When I think barbecue, I think about the magic of wood and charcoal, of fragrant smoke, of the heavenly smell of meat roasting in front of a charcoal fire. Yet most people have gas barbecues.
I was faced with a choice when I wrote Tender Grassfed Barbecue. Should I write it for charcoal barbecues, or gas barbecues, or both?
Writing it for both would give me the widest audience, and the most sales. Yet I chose to write it for charcoal only, though I did include a small section on how you could use a gas barbecue.
Why? Because our ancestors used wood coals, and 100 percent hardwood charcoal. I always try to honor tradition in my books, and there is no tradition in gas grilling. The traditional fuel is wood burned down to coals, or 100% hardwood charcoal. And it tastes so much better.
The Tradition of Cooking with Fire
Our ancestors cooked a great deal of their meat in front of fires. The fires were usually made of wood burned down to coals, or 100 percent wood charcoal, which has been used for thousands of years. The wood and the charcoal give a distinct and glorious flavor to barbecued meat, and have other cooking benefits that you do not get from gas.
I also like starting a fire, controlling it, adjusting the heat by how I adjust the vents, and adding flavor to the charcoal with wood and herbs. I enjoy looking at the coals, judging when they are just right to begin cooking.
I love the smell of meat roasting in front of charcoal, which mingles with the glorious smells of the fire to make my mouth water in anticipation of the joys to come.
And I love the flavor that comes only with the use of wood or charcoal, or both.
No gas grill can provide these experiences, though it is possible to get some wood taste into meat by using smoking chips with a gas grill.
And I believe that cooking with wood and charcoal adds something special to the meat, something that may even improve its digestive and nutrient qualities, since humans have been cooking this way since the beginning. I have no scientific proof of this, but I feel in my heart that it is true.
Many people who use gas barbecues talk about how they are much more convenient. But cooking with charcoal can also be very easy and convenient, as advances in barbecue technology has made it so much easier. I have developed a system, using a chimney barbecue starter, a drip pan, a meat thermometer, and a covered kettle grill, that is very easy to use and makes the most delicious barbecue I have ever tasted. This system is at the heart of Tender Grassfed Barbecue.
Starting the fire, controlling the temperature, avoiding flare-ups, and cooking the meat is very easy with this system, and I use it most days when the weather and the law allows.
And a little extra effort is so rewarding, in taste, in the pleasure of mastering fire, in the wonderful smells, and, best of all, in the delicious food it produces, which I love to eat.
Gas Barbecues Do Not Have the Magic of Charcoal
First of all, I have a confession to make. I have never used a gas barbecue. I have had friends with gas barbecues test my ideas on how to add some barbecue flavor, and have tasted the successful results.
But I have never used one. Not even once. That said, I respect the right of everybody to use the method of barbecue they prefer. And I have tasted a fair amount of barbecue cooked with gas. Some of it was good, but all of it was lacking, in my opinion. And what it lacked was the magic of wood and charcoal.
In my opinion, there is something magical about cooking with wood and charcoal, the qualities and tastes and textures it creates, which are like no others. And the smell, the wonderful, heavenly smell that makes my mouth water and gets me hungry in a way that no other form of cooking has ever done.
Finally, grassfed meat, my favorite food in all the world, and charcoal cooking were made for each other, being perhaps the oldest food of mankind, cooked in the most traditional way. This union of fuel and meat, when done right, appeals to a taste that seems to be coded into our very genes.
People have been eating meat cooked with fire for a very long time, since the beginning. People have only been using gas for barbecue since the twentieth century.
For these reasons, barbecue means wood and charcoal, to me.
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