How I started smoking and saved the world!

I never could quite work out why all the American films showed signs saying “Barbecue AND Grill”, after all I used to Barbecue on the grill all the time! It has only been over the past few months that I have finally realised why there are two words, and now accept that up until a few weeks ago I had never actually barbecued anything, merely grilled.
So then what is the difference and does it matter? Well, let me tell you a story.....…….

I used to love barbecuing , but then Karina stopped me. I could not see what the problem was, nor could most of my male friends. During good weather we would light the Barbie and then cook, or rather, then “burn” all the food that she had lovingly prepared. Traditionally the male idea of a BBQ was to grill some chicken a bit of steak and some sausage etc. Usually this was done whilst having a few beers in front of the grill. The result (8 times out of ten) was blackened basic food which was raw on the inside and more like charcoal than anything else on the outside. Karina finally rebelled, put her foot down and for the last three years all the "BBQ" food was firstly cooked in the oven and then given to me for the last two minutes to play with over the coals. Real BBQ flavour being imparted by one of our famous sauces.

This state of affairs we have discovered was not unique to us. Nigh on everyone was in the same boat as ourselves. Loved barbecues. Struggled with charcoal, never really mastering the stuff and then tried gas. Gas was easy to control but still the risk of burning was ever present, flare-ups to light up half the neighbourhood were common and the only way you could get flavour into the food was still out of a jar.

Then web sites about BBQ began to spring up and all of a sudden we learnt that there was a whole new world of outdoor cooking just waiting to be discovered. For us it all changed this Christmas when in an effort to find me a new toy my wife spotted the ProBBQ smoker range of Outdoor Cookers and found a web site that actually taught you how to BBQ properly. This is where we discovered the real meaning of OUTDOOR COOKING and REAL BARBECUE.
In essence Barbecue means cooking anything at all “Long and Slow”. This means that things such as steaks and “Burgers” are not really suited for the barbecue (or “Q”) treatment as steaks in particular taste far better when seared directly over a heat source. However, talk about legs or shoulders of Pork, Chickens, Turkeys, Wild Boar, Whole fish (Even Salmon), wrapped breasts of duck, whole suckling Pigs or even haunches of Venison, then a “Q” (Barbecue) is probably one of the best and healthiest ways to cook. Now add some “smoke” to the cooking process and you will enter into the most exotic of cooking places that you have ever visited. The real beauty being that this whole process can be done by the total novice all year round!!

In essence you take whatever piece or pieces of meat you want to cook and start your charcoal off. (Three kilos of good briquettes should enable you to cook for about five hours.) A few weeks ago I cooked two chickens, a half shoulder of pork, a piece of veal stuffed with sausage meat and six Toulouse sausages (Cut open, brushed with Dijon mustard, filled with Agen prunes and then wrapped with bacon), all in the same smoker at the same time! I used three kilos of charcoal and was cooking for eight people. Once the fire was started I took a couple of handfuls of Alder wood chips and threw them on the fire. The smoke rose and permeated all the meats. Four and half hours later my guests were giving me the “Wow” of the week (Including the local chef from our village restaurant!!)

Quite simply the food was delicious and SO simple to do. Because the food on the grills is separated from the charcoal by a pan of water (into which I did place a few herbs), the food is never exposed to direct heat and as such can never burn. Further, the water provides a really moist cooking environment , which means succulent and tender meats. But it did not end there either as my wife then used the left over chicken carcasses to make a terrific soup stock. The smoky flavour giving a real “Zing” to the broth. This we added to some Chinese noodles and with the smoked pork that was left over we had an authentic Chinese smoked pork and noodle dish. Try doing that with your standard “Q”!!

But it does not end there! Having shown the world that I am the worlds best cook, (Only one week previous I was not even allowed to cook toast unaided) I branched out and decided to do a few things that on a normal BBQ just would not have been possible. Our next door neighbour is a very rare beast in France, he is a Vegetarian!. I love a challenge, so what better than to do a “Q” for a veggie! So on to the top level of the machine went a selection of veggies. Courgettes hollowed out and filled with cheese, (wrapped in foil with holes in to the let the smoke in) Aubergines lightly coated with Olive oil, Tomatoes and Celery and a few pieces of sweet corn. Just to keep my hand in I also prepared two long green peppers, which I sliced and filled with goats cheese, added a few chili flakes and then wrapped it all in a chicken breast, which I folded streaky bacon over!

The smoker was set up and this time I used Cherry wood to produce the smoke. Two hours later and we all had a feast. The point here is that having a BBQ should not be limited to the long days of summer nor to simply charring meat over an open fire. The modern smokers allow you to roast and smoke food all year round, and does also work as a standard BBQ Grill, which being portable allows you to even take it to the beach.

My latest venture was Cold Smoking! I used the same machine and smoked three mackerel, a duck breast and a camembert cheese!!. To do this I used just a few lumps of charcoal briquette with the water pan filled up with cold water. The fish was hung from the lid of the “ProQ” and the cheese and duck breast placed on the lower grill. I used apple wood (as it is fairly light) and smoked away merrily for five hours. The temperature inside the machine never got above the ambient air temperature and the smoke just wafted all around, giving the most wonderful smells!!!. The result, I now have perfectly smoked fish, cheese and duck and my Dutch neighbour is convinced I cheated and bought the fish!

As people master 'basic' barbecuing there seems a real interest growing back into 'traditional' barbecuing. What I mean is using charcoal, and playing with fire. Well if we are honest that's what us boys like doing most - we just need the excuse! We are discovering a growing number of two barbecue families. Usually a hooded gas barbecue suitable for those occasions when they come home from work, the weather is pleasant and they fancy cooking and eating outdoors. So instead of being in a hot stuffy kitchen with all the associated smells and mess they take the chops outside and enjoy the occasion. The second barbecue tends to be a charcoal one, quite often a smoker where, time permitting, one can explore and play and this is where we start the real barbecue story.

Next Time ......How I cooked 27 Legs of Lamb for 180 Residents of our village...and lived to tell the tale!!
Copyright with Peter Driscoll

I’ve just had time to read this - great post. We have a weber kettle BBQ and it is the best way to cook chickens and legs of lamb. Your smoked fish sounded delicious. Roll on the summer and a SF BBQ!

I will be posting a BBQ thread on Food forum, I have some lovely photo’s of food I have cooked, I was going to wait until spring, but as Peter has started this, I will work on the thread during the next week, Thank’s Peter…