domestic sense. Surprisingly, the coking coal used on the day had a big advantage over wood based charcoal fuel – the coke just burned much, much longer.
Coincidentally, the popular compressed bead charcoal which is the leading type of charcoal used in the barbecue home market, does have a percentage of brown mineral coal included. Some may even have struggled lighting their bead charcoal and may have also notice a slight odor when lighting. That is due to the fact that the bead charcoal contains compressed pyrolysed sawdust, brown coal, binder and an oxidizer to assist in igniting it all.
However in this case coking coal on its own is somewhat much more difficult to light using standard firelighters or even a chimney starter for that matter. A blow torch together with some bits of wood helped to get the fire eventually started.
The middle section tube is really there to give some distance between the heat generated by the coke at the bottom stage grate and the roasting level at the top which has another grate for the chestnuts to sit on. This top section where all the chestnuts sit on and can be lifted off
separately once the chestnuts are ready.
Am not really sure why they have come up with such a length of tube in the middle part but my guess is it may have to do with creating a funnel effect which also allows heat to concentrate and build up, very much like what happens in an oven. The purpose of which is not to cook the chestnuts faster but to have enough heat built up so that when you throw a hand full of salt in the top, it all becomes vaporized sending a white plume of smoke past the roasting chestnuts.
Once you add salt, it falls down and onto the coal, sending up a light salty smell in its smoke that reminds me of ocean spray on a beach.
Amazingly, the fine salt sticks to the outer shell of the chestnuts leaving them a white coat which adds to a more of a savory flavor to the creamy flesh inside. Hence why they are called white chestnuts.
Once done the top stage is taken off and the roasted chestnuts are placed in a tray for serving. Quite an interesting method and thank you to our friend here whom felt he wanted to share this tradition with us.
For those that have never tried roasted chestnuts these are the tips you should observe when eating them.
1 – watch out as they may be very hot to handle. Great to keep in your pocket on a cold day. Always go for the ones that have been prior cut through the woody shell as they will be the easiest to peel.
2- peal them before eating. Don’t try biting through the shell (I saw a few people on the day just putting them straight in to their mouths!). Surprising how many people have never ever tried a roasted chestnut.
3- make sure you don’t eat any with dark spots of fermented flesh. When you peel, best to smell and look at it first before eating. Unfortunately some chestnuts do go rotten and you can’t really tell until you peal them. They leave a funny taste in your mouth which is not going to kill you or make you sick, its just an unpleasant taste.
4- If they are chewy or a bit hard like chalk then its still not cooked through. You can eat it but it tastes better when the texture inside is a bit more soft and tender.
To do this at home is somewhat difficult but you can enjoy chestnuts by simply roasting them in your oven or on the stove top. You won’t be able to get the white surface coat but having them roasted with no additives is still a great way to enjoy them. Best to get yourself a perforated chestnut pan or tumbler for optimal results if you like to roast chestnuts at home!
Here is a quick look at an interesting device that will convert your existing hooded gas BBQ or similar into an affordable smoker. The Smokai Smoke Generator made by outdoors men for outdoors men.
If you dabbled in basic food smoking using a standard BBQ or always wanted to attempt that ultimate smoky pork rib at home, then this could be a handy tool for you to own.
We managed to get our hands on the Smokai 1 litre version with a retail price of $149.95 inc GST in Australia. It may seem pricey if you compare it to a cheap basic sawdust fish smoker or even the good old smoker box in the corner of the BBQ method, but this kit will give you up to 8 hours of smoke depending on wood used and airflow. That is more than ample to do anything from smoking that large festive turkey right to a hearty chunk of Beef Brisket.
On the rear of the box, there isn’t that much more information to show truly what this device can do, but then what do you expect from a smoke generator but to only to blow out “Natural Wood Fired Pure Smoke” as stated on the front of the box.
The guys at Smokai from New Zealand really wanted to focus on a simple, quality product that would last for years. Yes the packaging is very basic but down the side it explains in 4 steps what you need to do when you get this device.
First step is to “FIT” the Smokai – Most hooded gas BBQs have a rotisserie hole on the side. The business end of the Smokai has a 2cm Dia blow pipe which should fit snugly in the pre-existing rotisserie hole in the BBQ. Else you will need to drill a hole to fit the smoke pipe end through.
The Smokai also comes pre-assembled with a mounting bracket and a couple of bolts. The smoke pipe sticks out by 7cm from the bracket, so mounting the Smokai securely on the side of the BBQ shouldn’t be an issue.
