More Than A Grill
The barbecue is becoming something of an outdoor oven – with more to cook than hot dogs and steaks.
June 29, 2016
illustration by Pop Winson
Krista Gray had one of the best jobs in the city last summer. Or at least, that’s what people who walked by her outdoor office believed. Rather than sitting at a desk, Gray was standing at a grill, making the many items in ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen’s recent cookbook, From the Grill. She was part of a team that ensured the food not only tasted good, but was visually and textually appealing.
As people passed by the downtown patio, the smell of everything from bok choy to bannock prompted the same question over and over: “How can I sign up to be a taste tester?” What those people did not realize, though, was the amount of repetition involved; a jalapeo popper, for example, was tested five times and, when the team couldn’t perfect it, the item was scrapped. The team was dedicated to only including items that worked well on the grill.
Gray says the job was a blast, but admits it’s taken a full year to be ready to eat some of them again – luckily that’s just in time for the release of the cookbook that demonstrates just how versatile outdoor cooking can be.
“People used to use the barbecue similar to a stove top, but barbecues can work really well as an oven as too,” says Gray, detailing a large array of baked goods including pies, cakes and breads featured in the cookbook.
On a typical Saturday, the staff at Barbecue Country often serves samples to browsing customers; classics in the form of steak or burgers sometimes make the menu, but brownies, pizza and pie are among the favourites. Maryanne Petrash, manager of the south-side store, says people are now looking at barbecues and grills like extensions of their kitchens – with the potential to make or bake just about anything through charcoal, gas or electric means. And suppliers are responding with equipment that can help more evenly cook all kinds of items.
Petrash says one of the biggest trends she’s hearing about right now is grilling cheese outdoors. But she says, it has to be the right kind of cheese – like Gouda or Swiss – and you need the right temperature. “Cheese needs to be cooked at under 90 degrees fahrenheit which normally is pretty much impossible to achieve on the barbecue,” she says.
A cold smoke generator like the A-Maze-In Pellets, Petrash says, works well because wood chips burn, producing smoke that infuses the cheese with a rustic flavour without creating too much heat. Hickory, mesquite, apple, alder or even Italian spice or chili spice pellets are all available and can also be used to smoke fish.
Indirect heat can be useful for cooking vegetables such as spaghetti squash. The upper rack can be used to cook the squash, says Gray, or you can place the vegetable on top of a brick so that its sensitive skin is cooked rather than blackened.
Most people are pretty familiar with fruit like pineapple on a grill – the heat causes a caramelizing of the sugar in the fruit that’s especially appealing. But bananas, says Gray, are also tasty after being grilled, and can be paired with ice cream for a twist on the classic banana split.
Gray also uses cast iron pans to create desserts such as a skillet apple pie, where apples are layered on the bottom of the pan, and puff pastry is added on top. It’s easier to cook in a barbecue, though a traditional pie could also be done by placing a lava rock or a brick on top of the grill to disperse some of the heat. Without something to evenly distribute the heat, you’ll likely end up with a burned crust and ill-cooked filling in the middle.
Petrash says another option would be to create indirect heat in a barbecue with two main burners. “Like in your oven, you could turn off one burner and put the pie pan on the side that’s off, creating a lower temperature and baking inside the barbecue. Breakfast crpes or stuffed apples with nuts stuffed inside would work well this way,” says Petrash.
Even so, baked items that take a really long time to bake might still be a challenge on the barbecue, but quicker baking breads, tortillas and biscuits are ideal. The ATCO cookbook even has a green onion cake recipe, developed by the company’s bread expert, that’s an excellent match for the barbecue.
Petrash believes people should just experiment with their barbecues. Gray agrees. “Some people aren’t as comfortable on the barbecue as in the kitchen. But if you treat it like an oven or stovetop, you can do just about anything on it,” she says.
This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here