Friday, June 24, 2011

Barbecue 101

Ah summer! More sunlight, which means more time to be outdoors, which includes grilling. But, for folks like me in a second floor apartment with a balcony and a kitchen with all-electric appliances, barbecue can be daunting. I love watching Food Network shows, because they usually include tips that can be adapted to even my no-backyard lifestyle.
So even in winter or in rainy weather, it is easy to enjoy that great outdoor taste indoors. There are three basic necessities: The rub, the smoke, and the sauce.
Aye, There's The Rub
Whether you want pork, beef or chicken (or seafood or even tofu, although they are a little more delicate), you need the rub, which is a blend of the flavors you want to permeate the course of choice. I recommend making a batch of rub to keep in a tightly sealed glass jar (Mason jars, Ball jars, and so on... the kind used for canning). You will want to experiment for the combination that suits you best but I have hit upon this one as a good starter:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup each of cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and ground black pepper.
Put all this in the jar, close the lid and shake until everything is blended together.
From this basic rub, it is easy to make variations. Spoon out enough of the basic rub for the project at hand. For example, a typical rack of ribs will need about 1/3 of a cup of the rub base. For a little India/Indonesia/Thai/Vietnamese/Burmese/Cambodian edge, add a tablespoon of curry powder (garam masala). For a hint of Chinese, a teaspoon of 5-spice powder. For Caribbean, grate a lime and sprinkle the zest into the base. Other variations include mustard powder, coconut powder, fine-ground almond or peanut.
For preparation, pat the meat or chicken dry with paper towels, then poke holes in it with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the rub over the meat and give it a good massage all over, flip it over and repeat the process. (For fish, just sprinkle the rub over the top.) Wrap the meat tightly in Saran Wrap and let it marinate at least overnight in the fridge.
To get that "falls off the bone" treatment, remove the ribs from the plastic wrap, sprinkle a little more of the rub over the meat, wrap loosely but securely (so the juices don't mess up the bottom of your oven) and place on a flat cooking sheet in an oven preheated to 225F for about two hours.
The Smoke
To make the smoke, you need real wood chips, preferably hickory, oak, or a fruit wood, but honestly, about any kind of tree but pine will do. These chips are available in most supermarkets. Use about two handfuls of the chips on a flat baking pan covered with aluminum foil. Soak the chips in cheap beer overnight. When ready to cook, place the pan of chips on the lowest shelf of your oven (even an electric oven will do), turn on the ventilating fan, set the oven temperature to 400F. Open the foil on the ribs enough to expose the meat, but let the foil help hold in the juice. Bake about 30 minutes.
The Sauce
I usually add my sauce by painting it on in the last 10 minutes of the baking cycle. It is also ok to put it on just before serving.
The sauce ingredients are also a matter of preference but here is a combination that generally works just fine:
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup dry red wine or water
1/4 cup wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (I prefer ground rainbow peppercorns)

And that's it.
For more barbecue hints from the Food Network folks: