In the beginning, man cooked his meat outside, on a stick over an open fire.
Billions of years later, we’re still cooking outside.
Some things have changed. We now have meatless meat. And instead of an open fire made of logs, we use wood pellets and a fan to regulate the temperature.
Welcome to barbecue in 2020: wood pellets and ceramic grills and “meatless” burgers.
In some ways, outdoor cooking has come a long way, but in others, we’re back where we started, using wood, only in a highly mechanized way — and the wood is in pellet form.
While the Kamado grill and the pellet grill are new trends, charcoal barbecues are still in use.
“I’ve sold more charcoal barbecues in the last month than in the last two or three years,” Doug Billings, owner of Billings Hardware, said. “I think people went to Costco and bought 25 pounds of meat and then had to figure out what to do with it.”
Billings said that sales are pretty much spread out over Kamado, charcoal, propane gas grills and pellet grills.The Kamado grill is the ceramic egg-shaped one. It can use wood or charcoal and accurately maintains a temperature because it has a very tight seal, so it maintains the heat. It’s also very cool to look at.
“We have ‘foodies’ and now we have ‘grillies,'” Billings said. “The ‘foodies’ already have a grill, but they buy one of the big green eggs. It’s the gold standard.”
Experts say to avoid charcoal lighter fluid because of the flavor it might add to the meat. Alternatives are an electric starter or the cone.
The Weber is probably the best-known traditional charcoal grill. Weber Grills now offer a special section to sear your food, according to Billings. Cook the food until it’s almost done and then use the special, high-temperature section to add those grill marks.
Propane gas is easier to use. Push a button or use a fireplace lighter (the kind you hold in your hand and click) and the gas is lit. A propane fire is easy to use, too — just turn the temperature up and down. And no messy ashes afterward.
The newest trend is pellet cooking. Pellet grills use a mechanism that moves the wood pellets into a firepot under the grill. The pellets are ignited by a hot electric rod and a fan creates convection heating for the food on the grill. Experts recommend food grade pellets as opposed to pellets used for home heat. Food grade pellets are available with a variety of flavors such as mesquite, hickory etc. They’re also very good for smoking.
Pellet grills first appeared in the early 1970s. Consumer Reports recommends the Z Grille’s Master Pellet. The popular Treager Grill was developed by Joe Traeger in 1985 in Oregon and patented in 1986. Pellet grills come with accessories like blue tooth, if that’s what you need to help enjoy grilling.
Whatever the method, “Nothing beats a hot, clean lightly oiled grill, “Long Beach’s Chef Paul Buchanan said, “but you must preheat.”
In the beginning, meatless burgers were okay if you added enough lettuce, cheese, onion, bacon, ketchup etc. But recently there has been a breakthrough with something called the Impossible Burger, which many people find indistinguishable from the traditional beef burger.
Epicurious, a web site that has evaluated food and dining for more than 20 years, says the Impossible Burger is the best. It “...sizzled nicely and seared along the edges…patties remained pretty moist, while the outsides became slightly crumbly.”
Their runner-up was the Beyond Burger: "Tasty with a nice level of salty juiciness,” with an intense smoky flavor that divided the tasters. Some liked it, some didn’t.
Local expert Chef Paul has some advice on meatless burgers.
“The biggest difficulty is knowing the ingredients," he said. "It’s important to know if the substitutes are organic and sustainable. If a meatless burger doesn’t say they’re organic, they’re not."
It should have some kind of oil — the Impossible Burger has coconut oil.
When cooking, it’s especially important to have a nice 450-degree grill. Make sure it’s clean and brush it with a little bit of oil. Don’t move the burger for at least a couple of minutes. Use tongs and spatula to turn, lift barely off the edge, and then slowly edge the spatula underneath and gently flip the burger over.
Meatless burgers have several advantages over the traditional meat type. They’re lower in fat, have some fiber that red meat doesn’t have and there is no cholesterol. Meatless burgers also are usually free of antibiotics or animal hormones that might be found in beef. Sodium content is similar to other processed foods.
The other advantage plant-based meat has is a significantly less impact on the environment. Plants take a fraction of the land, water and energy it takes to raise cows. In addition, cows produce methane gas, which is a contributing factor in global warming. According National Geographic magazine, most methane gas is man-made, but the amount coming from cows is significant.
Final Tip From Chef Paul
If you’re grilling something that doesn’t have a lot of fat, and you don’t want flames, use a small paint brush to apply a light layer of mayo on fish and salt and pepper. To oil the grill, he uses a spray bottle with olive oil. Spray the grill, not the food.