The recent bout of warm weather got me so excited I did something impulsive. I cleaned my barbecue. Sorta.
I took the innards out, got a putty knife and scraped off the crust that had formed on the insides of my cooker.
I'm not sure exactly what it was I scraped off. It was dark and crusty. But it smelled pretty good.
There are two schools of thought on whether you should clean your barbecue cooker. One side says yes, the other -- my side -- says no.
The yes folks are not so stupid. They don't try to tell a bunch of guys who like to spit and smoke and scratch that cleanliness is next to godliness. Instead, they say that if you don't clean your cooker, your food will taste funny.
One of the strongest statements in support of clean cooking I have come across came from from Karen Putman, a member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, and one of a handful of knowledgeable folks quoted in the society's new cookbook "The Passion of Barbeque" (Hyperion $9.95). The book, due in bookstores the first of May, came sliding across my desk the other day, and I immediately picked it up and read it.
In the back of the book noted smokers revealed some of their secrets and took stands on serious issues in the field, such as cooker cleanliness.
Here Ms. Putman stated flat out that she takes her smoker to a car wash.
"I clean it out totally," she said. "I can smoke chicken on a clean cooker and a dirty smoker and there's a big difference in taste. Also the color of the meat will be different. A cleaner smoker gives a cleaner taste."
As someone who has always been skeptical of the healing
powers of soap and water, I had some trouble with this spick-and-span approach to barbecue.
I concede that the metal grill, where the food rests, should be clean. But I have always thought that the interiors of cookers, were like the walls of an old restaurant, loaded with atmosphere.
Just as a diner sitting in a vintage restaurant should be overwhelmed with a sense of tradition, so, too, the meat sitting inside a cooker should benefit from the smoke of meals gone by.
L So I called up Ms. Putnam at Eddys' Catering in Kansas City.
She came straight to the point. "That resin that gets on the insides of your smoker can make your food taste nasty," she said.
Not only did Ms. Putnam confirm that she took her big, competition-size, smoker to the car wash, she said she also regularly washes out her backyard kettle smoker. At the car wash the pressure water does the cleaning. At home a hose with a good nozzle does the job, she said.
At one point in her career, she even sandblasted the interior of her cooker. That happened after somebody at Arrowhead Stadium, where she cooks during the Kansas Chiefs home football games, pushed a disposable cup down the cooker's smokestack.
The only way to get the melted plastic flavor out of the smoker was to blast the interior, she said.
I thought about arguing the case against washing. Of saying that somehow washing a cooker takes away its precious "seasoning." Of contending that washing was bad for the barbecue image. Of coming right out and saying that washing was for sissies.
But good judgment stopped me. I never argue with someone fond of blasting away "the enemy" with high-pressure hoses.
Besides Ms. Putman gave me a good recipe for smoked flank steak. It calls for some measure of Coca-Cola, about a quart. It calls for some patience, the flank steak is cooked low and slow, with the meat on one side of the smoker and the fire on the other, for six to eight hours.
And it requires a clean smoker. So as much as it hurts my pride, I guess I have to complete the spring cleaning of my grill. Now that I have scraped the crud off the inside walls, I'll have to hook up the hose, and blast my barbecue.
F: Here's the recipe, from the "The Passion of Barbeque":
Karen Putman's marinated smoked flank steak
3-5 pounds flank steak
1 quart Coca-Cola
2 cups oil
2 cups vinegar
6 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare marinade and marinate meat in refrigerator overnight. Remove steak from marinade and smoke at 200 degrees for six to eight hours basting every 20 to 30 minutes with remaining marinade.