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Truc: playing with fire

Susan Jung

 

When it comes to having barbecue parties, my husband and I have a clear division of labour. He gets the fire going, sets the table and chooses the wine.

I do everything else.

I'm extremely appreciative of his efforts, though, because on the few occasions that I've barbecued when he hasn't been there, I have had a very difficult time starting the fire, even after enlisting the help of my guests. On one occasion, there were three guys out on the balcony using my extremely weak hair dryer to fan the flames so the coals would be hot enough to cook. It worked, eventually, although we ate much later than I'd planned. Another time, we gave up and cooked the food in the oven.

Life would be easier if I had an electric or gas grill because they're much easier to heat - you simply turn a knob. The heat is also more consistent, and can be raised or lowered at the flick of the wrist. Ultimately, though, I wouldn't give up my charcoal grill because of the lovely smoky flavour the fuel imparts to food.

My husband's method of getting the coals going is to lay down a bed of tightly rolled newspaper in the bottom of the grill, add a few paraffin wax fire starters here and there, then put the charcoal on top. He lights the fire starters and they burn the newspapers, which in turn set the charcoal alight.

Once the flames have died down and the charcoal is coated with white ash on the outside but glowing hot within, it's time to cook. He lays out the charcoal according to what I'm cooking: if it's sausages, steaks or other small chunks of meat that cook quickly, the "bed" of heat is even but quite intense, so that the ingredients char lightly on the outside but cook through within. For larger cuts of meat, he builds up the bed so it's very hot on one part of the grill and less intense on the other side. This lets me brown and sear the meat over the very hot coals before moving it to the cooler area to finish cooking the interior.

All grills have vents in the top that let you adjust the amount of air that gets in when the lid is down. Closing the lid keeps the heat in, so the ingredients on the grill cook on all sides rather than only from the bottom. But the fuel in the grill needs oxygen, or it will stop burning. The air vents should be completely open if you want the fuel to burn intensely, or partially closed for less heat.

To prevent flare-ups from burning meat, trim off as much exterior fat as possible, so it doesn't drip into the coals as it melts.

To give flavour to the charcoal, add untreated hardwood chips or chunks that have been soaked in water, which prevents them from burning too quickly.

 

Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.

 

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