The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Grilling Season 2015-Part 1

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This blog entry is something I do semi-regularly each year when the warm weather arrives and Memorial Day approaches. Lately I seem to have more to say, or too much to say, in my blog entries depending on your perspective. This one is no exception and will be a two parter. Part 1 will cover the annual “silly rituals” and other events that seem to accompany the arrival of “Official Grilling Season”. PART 2 will discuss the rollout of the 2015 model grills and what trends they may point to. If you are looking for a “How-to” or “Review” move you won’t find it in this two part entry. This is a bit of a celebration of the coming of the nice weather and a discussion of what starts happening around this time. You see around these parts… “everybody knows the official grilling season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day”. The fact I grill year round as do a growing number of other folks seems to be lost on most of the retailers sadly. Suddenly there is a flood of new gear, new grilling accessories, new cookbooks and the food stores begin catering to the needs of grillers. Around now you get a preview of the year to come and I just enjoy seeing the new gear that comes out. Plus I get to be both sad and amused by the yearly ritual when it is deemed to be the proper time to grill.

It is nice to see that the warm weather is coming. While I grill year round with my 3 Big Green Eggs, there are some things I change to adapt to the cold weather:
  • I can keep the trays/cooling racks I want to land the cooked food on inside until the last minute. In the cold weather I keep the the trays and cooling racks in the kitchen and I run in at the last minute to fetch them and then take the food straight off the grill and run it inside.
  • When making things like soups or stews and can bring everything outside and sauté the veggies etc. outdoors on the Eggs. In the colder weather I may precook some of these items indoors.
  • A bonus of doing all of the tasks outdoors is I have an excuse to hang around outdoors in the nice weather too.
  • Less of a temperature drop when you open the lid of the Egg.
  • Easier temperature control when doing lid-open cooks like stir-fries on the wok.
  • Slightly faster startup times. This isn’t as significant with the Egg as it was with other grills I have owned. But still 5 or ten minutes saved can be good if you are in hurry.
  • Nothing beats grilling under the lights on a 65 or 70 degree (18-21C) night with low humidity and no mosquitos.

You can tell BBQ is getting more popular. The are more chefs writing grilling/smoking cookbooks and the established grilling cookbook authors seem to now be on a yearly release cycle. I alway enjoy going to bookstores around now to see what new books I will be cooking from in the next few months. This quicker annual release cycle is not without some negatives in some cases. I have noted that some of the cookbooks appear to be rushed and may not be as comprehensive as a cookbook that had a longer gestation period. The trick is to know your authors and the quality of their books. There are some authors who just crank out product. For this type of author the yearly release cycle means weaker offerings than ever, with lots of repeat material. For strong authors, you get the opportunity to get more material from them sooner. Here are two cookbooks I have brought home with me this year:
Smoke It LIKE A PRO: Eric Mitchell. This is a cookbook filled with a wide variety of recipes intended to be made on the Big Green Egg or other kamado cookers. Eric Mitchell is a competition cook in the New England area who also does demo cooks on the Big Green Egg. As a result the recipes range from BBQ standards to things you’d never expect to be cooking on a grill. BLOG ENTRY
America’s Test Kitchen Quick and Easy Grilling: This collection of “64 foolproof 30-minute recipes”. These are some tasty grilling recipes you can make during the week when you don’t have much time. I will quibble with the 30 minute time frame - 45 to 60 minutes is more like it. So if you have a little time, but not much time, there are a wide variety of tasty recipes you can make.

While I will talk about the specifics of some of the new 2015 grills in PART 2 of this blog, here I will mention a silly annual ritual that occurs around this time. I call it: “The Grill Armada”. Many smaller stores don’t keep their grills out on the show floor year round. The Big Box Stores keep a reduced size display of grills and often move them to a more obscure area of the store. In the summer you can’t help but stumble over the grills when you enter the store, in the winter you must seek them out because they are often in some out of the way corner of the store. In the spring you see the shiny stainless steel grill armadas being setup under the entry canopies near the main entrance to the stores. Rows of bright and shiny grills anchored outside the stores for the summer. They remain there until Labor Day when there are blowout sales to try to clear out the grills. Those that don’t sell off are moved back inside the store and there is often one last “lowest price of the year” sale to try and clear out the inventory for the year. If you can wait until the Autumn, you will often get great savings on grills. The 6-burner Kenmore Elite gas grill that helped get me started into the world of serious grilling is a good example. During the grilling season and also on Labor Day it was offered for sale several times at $100 of the $800 price. In the final sale of the year in October the sale was for $200 off. But it always brings a smile to my face when I see the grill armadas anchored outside the stores.

Just before Memorial Day there are usually big sales on grills and grilling gear. The sales are touted as having the: “Lowest prices of the year”. While true it is somewhat deceiving. The signs should really read “Lowest Prices of the Year (to Date)”. You see the sales for the 4th of July are also touted as having the lowest prices of the year, and the 4th of July sales do usually feature even lower prices than Memorial Day. The other interesting thing is they mention that you should take advantage of the sale because the grilling season is in full swing. A week or so later these stores are featuring sales to move the same gear as if the season is over. They do this without batting an eyelash over the apparent contradiction. I mean in less than one week we go from being at the height of the grilling season, to stores trying to move the gear off the sales floor like the season is suddenly ending and starting to feature fire sale prices. Then come Labor Day weekend we find once again we have sales featuring the “Lowest prices of the year”. But that is only if you don’t count the final blowout sales in late September or early October where the prices are even lower.

