Tasty barbecue can be a chip off the good ole' cherry branch

April 01, 2001|By Rob Kasper

Woodsman, save those branches! That is what I found myself saying recently as I watched a fellow trim the trees in our back yard.

I wasn't worried about branches that were still attached to the trees. Rather I was looking at the sawed-off limbs that were sitting on the ground, waiting to be tossed in the tree trimmer's truck. I wanted some of them for my backyard barbecue work.

The branches I had my eyes on were from a cherry tree. Like most fruit woods, cherry can impart wonderful flavors to food prepared in a kettle cooker. You simply soak bits of the wood in water for a few hours, toss them on charcoal fire and let the smoke go to work on whatever you have plopped on the grill. Cherry wood adds a smoky sweetness to red meats.

While bags of apple wood chips can usually be found in outdoor- cooking stores, sitting next to ever-present bags of hickory and mesquite, cherry wood is hard to come by. So the other morning when I saw branches from our backyard cherry tree on the ground, I set down my coffee cup and shuffled out to the back yard and grabbed some of the smaller sawed-off limbs. The tree trimmer didn't mind. Any limb I claimed was one less that he would have to haul away.

Later, I used them when I grilled hamburgers. As soon as the coals turned ashen, I tossed two handfuls of cherry chips on them. I was using the indirect method of cooking, with coals pushed to the sides of the kettle. As soon as the chips were on the coals and the burgers were on the grill, I put the lid on the kettle cooker, making sure that the vent holes at the bottom of the cooker and the top of the lid were open. Soon I could smell the union of grilled meat and cherry wood. The results were juicy hamburgers, blessed with the mild, but distinct, flavor of cherry wood. My family polished them off.

A few nights later I tried the cherry wood treatment on grilled salmon and asparagus. It was more complicated to prepare, but the result was so delectable, it made me wish I had grabbed a few more fallen cherry branches.

Grilled Salmon and Asparagus

Serves 4


1/3 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon dried dill (or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill)

1 teaspoon salt

1 / 4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 pound asparagus spears


2 pounds salmon fillets

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

4 tablespoons fresh chopped fresh dill

1 lemon sliced thinly

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon dried dill, salt and pepper. Cut off tough ends of asparagus and arrange them in a shallow glass dish. Pour mixture over asparagus and set aside for 30-60 minutes, turning at halfway point.

Prepare a fire for indirect cooking in a covered grill, but hold off putting in grill rack.

Prepare the salmon by rubbing with olive oil, sprinkling liberally with salt, pepper and the chopped dill. Toss handful of cherry wood chips on coals. Place grill rack in cooker and place salmon in middle of grill rack so no coals are directly underneath the fish.

Remove asparagus from marinade and place it around fish, being careful to avoid dropping spears through grill. Cover and cook 10 minutes. Flip fish, cook until the flesh is opaque throughout, or until an instant read thermometer reads 140 F. when inserted in the thickest part of the fish. Transfer fish and asparagus to warm platter and surround fish with lemon slices.

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