Second step is to “FILL”. You can add small wood chips, smoker pellets or sawdust. Filling the cylinder will give you ample wood fuel to create the needed smoke for your smoke flavoring or preserving process.
Third step is to “LIGHT”. Using a BBQ lighter, matches or a small blow torch, you can start the smoldering process by lighting through the burner holes on each side of the Smokai.
The last step is “SMOKE”. Connect the included air hose from the air pump and turn it on. Air is pushed through the generator and draws the smoldering smoke out and through the exit smoke pipe on the other side.
Of course this all might sound easily said than done, especially when you have never smoked food before but this device does simplify the process for you when it comes to continuous smoke. You are really left alone now to work out recipes, temperature to cook at and the duration of your cook.
Unpacking was straight forward. There are just 2 main parts to take out which is the stainless steel smoke hopper with the air input pipe and the smoke output pipe all in one piece. The second box contains the electric air pump and owners manual.
Its recommended in the owners manual that the smoke generator uses wood chips between 2-10mm in diameter or BBQ wood pellets. What you can’t use is treated, glued or soft woods which contain toxins and poisons, so best to always use purpose made wood products for food smoking if unsure.
Wood pellet brands like BBQr’s Delights have been in Australia for many years and an average bag of pellets would mostly set you back around $10 for a 450gram pack. This brand is 100% pure and natural product and a great way to start if wood chips are hard to find. The the most common wood flavor that everyone is familiar with is Hickory which is very much an all-round wood flavor to go for.
If you are lucky enough to know a butcher that makes their own smoked small goods, then maybe you can get sawdust or wood chip from them as well. Most would use European Beech or Oak but they would be purchasing their sawdust in bulk bags of 15KG each. Some butchers are even using Australian native hardwoods like Iron Bark and Black Wattle so it would be a good idea to pick their brains as well on what types of wood to try with different cuts of meats.
Setting up is very straight forward. The air hose is found inside the cylinder so make sure you take that out before you add the wood inside in case you missed it.
Looking down from the top of the cylinder, you notice that its quite a sturdy unit. It weighs just under 1Kg and made of high grade stainless steel. You can see a stainless steel tube that runs through the centre just above the base of the smoke
generator. There are no moving parts and basically you fill the cylinder to the top with your wood smoking fuel. The 2 holes on each side is where you light the wood through so that the smoldering process can start.
Attaching the air hose to the air intake nozzle is simply done. The air pump supplied has 2 air blower out holes but the air hose comes included with the join to create one hose to connect to the Smokai Generator unit. When the air pump is switched on, air is pushed in the Smokai and through the centre tube which has a void at the bottom which allows the airflow to draw the smoke into the pipe and direct it out of the main cylinder.
As the wood smolders at the base and reduces on the inside of the cylinder, fresh wood above comes in contact with the smoldering wood below and keeps providing fresh clean smoke until all the material is used up.
For those that are attempting to do a cold smoke using the Smokai, then you should note that wood pellets, although they may burn for long periods will also burn much hotter. So its recommend that the air pump be set to low if using pellets for this method, else you are going to get an elevation in
temperature during the cold smoking process.
Setting the air pump at high, you actually would be creating more hot smoke blowing into your smoke chamber, so you need to monitor temperatures if you are attempting to cold smoke. For those that have never cold smoked before it is very important that your food must be cured prior to smoking to prevent bacterial growth that may be harmful. Temperatures above 5 degrees Celsius and below 60 degrees Celsius is the danger zone where bacteria thrive and multiply in and over a long period of time, bacteria can multiply to critical levels that will effect your health.
This is not so much a problem when doing a hot smoke in the BBQ. The higher cooking temperatures inhibit bacterial growth – so its very easy to just throw in a roast, try and maintain a constant temperature at least above 100 degrees Celsius under the hood and then smoke away for half the cooking time needed to have that roast done. Using a meat probe is also a handy device to know when your roast is ready on the inside, so you will figure out very quickly that smoking your dinner low and slow will not just give you tender succulent meat but also a marvelous aroma and taste from the infusion of smoke in the process.
In conclusion the Smokai is a solidly constructed unit designed to fit onto a hooded BBQ which supports a standard rotisserie kit. Of course you can build your own smoker out of a wine barrel, old cupboard or even from a 44 gallon drum. But the beauty is that so many have hooded 4 burner to 6 burner gas BBQs that sit dormant in the back yard, so why convert them into smokers and extend your cooking season.
