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Food For Thought - Summer, 2015

“Food for Thought”

Summer 2015

From Ararat Center Executive Chef, Paul Ventura 



     With summer comes the barbecue and grilling season.  Now everyone is a little different when it comes to firing up the family grill.  I would not be so adamant as to say there is a right way or wrong way to do your outdoor cooking.  A lot of how you choose to do your outdoor meal preparation is based on where you are from or perhaps your health conscience school of thought.  For example, if you are from the great state of Texas, it is real charcoal all the way.  If you are from the southern United States, the Carolinas for example you use wood to do your grilling.  The southwest loves their mesquite, imparting a very unique sweet smoky taste.  Then of course if you are not a “ foodie “, and you are from suburbia, it is charcoal briquettes or propane.

     Personally I love a combination when weather and time permits.  I use real lump charcoal and wood. Lump charcoal can be found anywhere and looks like burnt pieces of wood all bagged up.  It is more popular now than in the past because of health concerns with standard charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are made of similar material but are combined with some chemicals and foreign particles to retain shape and give consistent burn.  I also add Shag Bark Hickory wood.  I love the smoky flavor it brings to the dish, natural and when done in moderation, very popular.  The wood although plentiful in our forests is difficult to obtain already split.  The trees grow everywhere but people who cut lumber hate to deal with this wood.  It is a hard wood but splinters and jams up chainsaws when cut down.  I have a friend who keeps me well stocked up.  I use it in my smokehouse in the fall when I am smoking most of my meats and fish for the season.

      A small amount of shagbark goes a long way.  Soaking the wood in water overnight or several hours beforehand stops the wood from burning fast.  It will slow burn and give off a very flavorful aroma.  When doing this, start your fire as usual.  When ready to grill put the soaked wood on your coals.  If using propane add a large soaked piece off to the side of your flames. You will find you can use this piece over and over again.  The principle is the same but the flavor more on the mild side.

      Try out this technique, I think your friends and family will be impressed, not to mention your neighbors from the aroma.  When I barbecue at the Ararat Center during camp season, I use this method with popular results.  Outdoor cooking is always in season.  Whether it be spring, summer, fall or for the brave ones, winter. Outdoor cookery will always bring a smile to your table and that is food for thought.