Here, take our barbecue basics refresher course with two experts and embrace old-school methods, recipes and slow-cooked flavors.

Charcoal

What’s old is new when it comes to barbecue, with charcoal making a comeback. We’re seeing new grillers that go from gas to coals and charcoal basket inserts for existing gas grills.

Chef Michael P. Clive runs things at the Weber Grill Academy just north of Toronto—the only one in Canada. He gets enthusiasts cooking with gas and on the company’s classic charcoal kettles—the first one debuted back in 1952. Technique has changed with the times, and Clive starts every lesson the same way. “We make everybody raise their right hand and do a vow when we’re teaching charcoal. It goes like this, ‘I shall never use, when lighting my charcoal, lighter fluid.'”

Tools

Instead of accelerants, which can permeate the taste of your food, use a chimney to safely preheat charcoal, says Clive, emptying it into your kettle when charcoal turns white and ashy. It takes less than 20 minutes. To speed things up, place nontoxic lighter cubes in the bottom of the chimney first.

Fuel

Clive recommends briquettes for prolonged and consistent heat. By comparison, the irregular nature of lump charcoal can cause temperature spikes. And keep it clean. Briquettes are ground-up lump charcoal bound together so look for those with all-natural binders. And avoid “light-fast” kinds as they can contain accelerants.

Tips

Clive has logged 1,000 grilling hours with Weber, and he’s learned a few things along the way:

1. Looking isn’t cooking. Use a timer or thermometer and lift the lid only for flipping and checking doneness.

2. Flip food only once and to a new spot. You’ll get better grill marks on a fresh part of the grate where energy hasn’t already been absorbed by your food.

3. Oil your food, not your grate. It will prevent flare-ups, promote caramelization and help seasoning stick.

Next: Smoke BBQ + Recipe! 

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Smoke BBQ

Smoke spots are popping up on what seems like every corner and folks are loving flavour that can’t be rushed. In his new book, Project Smoke, Steven Raichlen, author of the New York Times bestseller The Barbecue Bible and host of PBS hits Primal Grill and Barbecue University, starts with the “seven steps to smoking nirvana,” from choosing a smoker (Tip: charcoal kettles can double as smokers.) all the way to determining doneness. And, of course, there are recipes with all the courses covered, from starters to cocktails to dessert—and even a classic chicken wing.

Recipe: Red Hot Wings with Pac-Rim Seasonings

“My take on the Buffalo wing involves—you guessed it—wood smoke. Crank your smoker up to 375 F. This is hotter than the usual 225 F low and slow, but the heat helps render the fat and crisp the chicken skin. To further pump up the wings, I call for Pac-Rim flavours, like sesame oil and sriracha, and use fresh jalapeño peppers to heat up the butter sauce. Napkins and cold beer required.”

Yield 24 wings, enough for 4 to 6 when served with other food
Method Hot-smoking
Prep time 15 minutes
Marinating time 15 to 60 minutes
Smoking time 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on smoker temperature)
Fuel Hardwood of your choice (I like alder or cherry)—enough for 50 minutes (or 2 hours, if smoking at a low temperature) of smoking.
Shop As always, buy organic chicken if you can find it. Sometimes (especially around Super Bowl time), you can buy “drumettes,” the meaty first joint of a chicken wing, with the flat and wing tip removed. They make an easy-to-handle alternative to whole wings. Asian (dark) sesame oil is a fragrant oil pressed from roasted sesame seeds. One good brand is Kadoya from Japan.
What else Once you master the process—meat plus spice plus smoke plus butter plus hot sauce—you can “buffalo” anything: shrimp, sweetbreads or even pigs’ ears or tails (the latter a specialty of Animal restaurant in Los Angeles). For Mexican-style hot wings, substitute cumin for the coriander and Cholula hot sauce for the sriracha. The possibilities are endless.

Ingredients

3 lb chicken wings (about 24 pieces)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp coarse salt (sea or kosher)
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
2 tsp ground coriander (optional)
2 tbsp Asian (dark) sesame oil

Vegetable oil, for oiling the rack
6 tbsp (3/4 stick) butter
4 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced crosswise (leave the seeds in)
6 tbsp sriracha (or other favorite hot sauce)
1/4 cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts

1. Place the chicken wings in a large bowl. Sprinkle in ¼ cup of the cilantro, the salt, pepper, and coriander, if using, and stir to mix. Stir in the sesame oil. Cover the bowl and marinate, refrigerated, for 15 to 60 minutes (the longer they marinate, the richer the flavour).

2. Meanwhile, set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 375 F. (If your smoker’s incapable of reaching that temperature, preheat as hot as the smoker will go.) Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer.

3. Oil the smoker rack and arrange the drumettes on it. Smoke the wings until sizzling, brown with smoke and cooked through, 30 to 50 minutes. At lower temperatures (for example, at 250 F), you’ll need 1-1/2 to 2 hours. In some smokers, the pieces closest to the fire will cook faster; if this is the case, rotate the pieces so all cook evenly. To check for doneness, make a tiny cut in the thickest part of a few of the wings. The meat at the bone should be white, with no traces of red. Do not overcook. Arrange the wings on a heatproof platter.

4. Just before serving, melt the butter in a cast-iron skillet on the stove over high heat. Add the jalapeños and cook until they sizzle and start to brown, 3 minutes. Stir in the sriracha and bring to a boil. Pour over the chicken.

5. Sprinkle the chicken with the peanuts and the remaining 1/4 cup cilantro and serve at once with plenty of napkins.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2016 issue with the headline, “Cooking With Fire,” p. 68-70.