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Flavour Guy: Fire, friends & food: the three basics of a great BBQ

What is a more beautiful summer sight than a BBQ? Of course, this is the Flavourguy’s rhetorical question.

Ideally, the BBQ is in a pit or something that resonates pitness — a kettle style BBQ, a Weber, a Big Green Egg, a large oil drum cut in two, a hole in the ground with a metal kitchen rack on top. All of these work well. In fact the more primitive the better. If I am going to be burning gas, charcoal, or wood, I want to feel that I have achieved a substantial, primal level.

Fire is only one of the three elements required for a great BBQ. The other two are friends and food. Who cooks doesn’t matter. Who the cooking is for, does. It may even be part of the mating ritual. “I made this for you, dear.” Nothing is sadder than someone cooking at the BBQ and cooking alone. One hamburger, one hot dog, one eggplant. Oh my. Sharing at the BBQ is key to savouring a summer.

And please pay attention to the preposition. One does not cook BBQ, one cooks at it. There is a relationship between the technology and the chef. It does not matter how much the contraption costs; the cook must master the tools.

The Flavourguy has cooked over anything that can hold a fire. No BBQ cooker is perfect; each has idiosyncrasies. Ditto for the chef.

Now for the food: cooking over a BBQ takes patience. This is not a grill. Anyone can grill. Turn up the burner, throw on a patty, scorch, heat, serve and eat. Real BBQ cooking demands time. That is why summer is best.

Sure, you can cook a steak on a grill in the winter. Stand outside in a parka, but, really, is this what you want to do? Winter is for stews, root vegetables, and hunkering down with a good bottle of plonk.

There is a blizzard outside. You don’t want to be there. Pass the wine and would someone light the fire please? Inside?

Summer offers everything we long for, lust for. Shorts and short sleeves, time outside, connecting with neighbours in alleys and over balconies, slowly turning the meat or veggies, enjoying a cool drink.

Days are longer, nights are warmer. Enjoy it while it lasts. Soon we will be complaining again. Best to store up the memories of great summer nights now.

Veggies, veggies, veggies

Keep the fire at medium and the grill a hand’s breath above the flames. If you can hold your hand above the grill and count to 5 or 6, you have it right. Have the veggies trimmed and ready: fennel cut lengthwise and skewered so that it doesn’t fall apart, eggplant, zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, sweet red or white onions, asparagus, Italian plum tomatoes cut in half. Have I left anyone out?

Cut the thicker veggies into half inch (1 cm) slices. Brush them all lightly with oil, sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Clean the grill with a wire brush or some aluminum foil scrunched up. Wipe again with a paper towel. Brush the grill with a little oil.

When the fire is ready, make one layer of vegetables on the grill and turn them after a few minutes.

Check for scorching and hot spots and shift the veggies accordingly. This can take 30-60 minutes.

You want them grilled but not burnt, soft but not mushy. Put them on a platter as they are cooked, sprinkle with olive oil and something acidic (lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or apple cider vinegar are our favourites).

Serve warm or cool. Make lots for great eating the next day.

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