Meditations

Back to Charcoal, and Flavour.


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If you love grilling and crave flavour, then you might want to consider going back to charcoal. Here’s what happened to me…

At the beginning of the grilling and bbq (yes, there is a difference between these two methods of cooking) season last year the pitiful propane bbq I inherited with my then girlfriend and now wife, was essentially dead. I gave away the tanks and turned my attention to finding a new machine.

Though it’s tough to beat the convenience of a gas bbq for those weeknight steaks, I’d observed that the true aficionados were all using hardwood or charcoal to cook with. I thought I’d go visit the defacto barbeque machine experts here in town, Johnstones, to see what they had to say. I was lead straight to something called The Cobb. They actually had one going loaded with salmon!

Voted one of the best inventions of 2001 by Time Magazine, the Cobb was originally developed as a safe cooking method for the rural poor in Africa. The name comes from the abundance of dry corn cobs used as fuel. So, what is appealing about this little cooker? Well for one, its size and portability meant I could store it inside in the zip up carrying case it comes with. Plus, it only uses between five to ten briquettes at a time, enough to cook an entire chicken yet they only take seconds to ignite and are ready to cook with in about 15 minutes. Oh, and save for the large domed lid, it’s cool to the touch so it can safely sit on just about any surface or move it easily during cooking. To say this device is efficient is an understatement. And the flavour, insane.

Toss a few soaked wood chunks on the charcoal before you start cooking and you’ve got even bigger flavour. I’ve even smoked trout on it (I used wood and rooibos tea for that one!). I tried cooking steaks on it, but found it a bit pointless to fire the thing up and then have to clean it considering the relatively short six to eight minutes of cooking time meant I wasn’t getting the most out of the charcoal. Suppose you could always roast some marshmellows on it after! Here’s some photos of the Cobb in action.

I have a Weber Genesis now that I alternate with depending on my time and what I’m cooking, but chicken and fish on the Cobb is a real treat. I’m also going to start exploring slow cooking beef shortribs, ribs and maybe even brisket on the Cobb in an effort to modify the slow smoking techniques of traditional barbeque. Since the Cobb is essentially an indirect cooking method (there’s a perforated plate that sits between the coals and the food you are cooking) I figure I just have to devise a way of creating and sustaining a low internal temperature. I think I can do this using fewer coals, letting them burn down a bit before I start cooking, and possibly placing some unlit briquettes under the lit ones.

The design is a little like a bundt cake pan, with a moat that surrounds the coals. You can pack more food into this area (baked potato anyone?) or fill it with liquid. The latter might be useful for temperature regulation and increasing the moisture in the process, critical for long cooking to avoid drying out the meat. Worth experiementing – and frankly, I lured my father-in-law out to help me put up our new fence with the promise of being a guinea pig for shortribs prepared this way. I’m sure he’ll hold me to it.

This BC Day long weekend is the Canadian National BBQ Championships in Whistler BC. I’ve been meaning to go for years, so finally I’m going to make the pilgimmage. I’ll be meeting up with some new friends made during the day-long Competition BBQ course I took a few weekends ago (more on this in another post) at Well Seasoned Gourmet Food Store in Langley taught by Brian and Glen of House of Q.

Speaking of which, Brian and Glen make the most wonderful apple butter bbq sauce. So, if you are inspired this weekend, grab some down at Edible BC on Granville Island, Well Seasoned in Langley or visit their site to find other retailers and get grilling, er barbequing.

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