The set and forget nature of the Smokai makes it a winner – just load up and let it blow smoke and come back when your cook is done. Am looking forward to using one myself so stay tuned for the next review on performance!
Available in Australia through BBQAroma. Purchase online from BBQAroma
There is a growing swell of interest in returning to charcoal grilling at home these days. It is even more common that many are now looking at buying their very first charcoal BBQ after many years of cooking on a gas BBQ. What is the appeal? Simply the taste and smell from a charcoal BBQ is far more desirable than what you can be achieved on a gas BBQ.
Those that come to see us for advice before buying, have many questions from how to light charcoal to what they can cook on the BBQ. Many are surprised to find out that it is not at all complicated and actually enjoy the simplicity of grilling in this manner. However from time to time, we do get approached by people who feel a need to tell us what is wrong about charcoal barbecuing.
Listed here is the top 5 comments made by a handful of people whom literally are walking up to us and offering their unique option. Hopefully we can explain in layman terms what is fact and what is fiction, because we have all heard similar comments and have wondered how much of it is true or not.
Our top 5 comments from the misinformed and how we would answer them if given the opportunity.
Starting from number 5 – A stranger approached us whilst we where grilling lamb skewers at a local farmers market. He felt he had to warn us about the dangers of the smoke coming from the grill and made sure others around heard his comment before walking away.
#5 Comment made = “You should not use charcoal fuel as inhaling all that smoke from it is like smoking a packet of cigarettes!”
The Facts = In the grill we where using natural wood otherwise known as lump charcoal. This charcoal looks like black tree branches but it is basically the remaining carbon with all the cellulose, water and any impurities burnt out of it. The chemical reaction occurring during the burning process of this charcoal is Carbon + Oxygen = Carbon Dioxide. Hence no smoke from burning the lump charcoal itself because it burns clean and with a dry heat.
The actual smoke from the BBQ was coming from the dripping off the fats and juices from the meat, hitting the hot ash and coals below it. In essence, any oils and condensed flavours falling into the hot ash and embers, would instantly be spat back up in fine droplets in the smoke. This is part of the process that gives the food its more intense flavour which we all identify as BBQ.
Comparing the flavouring smoke that rises to that of cigarette smoke, is a very far-fetched suggestion to make by this strange observer. Although inhaling any smoke can not be good for you, the smoke from a charcoal BBQ would be far less intense than cigarette smoke. There is nowhere near the concentration of smoke reaching into your lungs when barbecuing compared to inhaling actual cigarette smoke during the act of smoking. Unless you are burning your food and you decide to stay in the thick of the smoke, there really isn’t that much smoke rising to cause alarm. Remember, lump charcoal gives no smoke so it all depends on how fatty or lean your food is during the grilling process.
More importantly, tobacco in cigarettes is laced with many other unnatural chemicals to help with its flavour, smell and how it burns. That is why people who smoke have higher instances of health issues. So smoke rising from a charcoal BBQ is by no means close to smoking a packet of cigarettes – the comment made is a generalisation that all smoke is the same.
This comment came from a woman who was concerned that we where handling dangerous material in a public place. There was a look of horror, as if we carried around asbestos in a bag! She wondered why we didn’t have protective clothing to handle the charcoal that we used and sold.
#4 Comment made = “Aren’t you afraid of getting cancer from touching and breathing in BBQ charcoal dust?”
The Facts = Natural wood charcoal is Carbon with all its moisture and plant material burnt out of it. In this burnt form it can be used to make gunpowder, drawing pencils, water purifiers and even charcoal pills for upset stomachs or poisonings.
Touching charcoal is by no means dangerous and in fact charcoal dust is excellent for the garden as a soil conditioner or fertiliser. The person making this comment has simply mixed up their suspicion of burnt food on the BBQ and cancer causing carcinogens that we all hear about.
It is widely reported that if you burn the proteins on your food, then you increase the levels of carcinogens into your body which increases the risk of cancer. Note that burning the proteins in meat occurs at high heat and can happen on any type of BBQ as well as on your kitchen skillet. Best advise is not to over cook your food and try not to cook at very high heat that will cause your food to char.
In the case of charcoal, it is best to grill slowly to allow the meat to brown as well as cook through. The browning process (Maillard Reaction) is easier to achieve over charcoal because of the dry heat given and the wire grill that is used. Gas BBQ on the other hand tend to also give off water molecules when gas is being burnt, so it is harder to have your meat brown if cooking over a blue gas flame alone. In fact, it is the metal grill and radiating heat that best cooks your food on a gas BBQ. So the browning process on a gas BBQ mostly occurs where there is direct contact with the food and hot metal.
