Dateline: August 1, 2005
You can tell it's summertime and the living is easy. All my patients have grillitis this month. That's a disease that makes you crave food cooked over open coals. The waiting room if full of smoky-smelling people, so let's see if we can take care of them.

Chris wants to know about charcoal: Do you have a recommended variety of charcoal or is all the charcoal is the same?

Hi Chris: The brands of charcoal have a lot of differences. Some burn hot and fast, some not as hot and slower burning. I have good results with Kingsford. The charcoal bricks are mostly clay. Some folk swear the bricks are harmful for human consumption, but I don't think they will hurt you. Sometimes you can find natural chunk charcoal which is made from natural wood. This would be the best if you can find it. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Sherry wants to keep the family pit active: My dad made a barbecue pit out of oilfield pipe. He used it many times before he passed away. It has been five years since it has been used. What do I need to do to get this grill ready for use? The cooking grates are rusted, but don't appear to be cracked. Should I replace them?

Hi Sherry: First thing, go through and sweep out all the mud dauber nests, bird nests and rats nests. Build a big fire in the thing and get it real hot. Let if cool off and wire-brush off everything you can. When you get the grates as clean as you can, give them a coat of cooking oil. Fire the pit again and let everything warm up and then just cool natural. That should put it back in great shape. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Mike and family need hot link information: We love eating hot links. We don't make our own. We prepare them by boiling them and then removing the casing since it is so tough. Is this the best method? What is the casing made of and are you suppose to remove it? Can you grill them?

Hi Mike: The casings can be either natural or manmade. The natural ones are the cleaned intestines of various animals. The manmade ones are various synthetics. The best way to cook a sausage is to grill it. Use indirect heat. When the skin wrinkles it is done. You might want to check with a thermometer on those that are not precooked. If the casing is too tough to suit you, remove it. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John

Rick is advancing his cooking technique: I have been mostly grilling, up until today. I have an inexpensive char broil barbecue pit. I would like a quick note regarding what to use to get my fire started -- charcoal or wood or maybe both. And how much of a crime is it to add wood or charcoal to keep my heat to temperature. I have read not to add charcoal unless it is already lit. I have also read not to add wood in the same fashion. I can't seem to keep my temp where I want it otherwise?? Please help and thank you.

Hi Rick: Best way to get fires started is to get a chimney for starting charcoal. You can find them at most places that sell barbecue equipment. You can start wood, too, if it's not too big.

Of course you have to add fire on a long cooking project. Best thing is to get the coals going outside and then add them as needed. You can use long tongs for handling the hot coals. If you are going to be doing a lot of this, go to the welding supply store and get a pair of insulated gloves for working around the hot stuff.

Julia is venturing into unknown territory: I'm one of those ditsy old ladies asking one of those ditsy old questions. I want to cook a thingy of beef on a spit. Now, I've done whole lamb and chickens and even a pig before, but never a thingy of beef. I say "thingy" because that is part of my question. What cut of beef, can it be done on a 2/3-inch pole, marinated in what, brushed with what and finally for how long? Please, please help me. Of course I waited to the last minute to ask. I will be cooking this Saturday.

Hi Julia: I gotta recommend California-style tri-tip roast. Your butcher may know it as bottom sirloin tip or triangle roast. It comes off the bottom of the sirloin. It will be 5 to 10 pounds, depending on what size cow give it up. If one is too small, get two.

Here's the marinade:

Marinade overnight at least.

Roast as you would anything else. I have no clue as to how long it will take, not knowing temperature of your fire, etc. Cook it to an internal temperature of 125F to 135F for pink rare, and 160F if you want it well done. You can use the leftover marinade for baste or make some fresh. Thanks for writing.
Dr. John