A friend from the West Coast called the other day and wanted me to send her some of my favorite barbecue recipes. It was easy for me to come up with recipes for grilled chicken and fish. Basically what I do with chicken and most fish is to marinate them in a solution of citrus juice that has been joined with garlic, olive oil and wine.
Coming up with a recipe for barbecuing pork was also easy. I have been barbecuing pork a long time, but did not know until recently that pork cooking was one of the first activities of civilized man.
Archaeologists digging in Turkey uncovered this fact recently when they found 10,000-year-old pig bones in the the ruins of a village. Archaeologists thought they would find leftovers of cereal, or maybe some sheep bones. These diggers in the Taurus Mountains affirmed what backyard barbecuers knew all along. Namely, men and pigs have been spending suppertime together for centuries. Whenever I have pig for dinner, I slather the pig parts -- from ribs to pork loin -- in a longtime favorite sauce, Wicker's, which I have shipped in from Hornersville, Mo.
What was lacking in my barbecue resume was a solid, serve-to-the-in-laws, beef dish. So over the weekend I worked on finding one.
I started off buying a deboned rib roast. I soaked a portion of the roast overnight in a marinade of red wine, celery, garlic, onion and water. I cooked it on my charcoal grill, with the lid on. I used the indirect cooking method, which means that rather than sitting over the fire, the meat sits to the side and sort of eavesdrops on the heat.
This soaked roast was OK. My kids ate it, as did a couple of visiting college guys, a cousin from Princeton University and his buddy from the University of Virginia. The college guys made forays over to the NCAA lacrosse tournament played in College Park to cheer on their school teams. After a day of hollering for their teams and at each other, these guys were ready to eat anything.
I thought the roast was OK. It seemed to me that the marinade overwhelmed the meat, making it taste more like a wine-soaked salad dressing than red meat.
I began to search for another way to barbecue the remaining hunk of roast, a treatment that would let the flavor of the meat come through.
I found it in "Real Barbecue," a 1988 report on American barbecue joints written by Greg Johnson and Vince Staten and published by Harper & Row. The authors cataloged barbecue restaurants in South and West. And in the back of the book they gave a few recipes that they had been able to pry from the proprietors.
This beef recipe was from a string of Texas restaurants called Country Line. It was written in the vague, you-figure-it-out style common among barbecue cooks.
It told me, for example, to rub the boneless rib roast with a seasoning called lemon-pepper. Next it told me to make a basting sauce using melted butter, lime juice and freshly pressed garlic. How much of each ingredient was left to me. I used the juice of a whole lime, two tablespoons of butter and two big cloves of garlic.
Next I prepared the fire. I tossed some hickory chips in a bucket of water. When the chips were so wet that they sank to the bottom of the bucket, they were ready to be tossed on the charcoal.
As the heavenly scent of hickory smoke rolled out of the barbecue, I put the roast on the grill and put the cover on my barbecue cooker. Once again I was using the indirect style of cooking, with the meat to side.
A thermometer in the cooker's lid told me the temperature in the cooker was between 225 and 250 degrees. That is what "Real Barbecue" had recommended. The book also warned against overcooking the meat, and recommended using a meat thermometer to regularly check the internal temperature of the meat.
When it reached 150 degrees, it was suppertime.
So every 15 minutes or so, I pulled the lid off the grill, inhaled the hickory smoke, basted the meat with the garlic, lime and butter solution, and stuck a thermometer in the roast.
After about 60 minutes, it was suppertime. The roast was gorgeous. It had a dark brown, sizzling skin. When I sliced the roast, it was pink in the middle, crisp on the outside. The flavor was a wonderful blend of tender beef, garlic and hickory.
What a dish. I sent the recipe off to my friend. My barbecue resume was complete.