There is also reports that suggest that smoked foods also contribute other cancer-causing substances to your food. Although there are many conflicting reports suggesting this, the studies are inconclusive. There is also suggestion from some in the medical community that we should take this advice with a grain of salt as our understanding of cancer, its causes and links to diet is still rudimentary. You know how it is – one minute fats in food is bad for you, then they say you need fat in your diet to maintain good health. Remember there are still many cultures using the smoke process to preserve their food. If there was a direct ling to cancer from smoked foods, then they would have stopped using smokers a very long time ago. Best advice is really to consume in moderation.
The only concern you should have is breathing in heaps of charcoal dust which usually accumulates at the bottom of your charcoal bag. It is not enough to cause ill-health in small doses, but you have to remember that any fine particle dust inhaled into your lungs can irritate and cause respiratory problems. In saying that, we are possibly getting more fine dust partials from sitting in traffic on a daily basis than from using charcoal in the back yard on the weekends. Again, this is not a big worry unless you work in a coal mine atmosphere.
There are many who assume that charcoal comes from rainforest trees which are cut down just for the purpose of firewood. It is possible that we have mixed the image of a log cabin with a stock pile of logs and images of Amazonian rainforests being logged and cleared for land. The reality is that we have no idea where our wood is coming from and assume every tree on this globe can be used for BBQ fuel.
Interestingly this manifested by a comment made by one person, who said to us that they don’t buy natural wood charcoal because of the deforestation occurring in the Amazon. It seems some people think that our imported charcoal is coming from across the otherside of the World which is far from the truth.
#3 Comment made = “You should not burn charcoal because it comes from the Amazon rain forest.”
The Facts = The reality is not every tree is suitable for charcoal BBQ fuel. Some trees are toxic when burnt and some hardly burn that well at all. Unfortunately in most metropolitan centres in Australia, there is limited availability of natural lump charcoal for BBQ enthusiasts.
The most popular choice is the compressed bead or briquette charcoal which comprises of wood sawdust charcoal combined with mineral coal dust. The mineral coal in the bead gives its longevity whilst burning and is safe to burn, but the residue left behind contains small amount of toxic material which should be bagged and disposed in the rubbish bin when you clean out your BBQ ash draw. Interestingly, both sawdust and mineral coal dust are the waste products from the timber and mining industries, so no trees get chopped down to be made directly into charcoal unless they are purposely grown in plantations.
The next best option is the imported lump charcoal which mostly comes from Indonesia, our closest neighbour here in Australia. What many don’t know is that there is an agreement in place between our two governments to monitor and protect native rain forests inside Indonesia, whilst sustaining and growing a timber industry in that country. So it is very likely that the imported charcoal is coming from plantation wood and not from the rainforests of Indonesia.
Some have expressed that it is hard to believe the origin of the timber we import, so really the only option left is to ask for Australian made natural lump charcoal. It is a little harder to find, but as the popularity of charcoal grilling grows so will the availability of more local fuels appear in our retail outlets.
If you do buy Australian lump natural charcoal, you know also that the timber comes from dead fallen trees – nothing is chopped down to make charcoal lump fuel in Australia. In fact our bush reserves and national parks have strict restrictions in place to what can be taken and used. What is interesting is that we have a many fallen trees from our past droughts and there is an abundant supply of dead timber which can be converted into lump charcoal for domestic use.
Unfortunately most of that dead wood in remote areas will rot and give off the same amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it would when burnt in its charcoal form. But what many have not realised is that dead wood also attracts termites and these little critters give off methane gas in the process of consuming timber. Methane gas is also found in natural gas which we use in our kitchens to cook on and heating our homes with. The problem with methane gas is that it is a higher contributor to our global warming issues because it traps more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. It is something we want less to be released into our atmosphere but is naturally occurring from wetlands and swamps to animal burps!
Taking this global warming debate one step further, there is a further argument that in our reduction and prevention of bush fires in this country, we have ourselves contributed to global warming. How? Well when you burn wood you end up with charcoal which technically is trapped carbon, the same stuff that we want to minimise getting out of our atmosphere. If we allow our native bushland to burn, sure there is smoke pollution and destruction of habitat in the process, but want is left behind is trapped carbon that end up in the soil. Trapping carbon this way reduces carbon emissions and is mostly referred to as Biochar which is used in farming and gardening.
