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September 19, 2003
Vol. 45 No. 2

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Grilling offers history, treats

As the warm weather comes to an end, now is a good time to light up the coals for one last meal off the grill. The summer season might be dwindling, but it is not over yet.

Over the years, heralding the summer holidays -- beginning with the honorary start of summer on Memorial Day and "ending" on Labor Day -- grilling has remained a favorite American pastime for generations. Whatever names students may give it - BBQ, barbecue, or grilling - the cooking of meat, poultry or fish on a spit or grill has become as much a social ritual as it is a way to cook.

According to Doris Reynolds, author of the article "Let's Talk About Food," "Barbecuing has been around for nearly 40,000 years when man first used a fire to cook his food.

However, the origin of the word 'barbecue' has long been a subject of debate. Barbecue is believed to have originated from the West Indian term 'barbacoa,' literally frameworks of sticks placed over the coals on which meats and fish were cooked. Others maintain that barbecue originated from the French term, 'barbe a queue', literally 'from beard to tail,' referring to whole-pig cookery; the suspending of whole animals, such as pigs, above a pit of glowing coals."

According to Webster's New World Dictionary, the word barbecue was first known to be used in America in 1709. By 1733, the term had taken on the implications of a social gathering.

Closely associated with Southern culture and cooking, many North Carolinians tend to claim that "barbecue originated in North Carolina," Reynolds said.

She further noted that barbecuing took its backyard setting at the end of the colonial period.

Early in 19th century, plantation owners started to hold festivals known as "pig pickins," where a whole pig would be slow-cooked in a hickory pit, she said.

The controversy still stands between many backyard cooks throughout the many regions of the United States.

As variant as the origin of barbecue is its range of cooking methods. The debate holds strong, as folks below the Mason-Dixon line claim their superiority in authentic barbecuing, Reynolds said.

Below the Mason-Dixie Line, the preference for sauces include tomato, vinegar, sugar and chili pepper-based barbecue sauces. Even in the South, these preferences vary from region to region.

Moving westward, barbecue began to be distinguished according to the cooking preferences of the region.

"The vinegar sauces of the East coast were replaced by tomato-based versions in Memphis, and by hot, spicy sauces in Texas," Reynolds said. "Even the choice of meat changed from region to region " for example in Texas, cattle ranchers substituted beef for the traditional pork."

Pork is more commonly used east of the Mississippi, and beef is preferred west. Sausage is also popular, while the consistent favorites are hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, seafood and vegetables. However, the meat used generally depends on the cook's preferences.

According to Food Network chef Bobby Flay, even the method of barbecuing comes under fire. "There is 'wet barbecue' and 'dry barbecue,'" he said in the article. "Dry barbecue is made by rubbing the meat with dry seasonings such as chilies, cumin, black pepper, red pepper, white pepper and other herbs and spices. The meat is then cooked slowly."

"Wet barbecue occurs when meat, fish, poultry and game are marinated and basted with sauces that commonly contain tomato, vinegar, chili, sugar, honey, fruit juices and other seasonings," he added.

Listed below are a few helpful tips to making smoky bites off the grill, courtesy of the Food Network's renowned chef, Emeril Lagasse.

* Brush cold grill with oil to prevent sticking

" Use one-gallon sealable plastic bags to marinate up to 1 pound of meats or vegetables in 2 to 3 cups of marinade; seal, pressing out air, set bag in a large pan or baking dish and marinate, refrigerated, turning occasionally.

" Glass baking dishes work well for marinating too, but avoid aluminum, which will interact with acids in marinades, and soft plastic or rubber containers that pick up odors easily.

" Trim excess fat from meat to avoid flare-ups; slash fatty edges to keep meat from curling.

" Fill a plant mister with 7 parts water and 1 part vinegar; use to spray grill when flames flare up.

" Preheat gas grills at least 15 minutes; for charcoal grills, light at least 45 minutes before, and let burn to hot embers, coated with ash.

" To flavor your barbecue, add aromatic hardwoods, such as hickory, mesquite or oak chips or chunks or aromatic fruit woods, such as apple or cherry or vine cuttings; soak wood in cold water for at least 30 minutes, then add to hot coals.

" For long-cooking vegetables or fruits, such as potatoes, whole heads of garlic or apples, cut a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, oil well, fill with sliced vegetables or fruit and seasonings, drizzle with oil, seal and place on hot grill. Use long-handled tools and tongs to turn meat to avoid piercing and releasing juices.

" To prevent scorching, brush meat with prepared barbecue sauce only after it is cooked through. Don't forget to use heavy-duty oven mitts.

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