Articles

How to cook without a stove

THOMAS WALSH July 9 1955
Articles

How to cook without a stove

THOMAS WALSH July 9 1955

How to cook without a stove

The barbecue craze is pushing us outdoors at mealtime, booming the steak market, making museum pieces of our kitchens. And thousands of hungry smoke-smudged Canadians couldn’t he happier

THOMAS WALSH

THE LATEST thing in cooking is to build a fire and hold some meat over it. It’s called a barbecue, an outgrowth of today’s trend to

the wide open suburbs that has brought in a new two-fisted outlook on food.

From coast to coast, smudged and happy Canadians are tying roasts with baling wire and lowering them onto hot rocks, cooking trout in mud, spit-roasting sucking pigs, baking fish in wet burlap, eating with their fingers and lacing into such lusty portions of meat that the buyer for Canada’s biggest chain of supermarkets recently reported, “I’ve never seen so many thick steaks sold in over thirty-

five years in the business.” An independent butcher deep in the barbecue country of Toronto’s suburban Bayview area said happily, “If they keep it up they’ll have to grow steers that are all hind end.” Luckett’s Dress Stone, barbecue builders in Islington, Ont., report that for every barbecue they built ten years ago they build a hundred today. They will deliver prefabricated flagstone barbecues, priced from three hundred to fifteen hundred dollars with the pieces numbered for assembly like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Some companies will haul a complete concrete barbecue to the buyer’s home. Department stores advertise portable barbecues for $2.39 that

can be carried like a carton of pop, more elaborate ones that can be wheeled outdoors, plugged into electric outlets -to power-motor-driven spits -and taken apart and packed in a car in sixty seconds. Grills are made to set on an indoor fireplace, and all-electric rôtisseries to set right on the diningroom table. One handsome stainless-steel, rubbertired, super-deluxe, portable rôtisserie, with seven electrically driven spits, a tray that drains drippings off into a glass jar, draught control and adjustable firebox, sells for around three hundred dollars.

Canadians can now shop in stores with departments entirely given over to such barbecue facilities as spatulas, pokers, ash shovels, steak sprinklers, spark-proof charcoal, non-explosive fire starters, charcoal with built-in hickory aroma, liquid smoke (it’s rubbed into the meat for extra flavoring), hamburg molds, oven shovels, bug-repellent candles for dining outdoors in swank without scratching, and chef’s hats inscribed coyly, “Call Me Cookie.”

The barbecue craze has affected entertaining, real estate, dining habits and speech. It has added to the vocabulary of cookery words like shishkebab, lamb shashlik, beef bundles and barbemush. It has

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a three-inch steak with half an inch of damp coarse salt, grill over a very hot fire twenty minutes to a side, crack off the charred salt, slice steak into melted butter and serve on French bread.

Other barbecue specialties are lamb chops rubbed lightly with garlic; bacon with some of the fat melted off first to

cut down on flare-ups; fish; spare ribs rubbed with sage and flour and swabbed with a barbecue sauce; chicken split and barbecued inside first, skinside last; power-sawed cross sections of hard-frozen turkey, thawed in cooking oil; corn cobs; tomatoes; hamburgers fancied up with chili beans; hot dogs stuffed with crushed pineapple; trout wrapped in bacon; oysters broiled on their shells till the edges of the oysters curl; and bananas barbecued in their skins.

A shishkebab—a Turkish term for roasting food over a fire on the point of

a sword—is a barbecued skewer-load of meat and vegetables (for example, chunks of lamb, tomatoes and peppers). A hamburger kebab is made of balls of hamburger, peppers, tomatoes and Bermuda onions. Lamb shashlik, the Russian word for shishkebab, is made of marinated lamb cubes. Barbemush is an appetizer of slightly scorched corn meal mush containing chunks of pork.

Fowl, sucking pig, rolled rib, leg of lamb or pork barbecued on a spit that’s operated by electric motor or turned every ten minutes by hand derives a special flavor by being basted in its own

drippings, most of which are prevented from falling by the rotary action of the spit. Lustier forms of barbecuing take place in the coals, under the coals and even under the ground. A comparatively simple recipe for cooking in the coals is to rub a chuck roast with garlic, smear it with olive oil, spread mustard on it, pat in all the salt it will hold, let. it stand for an hour, then put it in the fire. Turn the roast only once, and allow twenty minutes to a side. The salt crust of oil and mustard form a protective coating. Trout can he wrapped in wet maple leaves, then in wet mud and buried in the coals.

For open-pit barbecuing, the meat is skewered with iron rods long enough to rest over a pit sixteen inches deep and filled with hot coals from another fire. Deep-pit barbecued beef, mutton or venison is sewn into cheesecloth and burlap, tied with baling wire and buried above a layer of white-hot rocks for fifteen hours. Tuna — insides and all when cooked this way for six hours and then dug up, skinned and cleaned (one overly enthusiastic book says to give the insides to any disapproving guests) is called Tuna Luau. This is eaten with the fingers. Each piece is dipped by hand into a sauce of garlic, tabasco, sugar, Worcestershire, mustard, ketchup, vinegar, olive oil, sauterne, salt and pepper. Lots of dry white wine to wash it down.