LIQUID SMOKE ON A GAS BBQ
Gas barbecues dominate the outdoor BBQ market and there is no doubt about it. Many prefer the ease and speed of starting a gas BBQ, but there are some who believe there is no real flavour difference between gas and a charcoal BBQ. The trick to getting a gas BBQ to taste like a charcoal BBQ is to use flavouring known as “liquid smoke”. It can be added to the marinade or even sprayed on the food during grilling.
#2 Comment made = “You get the same flavour on a gas BBQ using liquid smoke so why bother.”
The Facts = We can debate this but let’s be honest on this one. Using a charcoal BBQ requires less knowledge about recipes, ingredients or additives and more understanding about the roasting process and timing. Those that cook over charcoal look for quality meats and simple ingredients and allow the charcoal itself to add natural flavour to the food.
A good way to understand this is using the example of toast. We all know that if your bread goes golden brown on the surface then the flavour is there and delightful – that browning process is called the Maillard reaction. Same goes with cooking with meat; you want to achieve the optimal flavour by allowing the meat to brown all over for the best results.
In the case of a gas BBQ, the meat will not taste the same as when it is cooked over charcoal. You still get the browning where the meat touches the grill but the smoky flavour will be slightly missing. So adding liquid smoke into the marinade before hand or spraying liquid smoke onto the food will give you a flavour similar to charcoal, but the trick is to know much to add without overdoing it.
In reality, most gas BBQ enthusiasts don’t really use liquid smoke but instead resort to smoking pellets which gives food a distinctive smoky wood flavour to enhance the flavour of the food. You can do the same over charcoal as well using pellets or wood chips. However back to the point here – it is hard to replicate the smell and flavour that you easily get on a charcoal BBQ on a gas BBQ and many will agree.
CHARCOAL AND GAS TOGETHER?
One of the best “DUH” moments we had was with a middle-aged fellow impressing his much younger girlfriend. To cut a long story short, after haggling the price down on a charcoal BBQ he asked the bizarre question to where to connect the gas bottle. Sadly for us, when we told him it is all charcoal no gas, he made for a quick exit with girlfriend in tow.
#1 Comment made – “Where does the gas bottle go in your charcoal BBQ?”
The Facts = It is rare to find a duel function BBQ that has gas and charcoal features and it is not recommended to mix the two in a BBQ that is design for only gas or charcoal. Some manufacturers have conversion kits but mostly avoid mixing gas and charcoal into one design. The answer to this one is short and sweet- our charcoal BBQs are that – made for charcoal.
THE REAL WARNING THAT NOBODY ASKS!
There is a more sinister side to barbecuing and that is the danger of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poising.
Carbon Monoxide is invisible, tasteless and odourless and is present when burning occurs with the lack of oxygen. Burning charcoal in non-ventilated area can become dangerous and lethal. As the fuel consumes all the oxygen say in a room, it stops releasing CO2 gas and starts to release CO gas. Soon the person in the room becomes confused, dizzy and loose consciousness. Eventually as the toxicity rises in the body it can lead to death.
You get CO gas also occurring in gas heaters, gas BBQ and fossil fuel powered engines. To better understand how CO is created, consider the blue flame from the gas BBQ burners. If they burn efficiently with the air you will see the blue flame but place a metal plate directly on top of the flame which restricts airflow to the point that you almost smother the flame, then CO starts being produced. If CO gas is allowed to accumulate in an enclosed area then it can be fatal for any living thing. Best to make sure the area you work in is well ventilated.
I’m New at This!
The majority of people that come to see me at our little shop in Leichhardt in Sydney, will admit that they have never started a charcoal fire before and ask the question where to begin. You may think how hard can it be right, but the reality is that many of us get it wrong on our first go. Only through trial and error do you find the little tricks and smart ways to start a charcoal fire, but many of us prefer the quick start “lets hurry” rather than giving it time for the fire to be ready. I hope I can explain here that its not that hard and worth the reward in the end if you plan ahead.
What Do I Need?
Well you need some good dry charcoal and some fire starters – I’ll talk about the basic and simplest way to starting a charcoal fire as not to confuse the newbies that are reading this. Good charcoal must be in decent pieces no bigger than the palm of your hand and be free of any chemical or organic smell. For beginners, the easiest charcoal to use would be the ones that look branch like. You can find in Australia, Indonesian Mangrove tree charcoal available that is easy to light and leaves very little residue or “pot ash” in the end. For the purpose of demonstration here, the images shown is me using Australian Redgum charcoal and due to the size of pieces, can be a little hard to start.
