Almost exactly one year ago I found myself hauling a 90 pound (40 kg) cardboard box into the San Antonio, Texas airport and checking in for my nth flight for Italy.
“Do you have any extra or overweight baggage?”
“Just this,” I proudly patted my duct-tape reinforced box, panting with exhaustion.
“There will be a fee.”
“That’s OK, it’s worth it.”
“That’s quite a heavy box! What could possibly worth the all this effort and fees?”
“A Texan Barbecue pit, what else?”
“Don’t that have BBQ pits in Italy?”
“Not like this one…”
My father and I had passed a week of research and shopping to find the perfect grill: one that would break down to fit into the size and weight requirements of the airline, without sacrificing size, quality and style. The final solution was 90 pounds of sturdy metal, 623 total square inches of cooking surface, cast iron cooking grates, integrated thermometer, adjustable steel fire grate, wood slat side and front shelves for additional prep and tools… By Texan standards it is a nice grill, but nothing fancy or huge. But in Italy, it’s a show-stopper.
And boy, it was worth it. It continues to be worth it every time we come down to Emilio’s family’s summer home in Moneglia. I fire that baby up, throw some veggies and steaks on the cast iron grill and cook for 20 people without breaking a sweat, all while overlooking a spectacular Ligurian coastline. This place was pretty close to paradise before, but now it’s perfect. Everything’s better with barbecue.
So, to honor the first birthday of our international BBQ, I would like to share a few grilling tips and observations:
- I marinate almost everything. Chicken turns out soft and moist when marinated in yogurt with garlic, lemon and olive oil. Soak pork chops in oil, herbs and white wine. Red meat needs just a touch of red wine and olive oil.
- I usually use a mix of wood and charcoal. Wood gives the best flavor, but charcoal burns longer and hotter. So I like to build a wood fire, then throw on some charcoal to lengthen the cooking time. Another way to achieve this effect is to add a few moistened wood chips to the coals before cooking.
- I like to grill in two rounds. First, I take care of all the veggies, since they can be served room-temperature and don’t suffer the wait. Then, I rebuild the fire or add some charcoal before throwing on the meat, which can then be served right off the grill.
- My favorite vegetables on the grill are bell peppers, sliced onions, eggplant, zucchini, and fennel. Veggies are better if you brush them with flavored olive oil right before grilling them. To make flavored oil, fill a bowl with olive oil, and add a couple cloves of garlic, salt, and rosemary or other herbs a couple hours before grilling.
- Bell peppers should be grilled whole until the skin is blackened, then placed in a bowl and covered with plastic wrap until cool. This helps loosen the skin and makes them easier to clean.
- Grilled pineapple is always a big hit. The sugar caramelizes and the flavor shines, making it a perfect side for grilled fish, chicken or pork, or a delicious dessert when served warm with cold ice cream.
- Chicken and pork ribs benefit from “low and slow” cooking. Let them cook on the warming rack or a cool part of the grill until almost completely cooked, then finish them off by searing over a hotter part of the grill.