The word barbecue is probably a Spanish imitation of a Haitian word for a wooden framework used by the natives of Haiti in the smoking of fish and game.

New Craze But Old Custom

The barbecue may be a new craze hut it’s a very old custom. In England, centuries ago, oxen were roasted in open pits to celebrate special occasions. In Saint John, N.B., in 1793, at the tenth anniversary of the landing of the United Empire Loyalists, cattle were roasted in the public square, and Saint John roasted cattle again in 1815 when word of the Battle of Waterloo arrived. Meanwhile, in Georgia, barbecues became a feature of political and religious gatherings, with hogs being cooked on spits in king-sized pits. Many a governor, congressman and senator of Georgia was elected to the aroma of barbecued hog meat, and the political barbecue moved north in the presidential campaign of 1876 when the Republican Party paraded two oxen through New York and Brooklyn, then barbecued them over a coke fire. The first ox weighed nine hundred and eighty-three pounds and was eaten, with eight hundred loaves of bread, in twenty minutes.

The domestic barbecue was brought into full bloom in California, where the warm winters, love of fads and fancy homes, and a peculiar propensity— probably traceable to homesick northerners—for building fires, has resulted in the building of barbecue installations so elaborate that they sometimes form another wing of the home. Some Californians start with a barbecue in a patio, then add a fireplace, sink, bar, ice-cube maker, oven, refrigerator, cabinets, record player, colored lights, rustic furniture, ornamental shrubbery — and sometimes even a roof and removable windows, practically bringing the whole deal back indoors and adding another unit to the home that can cost in the neighborhood of five thousand dollars. Some homes are now designed with a barbecue room, the barbecue backing onto a fireplace which is in another room. Others have a living room and an elaborate outdoor barbecue separated only by a picture window7, so that it’s hard to tell where the house ends and the grounds begin.

One architect designed a room with a wall that opens up permitting the host to stand inside and barbecue his dinner outside.

This trend toward making the barbecue a part of the home is beginning to take hold in British Columbia. California-style bungalows being built on the slopes of West Vancouver have been designed so that the living-room fireplace opens front and back — into the house and onto the garden. A barbecue is built into the garden opening and the single chimney carries off smoke from both the indoor fire and the outdoor barbecue pit. In some cases a roof is built out over the barbecue area, making it possible to cook and eat outdoors whatever the weather.

Desmond Muirhead & Associates, landscape architects who lay out gardens for B. C.’s wealthy families, have been called in to design many large barbecues in recent years, some of them costing as much as five hundred dollars. They built one of their most elaborate jobs for M. J. Foley, vice-president of the Powell River Company Limited, whose large home sits in the heart of Vancouver’s posh Shaughnessy district. This barbecue was made an integral part of the Cabana—an outbuilding by the heated swimming pool and housing dressing rooms, showers and linen closets. A brick cooking pit stands on a paved patio open on three sides but protected overhead by a roof. Ten steaks can be cooked at one time on a flat grid above the charcoal fire or on turning spits at the front.

A barbecue that will serve one hundred guests has been built for corporation executive S. J. Crowe, of West Vancouver. Its chimney is equipped with a warming oven and its spit is electrically operated. But one of the biggest barbecues on the west co. st is owned by B. C.’s Lieutenant Governor Clarence Wallace. Built of colorful Arizona sandstone, it stands over eight feet high.

But if you haven’t the money for such big-budget affairs as these, there’s no reason you should go without. Throughout Canada building barbecues is rapidly becoming a giant do-ityourself fad. A Canadian magazine published plans for a barbecue that can be made from one hundred and sixty bricks that can be stacked up in half an hour, and a design for a quickie affair that can be made of two dozen bricks and the rack from an oven. One ingenious Toronto salesman designed a table-high barbecue out of ninety-two bricks, a piece of sand screen and a camp grid. Whenever he moves—and he’s had to move five times in two years—he takes it apart and moves his bricks along with him.

Handyman magazines show how to make portable barbecues out of oil drums, barrels, wash tubs and wheelbarrows. One has demonstrated how to make a portable brazier out of a circular blade from a disk plow, for fifteen dollars; another out of the end of a hot-water boiler, for seventeen dollars; and another out of an old metal car wheel set on eight bricks, for nothing.

