Since the beginning of time, the fire has been the center of family life. From the Cro-Magnon clans to the (post) nuclear family, the hearth (indoors or outdoors) has been the center of food preparation, warmth, and general entertainment. The Patio Culture was no different. The grill was the center of an exciting and fun evening full of friends, games, toys, and fun. Even in the winter or when the weather was bad, steaks were prepared and salads were mixed indoors as the electric stainless steel stove with the pull-out burner shelf became a surrogate fire nourishing both body and spirit.
This piece of equipment is the epicenter of it all!
At our house, the patio barbeque grill went through a sort of evolution. It all began with a simple yet efficient round charcoal grill…
Progress dictated that once that grill had expired, it would be replaced with a semi-hooded rotisserie type. The top of the hood served as a shelf to hold plates, tools, or beer.
Eventually, the space-age caught up with our cooking technology, and a new jet black gas grill was installed. Complete with fake stone briquets, the gas grill provided instant fire…that is until someone dug through the plastic underground gas line and silenced its mighty burners. Some of my last memories of that grill were of a post-nuclear Mad Max looking device, corroded and wired up, but still serving proudly by using conventional charcoal and lighter fluid. The things we do for meat.
Just how long does it take to cook a steak?
Brown on the outside, reddish-pink inside with lots of clear red juice.
Light pink on the inside, with less juice, of a lighter color than that of rare beef.
Brown throughout; the juice is slightly darkened.
|1″||5 min.||6 min.|
|1 1/2″||7-9 min.||10 min.||12 min.|
|2″||16 min.||18 min.||20 min.|
|140 degrees||160 degrees||70 degrees|
Note: These times are approximate and vary with the heat of your fire. Nothing beats keeping an eye on the whole process to ensure perfection!
These family recipes are representative of suburban cuisine:
With just a little time and effort, you can recreate that retro goodness!
Begin with a good cut of meat, in this case, the New York strip. Season with garlic powder and ground black pepper.
Begin the sides. Select several good Russett baking potatoes, wrap them in foil, and bake for about 45 min.-1 hour at 375 degrees.
Start a grilling fire with good quality charcoal or better yet…hardwood. Fruit woods (like this plum wood) are best.
Let the charcoal briquets burn until they turn gray. Let the hardwood burn down into glowing coals.
steaks on the grill
With the meat at room temperature, begin grilling over even coals. Watch for flame-ups. Consult the Steak Cookery chart for the cooking duration.
After desired “doneness” is achieved, remove from grill and let the meat rest for 10 minutes. This lets juices return to the interior of the cut. As shown here, I prefer a high heat sear on the outside, but pink on the inside.
Assemble the remaining sides. Clean and tear fresh romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Remove the heavy stalk part if you wish.
Make one recipe of Caesar Salad dressing. Prepare Homemade Croutons per recipe.
Toss lettuce with dressing until thoroughly coated. Do this right before the meal or it will get soggy.
More sides: wash and slice one package of white mushrooms. Saute in butter and olive oil. Season to taste.
Plate your meal: top salad with croutons and grated parmesan cheese; top baked potato with sour cream, chives, and butter; plate the steak with the mushrooms and enjoy.
Tips for the modern outdoor chef!
Know the right time to start cooking:
- Don’t start cooking until the coals have turned gray. This promotes an even cooking temperature.
- You can control flare-ups with the lid of the grill. Pull the lid down to suppress flare-ups or use a water sprayer when the lid is up. No one likes a charred piece of meat.
Smoking meat. Remember: slower is better! Smoking a large cut of meat is perhaps the most mystic of all grill activities and the easiest to learn:
- Begin with a good bed of coals. Let the charcoal turn gray as mentioned above or start with a good pile of wood coals burned down from a large log. You can later add a log soaked in water to produce lower heat and smoke.
- Keep the meat away from the coals. Direct heat will ruin the meat. If your smoker doesn’t have a firebox, here’s some tips. If using a barrel smoker place the coals at one end and the meat rack on the other.
- If using a Brinkman or other water bowl type smoker, be sure to keep the water bowl filled to ensure that it will be an effective baffle against the heat.
- After the meat has smoked for a couple of hours, loosely wrap the cut in foil to keep in moisture. You don’t want to dry the thing out! You can allow a small opening at the top to let in more smoke if you wish.
- Keep the lid shut! Constantly opening the smoker lid will only prolong the process. Keeping the lid shut will keep the cooking temperature uniform and inside the smoker where it belongs. An occasional peek to mop (baste) the meat is OK but not too much! You can also apply a dry rub to the meat before cooking if you don’t want to baste (that’s the Texas way).
- When it’s all said and done, don’t put a crappy commerical BBQ sauce on your meat. Make your own or if you have to use a commercial bottled sauce use a good one. There are some good bottled sauces out there, I prefer Mr. Stubbs (mild and/or spicy).
- Real smoke is best, but when broiling indoors don’t be afraid to use Liquid Smoke. Nothing is like it for giving meat that retro flavor!
The cook walked off and the burgers are torched! Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to go to
Griff’s Burger Bar!
These hamburgers are probably the only reason why many people today are alive! At a dime a pop, they could feed an entire family with change left over to buy fries and a shake. Griff’s Burger Bar, and other regional chains like it, thrived before the age of the behemoth fast food restaurant corporations that we see today. Griff’s back then was housed in an A-frame type structure with a boxed-in dining room at the front. As a small child, I tried and tried to scale the sides of the A-frame but 2-3 feet was all I could manage before sliding down. The good news is that Griff’s is still around! While not any serious threat to the McDonald’s of the world, Griff’s still puts out burgers and fries that taste like the real deal instead of the product of zealous corporate consistency.
If an occasion warranted a really special fast food treat, we would go to Ozark Fried Chicken. Long gone, this small chain sported green and white striped rooftops on their restaurants which predated the familiar red and white pattern used by Kentucky Fried Chicken. The branding for this place was probably not too successful since it incorporated a logo of a woman wearing an old-style bonnet…not too groovy for the swinging 60’s!
Another old standby was K and N Root Beer! This modest little chain produced what seemed like the perfect cure for a sweltering hot Texas summer…ice-cold K and N root beer served in a real frosted glass mug! Root beer mugs came in several sizes but the tiny kid’s mug stands in my memory. Once a kid’s raging thirst was quenched, the smell of burgers and fries wafting through the air started to garner some attention. All you had to do was order what you want off the big menu board in the middle of the building and someone would bring it to you on a bright orange tray! Now, almost all people where I live prefer a heavy dose of mustard and fresh onion on their burger. I probably picked up this preference at the local mom-and-pop burger stands and at the K and N. As the teenage years came upon us, we found ourselves pulling into the K and N in our own cars having long since graduated from the tiny mug to the adult size. Pretty soon we were complicit in the demise of these places as we were swept up by corporate eats like Jack-in-the-Box and Sonic. Much like Griff’s, this regional chain is practically gone. A Google search produced only and a handful of K and N drive-ins in Texas, Kentucky, and Tennessee.