Taking your BBQ beyond burgers and hotdogs: Andrew Coppolino

If you're looking to beat the heat by taking your cooking outdoors this weekend, Andrew Coppolino has some suggestions from local chefs on how to get beyond the basics of burgers, hotdogs and sausages.

Try cooking with charcoal either on a grate or directly on the coals

Cooking directly on coals is a technique that can take a bit of trial and error but the key is to create warm and hot zones by piling up coals in strategic areas. Teneile Warren of Nyam Revival Kitchen says she likes to make the sides of her grill hot and the middle cooler. (Andrew Coppolino/CBC)

This summer heat encourages backyard barbecuing, but there's more to the grill than the classic burgers, hotdogs and sausages. There's a smorgasbord of unique foods to barbecue and a different technique — coal roasting — to cook them.

As a general cooking tip for barbecue, whether with charcoal, natural gas or propane, create hotter and cooler zones, just like how you have hotter and cooler temperatures on your stove in your kitchen, according to chef Teneile Warren of Nyam Revival Kitchen.

"I make the sides hot and the middle cooler, so it's easier to manage," says Warren. 

As for different foods to cook, here are a few suggestions for creating a new and delicious barbecue experience. (While coal roasting requires a charcoal barbecue, the dishes below can be prepared with gas barbecues but they will lack that charcoal flavour).

Ingredients might be harder to source at mainstream grocery stores but are generally available at Asian supermarkets and West Indian and Central American food stores.

Navita Singh, Tapestry Hall — Marinated grilled Caribbean blue crabs

Navita Singh has cooked at Loloan's Lobby Bar and Bhima's Warung in Waterloo and was a finalist on the Food Network Canada cooking show "Fire Masters."

"I love anything done with charcoal, and crab is delicious," says Singh.

"Clean the crabs and marinate them in lots of citrus, pimento peppers, culantro, and green onions. Serve them with ripe roasted plantains that have been coated in salt and oil. They go well with a mango and pineapple salad too."

Arnold Yescas, Underground Flavour Group — Banana leaf-wrapped pork with achiote and grapefruit

Yescas says the banana leaf is versatile for marinating and braising but is especially good for coal-roasting. It keeps all the ingredients and moisture together and imparts earthy flavours that captures tradition.

"I'm loyal to my Yucatan-style of barbecue where the meat is usually heavily marinated in achiote and grapefruit, charred on coals and then finished in a banana leaf. There are several ways to do it depending on the meat," he says.

Teneile Warren, Nyam Revival Kitchen — Coal-roasted yam and saltfish

A popular dish in Jamaica, according to chef Teneile Warren, is yellow yam and saltfish cooked directly in the embers. Barbecuing fish like red snapper with callaloo is huge in Jamaican communities, she adds, but it also possible to find barbecued pig tails. 

"We call it roasting," Warren says. "A lot our barbecue is done right in the coals which brings out a lot of flavour. For the yam, it goes directly on the coals, unwrapped. When it's roasted, pull off the charred bark and add butter. We may also cook chayote squash."

"For the saltfish soak it first to remove the excess salt and set it in the coals to get a char. If you cook it separately, blanch it and add onions, garlic, tomato and Scotch bonnet pepper." 

Aicha Smith, Esha Eats Catering — Mussels and clams with a side of "felfla"

Smith, who has built her own fire-pit, says she cooks a lot of salmon but also seafood like mussels and clams over a fire. She says the smokey quality enhances the food.

Mussels in white wine or tomato sauce that gets a fire-roasted flavour are easy to do and take only 10 or 15 minutes to cook in a tin foil pouch. "When they open, they're ready," she says.

Adding that she loves also asparagus and zucchini over coals, it's an Algerian dish from her father's background that Smith says is a delicious side dish or appetizer.

"Fifla (or felfla) is fire-roasted peppers with tomato and garlic. You eat it with bread," according to Smith. "Roasted whole, the skin of the peppers gets charred and then peeled. The flesh is sautéed with a lot of garlic with oil and some salt and pepper. Add some fresh tomatoes and shallot and heat over the fire or barbecue. It's a staple of the table."

Anya Steffler, Jane Bond Café — Juicy, ripe pineapple

Not necessarily for the embers, but grilled pineapple is a favourite for Anya Steffler, especially in black bean fajitas.

Cubed and skewered, it becomes the star of the show with its pop of sweet freshness from caramelized sugars, she says.

"Leftover grilled pineapple can also be used in many ways to kick a vegan meal up a notch."

The contrast of sweet and savoury is key, Steffler adds. Make some home-made BBQ sauce: use some of the fruit and juice of the pineapple, garlic, tomato paste, bourbon or whiskey, brown sugar and spices to your taste.

Let it simmer and then purée. Boom! Grilled pineapple is also an incredible – and vegan – dessert. Cut into thick slices to avoid breakage, place the fruit directly on your grill and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Once the sugar is melted and some grill marks appear, it's ready to be devoured.

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.


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