More permanent and decorative barbecues can be built by the average handyman from fieldstone, flagstone, cement block or brick. But the Canadian builder must remember to go down four-and-a-half feet for a footing below frost level, and to avoid the amateur mason’s most common failing of ending up with leaning corners. The barbecue should be built away from trees and facing into the wind, and the chimney should have a baffle to keep the air from blowing down. Most important, the barbecue should be built to fit the iron grill and firebox. Building the barbecue first, then look-

ing in vain for ironware to fit it, has

caused more grief than building boats in basements. A basic permanent counter-height brick barbecue threeand-a-half feet wide, two-and-a-half feet high to the cooking top, five-and-ahalf feet high to the chimney top, using five hundred bricks, can be built in three or four days for about thirty dollars. An adjustable grill costs about twenty-five dollars; with an electric spit it runs to about sixty dollars.

Oddly, barbecue cooking has heen taken over largely hy the men, even within the family. A man who ten years ago did nothing about supper but sniff under saucepan lids and who wouldn’t dream of setting a table, today doesn’t mind building a fire and putting some meat on it. One theory for the increasing number of male cooks is simply that barbecuing is done outdoors, which is man’s natural domain. It’s the same inherited impulse that makes him take over at a corn roast or wiener roast.

“I Cooked Supper Tonight”

Hans Fread says that it’s natural for a man to be a much better cook than his wife. “A woman cooks according to the book,” he says. “She never deviates. A man is more imaginative. He tries things. He’ll try a new oil, a new sauce. He’s interested. A lot of women have become so emancipated that they’ve forgotten how to cook. Man has jumped into the breach.”

Women are apt to take a more cynical point of view about man’s new party act. A Toronto stenographer said, wryly, “My husband takes care of all our barbecue meals. He comes home and starts right in. ‘Get me the garlic salt. Hand me the tongs. Get me the fork. Hand me a bay leaf. Put some more charcoal on the fire. Bring the plates over here.’ Then he tells our friends, ‘I cooked supper tonight.’ Holy cow! There’s more to cooking supper than holding a couple of pork chops over the fire.”

Barbecue entertaining has already created a new set of rules and standards. One of the commonest faults of hosts is to delay making the fire, then suddenly remember it and either make all the guests wait until they are nearly swooning with hunger waiting for the tire to burn down to coals, or start to cook on the flames, which makes the meat taste like something salvaged. A lot of cooks keep poking impatiently at the fire. This won’t permit it to form proper coals and sprays the roast with smoking particles that taint the meat.

A disastrous mistake is to start the fire with alcohol, anti-freeze, kerosene, diesel oil or lighter fluid. This can not only set fire to the barbecue, but the guests and the house as well. It will also give the steak the flavor of having I een broiled in a grease pit. Some permanent barbecues have gas jets to start the fire. In the absence of that, (he best starter is kindling but care should be taken in selecting it there’s a danger in flavoring the fire with some

woods. Pine for instance gives the food a fine taste of turpentine.

A particularly gruesome type of barbecue host is the one who figures that because it’s outdoors, anything goes in the way of rough-and-ready handling of food. Many people have sat watching with pale faces a host making the fire and doing various chores around the fire and away from it, and then, without washing his hands, begin lovingly to flatten down the meat with his fingers.

Another mistake is to burn garbage and trash in a barbecue. Bricks have a way of storing bad smells and releasing them again when they warm up. The only way they can be cleaned again is by sandblasting.

Barbecues have brought in their own brand of pest. One of the worst and the most common is the guest who can always cook better than the host. “There’s always some guy,” one man told me, “who says, ‘I was at a barbecue supper the other night and they served the most terrific sauce I’ve ever tasted. Here, I’ll show you how to make it.’ ”

Cooking outdoors has other minor hazards. Neighborhood dogs are inclined to gather from blocks around, cross-eyed with desire at the smell of food. Barbecue fans frequently have neighbors who can’t resist leaning on the fence and giving a few instructions. Complete fiascoes also happen. One baggy-eyed young Toronto bachelor lawyer with a hutch haircut still tells of a wide-open evening when he panicked during a fire-pit flare-up and doused the flames with a Martini. He suffered such a burn that he ended up in a doctor’s office.

As in all fads, the initial enthusiasm sometimes dies fast. The barbecues of many families remain a monument to a fashion in living, a catchall for leaves and papers and a perch for pigeons, while the family slips back into cooking indoors on electric ranges, frying pans, electric kettles and pop-up toasters. But for every one of these, there’s an increasing number of families who are using their barbecues from the time of the appearance of the first robins until partridge season. The barbecue ritual has added its weight to the general breakdown of formality in the home, which is daily becoming more functional and less formal. The dining room has already nearly disappeared, and the barbecue shows indications of finishing off the dinette and the kitchen table.

People who a generation ago wouldn’t have eaten in their shirt sleeves are now sitting around barbecues in shorts, bathing suits, pedal pushers and blue jeans, and generally dining as casually as if they were at a corn roast.

Good or bad from the point of view of manners, it has brought with it a lot of tasty dishes, it has cut down on the consumption of thickened gravy, and, as one man pointed out: “When you’re eating outdoors around a barbecue, you can’t watch TV—yet.” -fc