Outdoor cooking: The lure of the 'cue
Last Updated: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 | 3:25 PM ET
Politicians and barbecues are a mainstay during campaigns. Here, B.C. premier Gordon Campbell flips some burgers during the 2009 campaign, which saw his government re-elected. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)There's grilling, smoking, pit-cooking and roasting a carcass on a spit over an open fire. But come right down to it, they can all be described with one word — barbecue, no matter what the "purists" from the southern United States say.
The fact is, barbecue's been around pretty much since humans learned that using fire to cook meat makes it easier to eat and — with the right mixture of spices, sauces and marinades — taste a heck of a lot better.
For many Canadians, warmer weather means more time around the backyard grill. You'd be hard-pressed to find something that says summer more than standing around holding a bun, patiently waiting for it to sandwich your burger.
Ronnie Hardman holds ribs fresh from the smoker at Arthur Bryant's BBQ in Kansas City, Mo. Kansas City-style barbecue features a thick and spicy tomato ketchup-based sauce. (Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)While a growing number of Canadians barbecue year-round, Canada Day marks the peak of backyard grilling season, according to a Leger Marketing survey conducted for Weber-Stephen Products Co., a major producer of backyard barbecues.
Father's Day ranks among the most popular barbecue occasions.
The survey also found that steak is the most popular food to hit the grill, followed by chicken pieces, hamburgers and salmon.
Just under 16.7 million barbecues were shipped across North America last year — a drop of about five per cent from the year before and the first decline since 2003, according to figures from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA).
Of the grills shipped last year, 9.6 million used propane or natural gas as a fuel source. Charcoal was the choice for buyers of 6.8 million North American grills while 292,400 opted for electric grills.
Gas or charcoal?
While gas grills have been on the market for more than a quarter of a century, it was only in 1995 that
North Americans bought more gas grills than charcoal grills. By 2002, more than 63 per cent of all barbecues sold in North America were fuelled by propane or natural gas.
According to the HPBA, the proportion of gas grills sold slipped back to 58 per cent in 2008, as more people returned to their charcoal roots.
For some, if a grill doesn't rely on charcoal or wood for fuel, it's not real barbecue. Arguments in favour of charcoal include:
- Charcoal adds a special flavour during slow cooking (indeed, many barbecue champions swear by it).
- These barbecues can be very portable.
- They initially don't cost very much (as little as $29).
- Newer models offer features like special ash containers and even propane igniters.
Proponents of gas counter:
- Gas barbecues heat up faster than charcoal.
- It's easy to add smoke flavour with a smoker accessory.
- There are no messy ashes to empty or used coals to dump.
- Cooking temperatures can be controlled more precisely.
- Over time, the cost of charcoal can be much more than gas.
There are outdoor cooking enthusiasts who embrace both sides of the debate. The Weber survey found that 29 per cent of people asked owned more than one type of barbecue.
A recent study found that charcoal grilling is harder on the environment than propane. The study — published in Environmental Impact Assessment Review — found that the carbon footprint for charcoal grilling is about three times that of propane. The authors found that it's more efficient to make propane than charcoal and propane is a much more efficient cooking fuel as well.
The growing lure of competition
Dennis Monk checks on pork in the cooking pit at Wilbur's Barbecue in Goldsboro, N.C. vinegar-based BBQ sauce for an Eastern North Carolina barbecue features vinegar-based sauces. (Jim R.Bounds/Associated Press)In the southern United States, barbecue is serious stuff. It's almost always about pork. And it's never about propane. Barbecue there involves cooking meat at low temperatures for long periods of time with specialized equipment like a smoker or a barbecue pit.
Styles vary from region to region — especially when it comes to finishing sauces. North Carolina-style barbecue relies on vinegar-based sauces, while Memphis barbecue features tomato and vinegar sauces. In Kentucky, the meat is rubbed with a mixture of spices and smoked over hickory wood. Sauce is served on the side.
In recent years, competitive barbecue has surged in popularity. The Kansas City Barbecue Society claims to be the world's largest society of barbecue enthusiasts, with more than 10,000 members around the world and almost 300 sanctioned events a year.
According to another competitive barbecue sanctioning group — the International Barbecue Cookers A judge marks a score in the chicken category during a BBQ judges certification class in Omaha, Neb. Fueled in part by attention from food media, interest in barbecue competitions has skyrocketed. (Dave Weaver/Associated Press) Association — backyard grills don't cut it when it comes to barbecue. If you want your creation judged at one of their events, it must be cooked in a proper pit.
According to the association, "a barbecue pit may include gas or electricity for starting the combustion of wood or wood products but NOT to complete cooking."
The Canadian National BBQ Championships are held in Whistler, B.C., in early August every year. A team that does well there could qualify for the American Royal World Championships in Kansas City as well as the Jack Daniel's World Championship BBQ event in Lynchburg, Tenn.
You have to abide by the rules of the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association. Among them:
- No gas or electric grills, unless the event co-ordinator says otherwise.
- Garnish [for cooked foods] is optional but is limited to chopped, sliced, shredded or whole leaves of fresh green lettuce and/or common curly parsley, flat leaf parsley or cilantro. No kale, cabbage, endive or red-tipped lettuce.
- And you could be disqualified if you or anyone else on your team drinks too much.
No one's going to disqualify you as you wile away a summer weekend in your backyard cooking space. But there are a few rules you should follow to stay safe.
After a season of grilling, grime and grease can build up on barbecues, posing a danger to users. Consumers should be sure to wash ceramic briquettes in warm soapy water and change pan liners and drop pans in gas grills.
When changing the propane tank, check for leaks by spraying soapy water on the connections and hoses.
If bubbles form when the gas supply is turned on, a part will have to be replaced. If no bubbles form, just wipe the soapy solution from the hoses and grill.
Burners should also be swept clean of cobwebs and debris, which could pose a safety hazard.
And if you're cooking with charcoal, be careful with that starter fluid. Tossing a match onto a pile of charcoal that has been doused with too much fluid could have explosive results.
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