If you want to see strange looks try buying a half dozen bags of briquettes at the store or market. People from other customers to the checkout person look at you like you have two heads. You notice I said briquettes, the stores that carry lump tend to keep it in year round. I guess they figure they are catering to a more serious griller and you don’t get the same looks. I remember buying all 6 bags of briquettes a local supermarket had in stock for use on my smoker. This was in December. The lady ringing me up gave me a bit of an odd and questioning loo and asked: “Are you stocking up for the Spring?” She was a bit puzzled when I replied: “No I will use these up in under a month, I wish you had more.” She hesitated a bit and then said: “Oh I know another one like you, he’s always out at his grill.” Another one….hmmmm. From now until Labor Day no one gives it a second thought if you buy charcoal. Now that I am using the Big Green Egg and buying lump, I don’t get the strange looks. I kinda miss them in a way. But there are still plenty of weird looks from neighbors passing by on a cold winter night and the lights are on in my grill gazebo because I am out at the grill.

Some of the stores around here play a nasty game in the winter. Gone are the 20 pound (9kg) bags of charcoal and in there place you find 8 pound (3.6kg) at nearly double the price they should be fetching. These bags are often squirreled away in the rear of the store with the seasonal items or for some reasons in next to the pet food. Come the start of “Grilling Season” the big bags return and they often make their way to pallets at front of the store. The bags are piled high and the prices are nice and low. The prices continue to fall throughout the season. When I was using briquettes, I would keep an eye on several stores. I was ready to pounce when they had their final “desperation sales” after Labor Day. I would fill up the back of my pickup and stock up for the winter. This saved me from having to buy the small bags with the big prices in the winter. Then I would hope I had enough on hand to last me until the start of “Official Grilling Season”. Now that I use lump charcoal, small bags, big prices this is just an unpleasant memory.

The pattern seems to be the same every year. When Labor Day arrives in early September many stores, and in particular the big box stores like Wally World and Home Despot will have big blowout sales intended to clear out most of the charcoal. Smaller stores sell through their charcoal, and it disappears for the late fall and winter only to reappearing early April sometime. Supermarkets and Super Supermarkets who often have large displays of charcoal at the front of the stores near the entries often reduce their stock to a few smaller bags of one or two brands. Around here during “Official Grilling Season” you can find charcoal everywhere, often in stores you’d never expect to carry charcoal. I think the strangest example of this was seeing a display of charcoal was at the front of a greeting card store. Other than some chocolate candy they sold no food of any kind and certainly not grills. But yet they had charcoal displayed right next to their front entrance in the summer.

Around this time of year the supermarkets start featuring pre-made items you just throw on the grill with no preparation. Burgers that are stuffed and/or seasoned with spice rubs. Steaks that are pre-rubbed or marinated. Pre-made skewers of kebabs. There are many more examples of this. The meat cases are filled to overflowing with these type items during “Grilling Season”. I don’t use them myself, I prefer to choose my own flavor combinations, but I always check out what ingredients are being used. I also wonder who buys all of these prepared items because you see so many of them in the cases it is hard to imagine there aren’t lots of leftovers. I have this amusing mental image of the store employees having a huge cook out after work where the cook up that days unused prepared grill food.

Here is a case where I do totally understand the need to hold these events during “Official Grilling Season”. One of the things I look forward to this time of year is the return of grilling and barbecue festivals. There are events in Boston like Chef’s in Shorts where 25-30 chefs from Boston’s well known restaurants grill up food to help raise Money for charity. The competition BBQ season is in full swing and there are several competitions in the New England area. Now that I am an Egghead there are small scale dealer events for 50-100 people, where you get to try various foods cooked on the Egg. Here in the New England area Eric Mitchell, author of the Smoke It LIKE A PRO cookbook often cooks at these dealer sponsored events. There is also a regional Eggfest sponsored by the New England Big Green Egg distributer called New EGGlandfest. There are plus or minus 20 cooking tents featuring a mix of competition BBQ teams who use BGE’s and amateurs who want to show off their prowess. All of these events feature great food , great people and an excuse to talk about grilling and smoking with like minded individuals.

When I used to work in Boston I always enjoyed coming home at night to the smells of food being grilled and charcoal and wood being burned. It was often still light outside and these smells were usually enough to get me thinking about grilling up something myself. One of the simple pleasures of this time of year is smelling food being cooked outdoors nearly everywhere you go.

While I myself couldn’t imaging giving up grilled and smoked foods for 6 months out of the year, it happens around here for most folks. I wish some of the stores around here would give some demos or classes on grilling in the winter. I think a lot of people would be surprised at what you can do. Part of this is self-serving because if more people grilled in the Winter the stores would be forced to cater to this. Meanwhile I do my thing and observe the start of “Official Grilling Season” with a mixture of humor and disbelief every year. PART 2 of this entry will focus on what trends the new crop of 2015 model grills showing up in the stores may point to.

   GRILLING SEASON 2015 - PART 2 2015 Blog Entry about the annual arrival of the new grill models. I used to really look forward to this, but now it is rather sad in many ways.

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