Here, take our barbecue basics refresher course with two experts and embrace old-school methods, recipes and slow-cooked flavors.
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.'”
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.
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.
Clive has logged 1,000 grilling hours with Weber, and he’s learned a few things along the way:
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
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.
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).