Grill Talk Barbecue: What better way to the Fourth of July than by cooking food outdoors? Here are some tips about the wood flavorings to use, what marinades to make and recipes to add some fireworks.

July 03, 1996|By Susan Taylor | Susan Taylor,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Holy smokes -- it's time to stoke up the fires and cook outside. Whether you're grilling for four in your back yard or going whole hog for hundreds for the Fourth of July, the right tools and ingredients can make your outdoor cooking sizzle. With some of this stuff, you can even grill on your boat.

We've come a long way from the days of charred hamburgers on a hibachi. Smoked meat, grilled vegetables, even grilled pizzas -- until recently only restaurant fare -- are finding their way onto backyard grills.

Specialty shops carry all the equipment and accessories you'll need for cooking just about anything outdoors -- even a way to light charcoal without lighter fluid. With luck, you'll find a large selection of barbecues and smokers, as well as woods for smoking, spices and sauces for flavoring, accessories and cookbooks.

For those not to the tongs born, there is a difference between grilling, barbecuing and smoking. Matt Wood, manager of the Grill Doctor in Dallas, explains: Grilling is quick cooking over a hot fire. This is how most people cook hot dogs and burgers. Barbecuing and smoking are what you do when you want a smoky flavor. One is faster, one is slower. Both use covers.

To get a smoky flavor in barbecuing, "you add wood to the grill and cook bigger pieces of meat at a low temperature (300 degrees to 350 degrees)," Wood says. Smoking is the process of cooking with smoke from logs burned in another chamber of a specially designed pit (at about 200 degrees).

A whole brisket cooked in a barbecue takes three hours or so, Wood says. Cooked in a smoker, the same meat will take six to 15 hours. Besides imparting a deep smoky flavor, longer cooking makes the meat very tender, he adds. Chicken, meat, even delicate fish, do well barbecued or smoked.

Beyond the basic cookers, you can find an outdoor cooking island with custom features such as rotisseries, griddle plates and smoke boxes, and electric grills for apartments that don't allow charcoal or gas.

Can't imagine spending a day on your boat without grilling? Barbecues and accessories can be mounted to the side of your boat on a long metal arm. The gas grill is fueled by a canister underneath.

Weber kettles range from the most basic to megamodels with features such as steel carts that hold the kettle and function as worktables. Also: gas attachments for starting the charcoal if the smell of lighter fluid grosses you out.

Once you've got the equipment under control, there's a new universe of decisions to make: what to cook. Which wood to use. Whether to baste or sop. Whether to rub. Read on for basics as well as some new twists.

Out of the woods

Hardwood is essential for flavoring grilled foods. There are lots of choices these days, but remember to avoid plywood or scrap wood unless you're sure it's untreated. Use chips or larger chunks for grills, chunks or logs for smokers.

Soak chips and chunks in water -- or juice, beer or wine -- for at least one-half hour. Add them right before your food goes on the grate. For mild smoke flavor with anything that cooks in less than one hour, use a handful of soaked chips. To smoke for a longer time, use soaked chunks. But follow your recipe for the amounts for specific cuts of meat.

Not surprisingly, hickory and mesquite are among the most popular woods. But there are other options:

Alder: Great with fish, alder is the smoke of choice for Pacific Northwest salmon.

Apple: Mild enough for chicken, this slightly sweet wood is also good for ham, turkey or sausage.

Cherry: Slightly fruity and good with poultry or ham, it also works well with dark meat or game.

Hickory: The king of Southern barbecue, its heavy flavor best enhances pork, beef or game, but can be used with poultry.

Jack Daniel's: The barrels used for aging Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey impart the flavor of -- that's right -- whiskey.

Mesquite: Southwest barbecue is synonymous with mesquite, which has a light flavor that best smokes fish, poultry and beef.

Oak: The popular wood provides a heavy smoke flavor that is especially good with beef, lamb or pork.

Pecan: Mellow and rich, this wood goes well with almost everything. Try it for smoking cheese.

The more common woods are available in grocery stores and wherever barbecue ingredients and tools are found. A bag of chips (1 1/4 to 3 1/2 pounds) often costs $3 to $4.

Marinades, rubs and pastes

Marinades, rubs and pastes are used on food before cooking.

Marinades usually combine an acid, an oil and spices and can be used as a baste while food is cooking or later as a sauce. If you do use a marinade as a sauce, boil it for at least one minute to kill any bacteria from the meat.

Rubs are combinations of dried spices rubbed into food before cooking. They add spice and sometimes a flavorful crust to meat. Try blackened rub, Cajun rub and Jamaican jerk rub.

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