Indirect method lets you grill whole chicken without a lot of fuss Charlyne Varkonyi

COALS ENCOUNTER OF THE BIRD KIND

May 08, 1991|By Charlyne Varkonyi

Ready. On your mark. Get set. Barbecue.

While the horses compete at Pimlico May 18, many of us will be preparing for another Maryland tradition -- the annual celebrate-the-Preakness-at-home barbecue.

But this year forget the hot dogs and hamburgers. It's time to bring your basic barbecuing into the '90s. These days you can grill everything from exotic ethnic dishes to fancy desserts like the kind you get in trendy brick-oven restaurants.

"Barbecuing has become a lot more sophisticated in the past couple of years," says Betty A. Hughes, consumer affairs director for Weber, the grill manufacturer.

"People are venturing out and doing all sorts of wonderful things on their barbecue grills," she says. Those "wonderful things" include everything from smoking whole turkeys to grilling tropical fruit kabobs and baking New Zealand-style shortcake.

Not only are barbecuers expanding their menus, they're also expanding their cooking skills. These days, Ms. Hughes says, the smart barbecuer actually builds the fire to match the kind of food he's cooking.

The old-fashioned direct grilling method with coals spread along the base of the grill is fine for flat foods such as burgers, steaks and chops.

8( But for foods that require more than 25 minutes grilling time or those that normally would be baked or roasted, the best answer is the indirect method. Coals are piled on the sides rather than directly underneath and when the lid of the cooker is closed the grill works like a convection oven. (See sidebar.)

Ms. Hughes says the indirect method is one of her favorite ways to cook because the food doesn't need a lot of attention. Constant turning and manning the fire isn't necessary, making this a perfect answer for care-free entertaining. In fact, if you peek, you pay. Every time you uncover the grill, heat escapes and you add as much as 15 minutes to the cooking time. Foods should cook the minimum time suggested in the recipe before you check for doneness.

"Barbecuing is fun," she says. "It makes your guests feel relaxed and they are more prone to having a good time."

"Plan a few things that can be prepared ahead," Ms. Hughes advises. "An entree doesn't require a lot of work when it's being done by the indirect method.

"Just because it's a casual affair doesn't mean you don't need planning. I plan what I want to serve and go backward. I write down a schedule of cooking and everything I am going to serve. Then you can make sure that it will all get done at the same time and hopefully there will be no surprises."

So, get ready for Preakness with this menu from Weber's recently published guide "Grill Out!" (Meredith Publishing Co., $14.95; to order a copy, call toll-free (800) 446-1071.) and another recently published book, "The Random House Barbecue and Summer Foods Cookbook" (Random House, $19.95).

PREAKNESS PARTY MENU

Chilled avocado soup with shrimp

Green salad

Lemon-rosemary grilled chicken

Seasonal vegetable potpourri

New Zealand-style shortcake

One day before:

* Prepare the soup and refrigerate.

* Prepare dough for dessert and refrigerate.

Three hours before company comes:

* Marinate chicken.

* Cut up ingredients for salad and refrigerate.

* Make salad dressing.

30 minutes before you want to grill (and 2 hours before you want to eat):

* Build the fire. For indirect cooking, you will need 30 briquettes on each side of a 26 3/4 -inch diameter grill, 25 briquettes on each side of a 22 1/2 -inch grill and 16 on each side of a 18 1/2 -inch grill.

* Take chicken out of refrigerator and keep at room temperature for 30 minutes.

1 hour to 1 1/2 hours before you want to eat:

* Put chicken on grill.

* Cut up vegetables.

40 minutes before you want to eat main course:

* Put vegetables on grill.

* Garnish soup and serve to guests.

After meal is cooking for one hour (or 45 minutes for direct):

* Check chicken for doneness.

* Add additional coals. You will need 9 more coals on each side for the large grill, 8 on each side for the medium grill and 5 on each side for the small grill.

When chicken is ready:

* Get pastry ready.

* Put shortcake on grill to cook while you are eating your main course.

Chilled avocado soup with shrimp

Makes 6 servings.

2 ripe avocados, about 1 1/2 pounds

2 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

GARNISH:

1/4 pound cooked, peeled baby shrimp

Parsley sprigs

lemon wedges

Peel, pit and cube the avocados; puree in food processor or blender. Add stock, buttermilk, lemon juice and rind, salt, pepper and garlic; process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To garnish: Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with shrimp and parsley. Serve with lemon. From "The Random House Barbecue and Summer Foods Cookbook."

Lemon-rosemary grilled chicken

Makes 4 servings.

1/3 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 (2 1/2 pound) chicken

2 tablespoons liquid honey

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

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