What is a Fire Starter?
These days you can buy fire starters at your local supermarket in packs of 32 or 36 cubes in a box and they can be chemical or natural. In a nutshell these are solid fuel cubes that you break apart and can be easily lit by a match. The best way to use these is to break 3 to 4 cubes from the packet and place them in (not on the surface) the charcoal. I would create a space in the charcoal and put in a line of fire starters, then lightly cover them with larger chunks of charcoal but being careful not to completely cover them. What you have to watch out for is not to smother or suffocate the fire starters, so remember to leave some space for the fire to breath once lit.
What Do I do Whilst I’m Waiting?
So your charcoal is in the BBQ and the fire starters have been lit and burning away for the next 10 minutes or so. Time to get your meats ready! This is what I meant when I said plan ahead. My routine, once I have the fire starters going, is to go inside and start rubbing my meats with a mixture of herbs including salt and pepper and placing them into bowls. Then work on cutting up the salad or putting the potatoes in the oven – or just sitting down to have a drink. I give myself 20 minutes before I go back out to check the BBQ. Of course you still have to keep an eye out on the BBQ in that time just in case.
OK the Fire Starters have gone out – What Now?
If you done it right, you should have a patch of charcoal glowing red and forming white ash over their surface. There should be no smoke or smell present and you have a few options – You can accelerate the rest of the charcoal to be ignited by “fanning” either by a piece of cardboard or blowing or leave it to grow at its own rate. At this point most of the charcoal is well alight and I like to add a few more lumps of charcoal on top to catch on, knowing that in the next 20 minutes it would be still as hot. At this point you simply move around the glowing pieces so that heat is easily radiating to all areas of the grill. The hot charcoal will simply ignite the rest.
How Long will it be Hot for?
Most charcoal at this point will burn at its highest for at least 10 minutes depending on how big the clumps are and then slowly decrease in temperature for the next 10 to 15 minutes. That’s plenty of time to cook a 3cm thick steak to well-done. Remember that large charcoal clumps hold more heat and will last longer than smaller ones. Small pieces of charcoal would not burn as hot and will have a tenancy to loose heat quickly. Once you have finished cooking, the charcoal will still be quite hot and depending on how large the pieces are, can continue to burn for a few hours more. You can shovel them into a metal bucket of water to put out, but probably easier to let it burn out in the BBQ and clean it out the next day.
I had this obsession each time I went out shopping for food for the family. It became more obvious when I had bills and credit card debts to pay off as I was conscious of the fact that I had limited funds to spend on the weekly food bill. My mind seemed to click into frugal mode when the pressures of money got to me. Anything that had the words “Special”, “Clearance”, “Economy” or “Price Drop” got my attention immediately and this mostly happened in the meat section at my local supermarket.
Nice cuts of meat like Rib Eye Roast or Pork Shoulder Chops with what seemed to have cheaper prices from the week before, would be swiped up into my shopping basket and taken home for my next BBQ experience. It was more of an excuse to light the charcoal and slap my prize finds on to the grill. However it seemed that in the last few months in this winter of 2011 that everyone was picking up the same bargains and some of the “Economy” cuts where not to my exact liking (When they say “Economy” on the label, it means a cow which is 3.5 years or older!). Suddenly I found myself buying meat at $20 to $30 per kilo and the only cheap meat left was the nasty BBQ sausages at $3.00 a kilo and the supermarket bulk buy bacon rashers… I think I was being duped to pay more for my meat fix!
My Freezer is Empty
It seemed wasteful to own a massive freezer at work only used to store our lamb skewers that we produce for our customers. We had just before Easter completed 14,000 lamb skewers cut by hand, vacuum packed and frozen in that freezer and by the start of July, it became almost empty. It dawned on me that there is this massive freezer which can hold a whole cow in it…. Why not buy meat in bulk and freeze it!
So I went to my local butcher who always tells me the best cuts to buy, provides a more personalised service and I asked him the question. To my surprise, it was not a problem for him who’s family business is called Aldo’s Meats on Parramatta Rd in Leichhardt. Just a bit of organisation and planning but in essence he made it a no brainer for me – “I’ll get you a nice Young Beef half for you” he said. “It will get you many good cuts for the BBQ – you won’t regret it”…. I was sold on the spot by that suggestion. Alleluia – no more supermarket meat that I get last minute on the weekends!
Come Pick Up Day
I get a call from the butcher to come down and have a look at the carcass as it had just arrived. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to see how it gets dissected and learn a bit more of where each cut comes from. So off I went with my camera in hand to take some shots of the process on preparation of the cuts.
To my surprise, I was stunned at the size of this thing. It was at least over 163KG as a whole animal and it was big! I only ordered half side of the animal and it came out in two pieces, the front quarter and the rear quarter. I thought that maybe I ordered just a bit too much for a young family of four. Ahh…. but then I said to myself, just imagine how many steaks I am going to have each week – I am going to eat well for a couple of months!
Breaking it Down
It did not take that much time to cut the main pieces out. I must admit I was at a bit of a loss to what cut was what and impressed at the level of detail the butcher goes into getting the cuts out. I had decided also to pay a bit extra for the labour and time that went into the preparation, as I figured I would not have the time nor equipment to do a better job. I asked him to cut the topside and silver side slabs into thin slices so I can do pan fry schnitzels and steaks; cut all the bones into pot sized chunks for soups and stock; cut the T-Bone and Rump into thicker steaks for the BBQ and take as much meat off the bones to be used as mince. It probably took just one hour to cut the basics out but another three hours to do all the time consuming cuts and mincing that I requested. I am sure he did me some favors and charged me less because there was a lot of work to make it all perfect and of course we buy all our lamb for Arrosticini from him exclusively.
Taking it Home
Like a little school boy I hurried home to begin my part which was to pack and freeze. It was great to have all the cuts separated in bags for me – there was 10KG of minced meat, 8KG of Oso Buco, 7.3KG of beef soup bones, 3.5KG of Brisket, 3.3KG of Topside, 2.3KG of Silver side, 2KG of Chuck Steak and some other cuts… then the real cuts that I have been hanging out for barbecuing over charcoal – 3.5 KG of T-Bone Steak, 3.1KG of Assado (Beef Rib) 3KG of Rump, 2.6KG of BBQ Steak, 2.5KG of Sirloin, 2.3KG of round steak, 1.2KG of Eye Fillet – I was in drool heaven just thinking how they will come out on the BBQ.
The process of vacuum packing was easy and the best way to preserve the quality of the meat for the long term. I used Vac & Seal bag rolls for my vacuum sealer which lets you make any length of bag that you want – especially when you have long strips of Assado or Beef rib to stuff in flat into the bag. I would make my bags up to the length I needed, fill and then weigh each one before I vacuum sealed them. Basically I aimed to make two different sizes containing half and one kilogram of meat plus I would place the meat rather flat in a single layer inside the bag. In that way they defrost quickly in the fridge and you don’t need to rip any steaks apart if frozen on top of each other.
It took me a good two hours to do this part and I ended with at least 50 bags of vacuumed sealed meat and a few plastic bags of soup bones and Oso Buco. Now lets see how long this will last our little family and if I do end up saving money buying in bulk.
It worked out to be just over $7 per kilo for the whole lot which includes the butcher’s labor to make the the cuts that I wanted. Plus another $50 in vacuum bags from a roll which in total was about 20 metres in length that I had used.
I compare that to my weekly shopping at the supermarket in the past where I would buy $30 to $50 of meat which was usually on a Sunday for a BBQ lunch or dinner. For the prices I was paying I really could only eat once or twice a week max in quality cuts. Now I have my little treasure trove of frozen delights at the ready and looking forward for some decent meals with the family. At least three to five times a week we will eat meat and its not going to drain the budget in my eyes which makes me happy.
Want My Butcher’s Number?
ALDO’s SELECT MEATS – 375 Parramatta Rd Leichhardt. NSW 2040.
TEL (02) 95694239.
Extra information on “What can be labeled Beef” at the butcher – http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/consumers/food-labels/labelling-and-the-law/beef/
One of the most common questions asked when purchasing a metal BBQ is the one on rust. Here I have documented the rust issue from my own personal experience with one of the first skewer BBQs that I had used grilling at our local outdoor food market. I hope it can illustrate the mistakes I made and show what to expect if you don’t look after your equipment. Yes – a stainless steel BBQ will last longer but remember that some people want to start with something that is inexpensive – in my case it was a new business that I wanted to grow on a part-time basis and I didn’t have the capital to go full steam ahead on. It was a particular type of BBQ for my new business of grilling skewers or Arrosticini which follows a certain style which has Italian origins. In fact I chose a painted steel, skewer charcoal BBQ which I imported directly from Italy because I had no idea about BBQs to begin with.
