What is in it For Me
01/Thu/11 - 21:50 Filed in: Motivation
Bad weather and some other circumstances have kept me away from the grill and smoker more than I would have liked recently. I’ve been itching to get back outside on the grill, but this lull has also given me time to think about what I like so much about grilling and smoking. That train of thought was the seed of this blog entry.
Now one of the things that attracts a lot of people to this hobby is the chance to play with live fire. That is NOT one of my reasons. To be honest, I don’t like playing with fire. Fire actually scares me a bit and I am very respectful of it. So what was my early attractions to grilling that got me started? Well first off I was never too interested in indoor cooking. But the chance to be outside in the nice weather sipping on an adult beverage was a different story. It gave me an excuse to hang around outside. The second attraction was steaks, burgers and dogs all tasted better coming off the grill. It wasn’t even close. I also tried my hand at a few rotisserie roasts and found them to once again be better than what you’d get cooking indoors. For a long time this was it. I suffered through a series of mediocre grills with somewhat uneven heat, I grilled from Memorial Day to Labor Day and had a limited repertoire of items I cooked. Grilling was something I did in the summer and it really wasn’t a hobby, it was just a ritual. Smoking on a charcoal smoker was not even within the realm of possibility.
So what changed? I’ve told this story before , so I’ll do the short version here. First I stumbled upon my current gas grill on sale for $200 off at an end of season sale. It had 6 burners, an infra red rotisserie unit and a smoker drawer. It had a series of accessories available for it and was my first “serious” gas grill. I wanted to up my game and get a “Grilling for Dummies” type cookbook. Up until that point, I hadn’t found such a book but luckily for me How to Grill had just been published. I started watching Stephen Raichlen’s BBQ University TV show and found the Barbecue Bible message board. These items all opened my eyes to the fact that grilling could be much more than part of the rituals of summer. Having a better grill and starting to do more than steaks, burgers and dogs on it made me realize something Stephen Raichlen likes to say. If something is good cooked on the stove or in the oven it is usually even better grilled. So grilling was starting to become more of a hobby to me. I also began to see that with the help of some good recipes, I could turn out food that was as good or better than what I could get in a restaurant. This food was good enough I could share it with others. I was beginning to make things I’d never eaten before and a whole new world was being opened up for me. Buying Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue USA allowed me to try regional variations from all over the US. There are 5 regions of Barbecue and each has their own twist.
My grill had a smoker drawer and I was taking advantage of it whenever possible. I soon found that the amount of smoke was not as intense as you would get from a smoker. This was a hint of smoke not full smoked flavor. After taking a class on smoking I realized the only way to do this right was to get my own smoker. A charcoal smoker was added to my gas grill and I was off and running. As my grilling and smoking activities became a hobby and began to take more of my time, I was starting to have less time to spend on some of my other hobbies, such as photography. I soon found that I could still practice my photography hobby by documenting my cooks. This was both fun and served the purpose of giving me a reference for the future. This website was born around this same time frame and served as another outlet for my food pictures.
Around the time I got my smoker another ritual started. My parents were getting old enough where my mom wasn’t up to cooking big meals, so I began taking over cooking the holiday meals, on the grill or smoker of course. Additionally I began having them over every Saturday for a meal. They were getting to the point where they were bored with the same old thing they’d been having for years. They said the food often tasted bland to them. The food I was making was often new and different to them. It was often spicier than what they made for themselves and they certainly couldn’t say it was bland. I could also make enough to send my parent home with leftovers and have leftovers to share with others on Sunday. While my mother is not up to cooking whole big meals, she has taken a renewed interest in cooking and likes to make a salad or a side or sides or dessert for these meals. While I have been learning to do sides and dessert on the grill, I try to leave something for her to do. I like the idea she has found something to hold her interest. As I have said before: I believe one of the most satisfying aspects of this hobby is you can share the results with others. Many hobbies are practiced in isolation, but this one allows you to have fun and share the results. Plus it is satisfying the basic human need to eat.
Another thing that happened to increase my enjoyment of this hobby is I discovered I could use not just my smoker, but my grill year round. This was a recent discovery I’ve made in the last two years. What it means is I can enjoy all kinds of smoked and GRILLED food year round. I used to take a 4 month sabbatical from making some of my favorite direct grilled foods. I also used to alter what I made the rest of the year to make up for this 4 month drought. Now with a few exceptions, I can make whatever I want, when ever I want. Grilling and smoking can be a year round, not just a seasonal hobby.
As I began collecting more cookbooks, I began to discover the wonders of world cuisine. Once upon a time I used to skip right past the world cuisine recipes, but once I tried them I found there was wonderful food and all new combinations of flavors to be had. I now often seek out the world cuisine recipes first. Plus grilling is becoming a more “serious” undertaking. There are more and more cookbooks coming out with sophisticated recipes for the the grill and smoker. It is timely for me because my skills happen to be growing, just as the cookbooks are getting more and more sophisticated. Also there are more and more tools being offered that help make things go easier or allow you to cook many different types of food on the grill. It is certainly fun participating in a hobby that is growing in popularity and sophistication. Also with all of the recipes from around the world there is an endless amount of new recipes with new combinations of herbs and spices to enjoy.
What is in it for Me?
- A great excuse to spend some quality time outdoors.
- Most items taste better coming off the grill.
- With the right recipes, it isn’t too hard to make items at home that are as good or better than what you can get a restaurant
- You can share the results with others. I truly think this is the most satisfying aspect of this hobby.
- There is a great variety of grilled and smoked food from all over the US with interesting regional variations.
- By getting a smoker I was able to turn out barbecue as good or better than what you could get at a barbecue joint. Particularly true up here in New England.
- Taking pictures of what I cook serves as a valuable future reference and allows me to practice my photography hobby.
- I am able to provide my parents with tasty meals which aren’t the same old thing. They are new dishes, new spices and new flavors. I know my parents look forward to our weekly meals together. Not just for the company, but also for the food which is different from their daily routine.
- This hobby has a dual purpose. It is fun and also serves a basic need. Everyone has to eat. But eating a grilled or smoked meal can be so much more.
- It is a hobby that can be practiced year round. It isn’t seasonal as I once thought.
- Grilling and smoking have become serious undertakings. There are more and more cookbooks with recipes that are growing in sophistication. There are more and more cool tools coming out which allow you to do more types of cooking on the grill with greater ease.
- It is nice to have a hobby that is growing and is taken very seriously. It implies even more promise for the future.
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