Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
Keeping Your Grill Clean
Here we are in the middle of outdoor cooking season. Cooking outdoors is not a chore if everything goes according to plan and you keep a couple of cooling drinks close at hand.
It's been a while since we have talked about grilling. I know you all have read about grilling in the various departments of Texas Cooking, but maybe it's been a while.
The most important thing to insure outdoor grilling success is a clean grill. After every session, you need to clean out the ashes. If the ashes get damp, they form an acid that will erode your expensive grill in nothing flat. A sheet of heavy-duty foil on the coal pan really makes cleanup a lot easier. Make sure all the coals are out, and then you can just wrap up the residue and throw the whole mess in the dumpster.
You need to clean your grate after every use. If it's small enough, you can haul it in and wash it in the sink. If not, you can use the hose and wash it in the yard. A really grimy grate can benefit from a trip to the carwash. Just remember to dry everything and put a light coat of cooking oil on the grate before putting it away for next time.
Charcoal CareYou should also take good care of any charcoal you have on hand. The nature of charcoal is to absorb moisture from the atmosphere. It should be in a sealed container. A plastic bucket with a screw-on lid like swimming pool chemicals come in is dandy; just clean it before you put your charcoal in it.
Of course, all your implements are cleaned and stowed after each use. You don't leave any sharp tools out where the kids can get at them. Your charcoal lighter fluid, if you use it, should be stored out of reach of the kids, along with the lighter or matches.
Always remove the grate from the cooker, if possible, when using starter fluid. The grate will absorb and transfer the off taste to your food if you don't.
We should review a few cooking tips while we are on the page. Always oil your grate before you put the food on it. I really don't like the spray-on things. I prefer oiling the hot grate with a wad of paper towels or an old cloth that can be thrown away. The most important thing to insure outdoor grilling success is a clean grill.
Grill Cooking TipsLet's have a few words on mops, baste, marinades. Usually when you use a marinade, you can use the leftovers for mop while cooking. Here's the kicker, though: don't put on the table any marinade that has come in contact with raw meat. The mop can pick up mean bugs from the raw meat. If you want to use it as table sauce, keep half the batch separate and covered. The other half you mop with.
We remember that any finishing sauce that has high sugar content should be applied only after the food is done and just left on the pit long enough to glaze, usually ten minutes or so. You don't want to char the sugar.
Everyone should have an instant reading meat thermometer by now. It makes life so much easier by taking the guesswork out of checking for doneness. You can find them at kitchen stores and most of the big discount houses have them. Get one with a small probe; you don't want to poke too big of a hole in your steak. Every meat thermometer I've seen has a scale on the side or on the box to tell you what temperature is required for the results you desire. It may not tell you that the food continues to cook for several minutes after it's taken off the heat, so you want to allow a little for this. If you want final temperature of 160F degrees, take it off when the thermometer reads 155F. Always let any grilled meat set a few minutes before slicing it.
Grilled Vegetables and DessertsEveryone should have grilled vegetables on their summer menus. Grilled veggies are just fantastic. Basic vegetable grilling calls for all the same sort of veggies to be the same size so they get done at the same time. Some of the denser things can benefit from parboiling to reduce the cooking time. Potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and the like can be boiled a few minutes in lightly salted water until they are just nearly done, then finish them on the grill. A vegetable grate or skewers will make life much easier for the vegan griller. Remember, metal skewers will get hot and bamboo skewers will burn. Soak the bamboo in water for an hour or so before use. Use a hot pad or gloves to handle the metal skewers.
Seasoning vegetables for the grill is much easier if you give them a light brushing with good olive oil. This will make the seasonings cling. Tradition says you grill corn on the cob in the husk. (That's "shucks" for you Texans). You can remove the husk and apply a light coat of extra virgin olive oil to your ear of corn and grill it until it just starts to char. This is GOOD.
A dessert course of grilled fruit is always welcome. You can grill just about any fruit you can get on the grill. A good deal for any fruit of substance is brushing it with melted apricot jam while it cooks. Most any fruit will also welcome a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Use about two tablespoons cinnamon to a cup of sugar.
No article is complete without a recipe, so I'll share one of my favorite side dishes from the grill.
Grilled Stuffed TomatoesYou will need:
Make a supporting basket from the aluminum wrap so the tomato will sit upright and not collapse when it gets done. Place the caps on top while grilling. The tomatoes will be done when the tops are wrinkled and the stuffing hot all the way through.
If you don't want to mess with the stuffing, just leave the tomatoes intact, brush them with some extra virgin olive oil and give a light sprinkle of dried basil. You can omit the baskets here. Just set the tomatoes on squares of foil so they don't fall through the grill.
Until next month.
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