Men Own More Than One BBQ in their Lives.
For those “born with the faculty” as they say, we experiment and expand our knowledge of outdoor cooking by trying different foods, preparation rituals and methods of cooking. One BBQ can only do so much – you really need more than one BBQ to cook with and there is no such thing as a Swiss-Army type BBQ that can do all!
My imported job was made for the task at hand and I never regretted my choice. The only problem was that I thought it would out last my business. I spent a fair amount of time researching and figuring how to get the best out of it and there was no substitute for it. To my surprise I found an attachment to that object and discovered that I had difficulty to send it to the tip when it served no further purpose. Sounds familiar to you? Put your hands up if you have a BBQ graveyard collecting down the side of the house or in the shed – the wife wants no more BBQs in your ageing collection… am I right?
This skewer BBQ was solely used at the outdoor markets every weekend – rain, hail or shine. It was totally portable and allowed me to serve between 30 to 50 customers an hour with my signature smokey lamb skewers otherwise known as Arrosticini. So the journey started with a brand new BBQ with a painted black surface. The image I have here shows how smooth and clean it looked as new. The paint used is heat resistant but you soon find out that it wears out very quickly. It is hard to avoid and using a metal shovel to take out all the hot charcoal and ash at the end of the day just helps the wearing out of the surface paint.
Rust Comes Naturally
In the first 2 years of use, the BBQ showed no real signs of deterioration. There was a thin red oxide coat forming on all surfaces where heat was in direct contact with the metal, but it remained sturdy and functional. Only in the charcoal box at the end of the BBQ had some metal distortion from high heat – basically to much charcoal alight at the same time.
Inside the charcoal box area, there is hardly any sign that there is terminal rust eating away at the metal. In fact my photo was taken just recently showing 4 years worth of red oxide which seems very light on the metal surface and still good enough to still use. Maybe the high heat of the charcoal when I mistakenly overloaded it, smoothed out or hardened the metal minimizing the rust formation…. I don’t exactly know but maybe a materials engineer can shed some light on this. I can say with certainty that exposure from heat in the BBQ will also wear out the paint surface . Basically my BBQ is hot for 5 hours every Saturday at the markets, giving it a fairly decent workout in the field.
Where The Salt Ate the Metal.
The BIG MISTAKE!!! It is the way that I cook on this BBQ – I add salt to the skewers whilst they are cooking on the BBQ…… My original thinking was that if I scooped out the hot ash and empty the BBQ before putting it in my trailer that it would be OK…. HOW WRONG WAS I.
Here is the evidence showing that salt is the real enemy….. in the charcoal box at the end of the BBQ, there is minimal rust. Looking under it you can see that the paint has come off as it was in direct contact with the heat of the charcoal. The painted area along side the charcoal box in the photo still has its original paint and has only been scratched during transport. My BBQ was used for 3 years straight – every Saturday. The painted area actually belongs to the ash catch tray which was not exposed to much heat (although too hot to touch when in use) and shows no signs of terminal rust forming.
The real “impact” area on this BBQ is where I finished off the skewers before serving – just at the end near the charcoal box area. My habit was to push charcoal from the box area to the skewer grilling section and flash heat the skewers before serving. At that point I would shake salt on the skewers and remember that salt loves eating metal!
The UGLY Truth – What 7KG of Salt Can Do.
I figured out that during my cooking sessions I would sprinkle around 150-180 grams of salt on this BBQ every Saturday during my 5 hour cooking shift -That’s a lot of salt! Over the year that accumilated to approximately 8KG of salt and because this BBQ was in full service for 3 years, that adds up to 24KG’s of salt abuse in total to the mid section, OUCH….
Now most salt landed on the skewers and this grill in its working life grilled over 70,000 skewers on it plus the fact that the salt used also spread across the ground and everywhere else for that matter. But constantly hitting the BBQ with all that salt each week did leave its mark and legacy. It certainly explains why after 3 years I ended up with a hole in the BBQ. Simply I exposed the BBQ to too much Salt, I never completely cleared the accumulated grease and never protected it from moisture – all elements that creates metal eating RUST.
Try to minimise salt directly landing on the metal. Try to salt off the grill as much as you can.
After use, brush out the grill with a stiff bristle brush and try to have the surface dry and free from salt infused grease from the food.
Try to treat the metal with a food safe lubricant. One product that can be used is INOX which is made in Australia. A healthy application of that will form a protective layer to slow down the oxidisation of the metal and prolong the life of the BBQ.