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You want to do some serious barbecuing this summer? Ditch those charcole briquettes and find yourself some flavored wood.

By B.A. Nilsson

It turns out that I didn’t know anything about grilling at all. Oh, sure, we’ve long had a nice kettle unit, and year after year we’d dump in charcoal briquettes, squirt in some fluid, wait for white coals and sizzle away.

Then my cousin Billy Ray showed up. He’s from the South—suffice it to say, I’m a Hatfield descendent—and he regarded my outdoor setup with an expression that shriveled my burgers in shame.

“You haven’t got a clue, now, have you?” he asked in a no-nonsense tone. “Tomorrow we’re going to git you started and have some barbecue.”

He intended it to be a celebration, which is, after all, the provenance of barbecue. When Spanish explorers first spotted Caribbeans grilling whole pigs in a lattice of green wood suspended over a smoking pit, they adapted the native word for it into barbacoa, whence our term. As near as anyone can figure, it’s always been a slow-cooking process, because tougher meats were usually being grilled into submission.

Distributing the heat is important. Capturing it helps, which is where the Weber grill comes in. In 1951, George Stephen, who was working for Weber Metal Products, bent a couple of pieces of metal and fashioned a kettle grill with a tall, snug lid. Domelike Weber grills have been going strong ever since, and the company eventually put together Weber’s Art of the Grill (Chronicle Books), a compendium of good grill advice and lots of imaginative recipes.

If you get really stuck, Weber also has a telephone help line that’s staffed weekdays through Labor Day (800-GRILLOUT). Marge, a supervisor at the help desk, told me that she gets lots of calls from people who want to share their best recipes (“and we don’t always agree,” she laughed). Recently, she said, sales of gas grills have surpassed those of charcoal grills. “That’s because people are getting more and more impatient,” she explained.

Impatient Northerners sure corrupted the grilling process. You don’t need to do any fancy cooking to produce a reasonable hamburger, but what else are you eating? Charcoal briquettes are made of sawdust that’s been turned to carbon, burning away wood flavor. The binding material can include coal and petroleum products, and there are any number of chemicals mixed in. Those briquettes that boast of hardwood flavors are simply studded with bits of the wood in question. Here’s a surprise: Our national charcoal industry was started by Henry Ford, who built Model T bodies of hardwood and turned the leftovers into charcoal. At first it was distributed for industrial use, but a clamor from consumers led to more widespread availability—they were sold at Ford dealers. Eventually, that division spun off and became Kingsford.

You can get natural briquettes that use vegetable starches for binding. Nature’s Own is one manufacturer, which sells through Peoples Smoke ’n Grill (800-729-5800). But my preference is for lump hardwood charcoal. It burns hotter, so you’ve got to watch the stuff, but the flavor is so much better than those briquettes.

Another thing: Don’t use charcoal lighter fluid. Grab a charcoal chimney, and you can light your briquettes from crumpled newspaper, saving you and your food from the unpleasant petroleum taste of the fluid.

How to arrange the coals? Decide whether you need to do direct or indirect cooking. Direct is for foods that cook quickly, typically thinner than an inch and a half—hamburgers and hot dogs, for instance. A thicker steak should be seared, then cooked in a covered kettle. (Use that lid, by the way, to speed up cooking but don’t peek! Every time you look in, you’re losing many minutes of cooking time.)

Indirect cooking is for roasts or whole slabs of fish. Arrange the coal into two banks and put a drip pan in the middle, to which you can add seasonings. Better still, grab some hardwood chips—Agway carries hickory and mesquite chips—and soak ’em for half an hour before dumping them onto the coals. Those coals are ready for direct cooking if you can hold your hand six inches away from the fire for no longer than three seconds. Indirect should be cooler—you get six seconds to feel it on your hand. Don’t try this indoors: Grills give off carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Finally, remember to take a wire brush to the grill rack, especially if fish has been in the picture.

Wood chips can really make a difference. They’re hard to find (think mail order) but incredibly tasty, so they’ll reward a search. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve enjoyed.

Alder: Gives the food sweetness. This is used for an annual salmon dinner in the Pacific Northwest.

Apple and cherry: Fruity, of course, but a great component of the smoky flavor you want in your turkey or chicken.

Ash: A very light, distinctive flavor that’s good with red meats.

Birch: Kind of “woodsy.” Good for poultry and pork.

Grapevine: A classic—and it grows by my house! Very tart, but with a fruit finish.

Hickory: One of the classics. Sweet but assertive. Goes with everything.

Maple: Mellow but smoky; think of this with vegetables or sturdy cheeses.

Mesquite: Beware its hot burn. The pungent, earthy flavor it imparts is a good all-around addition.

Oak: If you can’t find mesquite, this may be in your yard. A lighter version.

Pecan: Is to hickory as oak is to mesquite. Sweet and with a nutty flavor.

That barbecue, by the way, was delicious. Cooked it over hickory for a couple of hours and couldn’t have been happier. “The real McCoy,” Billy Ray assured me.

There’s the Rub

Enhancing your barbecue with marinades, rubs and sauces

By Laura Leon

Barbecue. It’s a method of cooking, a kind of entertainment, an appliance, even a way of life. Let’s hope that, at this late stage, you’ve graduated from your parents’ style of slapping pre-formed patties onto a blackened grill lit by asbestos-like briquettes. Let’s hope that you’ve learned the value of using virgin wood mixed with some soaked herb branches and/or vine cuttings to imbue your meal with an honest-to-goodness woodsy flavor.

But let’s go one step beyond. Good charwood can only take your meats and vegetables so far. What you need is marinades, sauces or rubs to impart the most and best flavor to your grilled fare. A lot of people shy away from the marinade, thinking they have to soak Friday night’s dinner beginning Wednesday or Thursday, and there goes the idea of quick and easy cooking.

While some marinades should be applied 24 hours in advance, there are quite a few that can be started as little as 20 minutes to three hours ahead of cooking time. It’s really as simple as fixing the marinade (which often can be done up to two days ahead), and then, say before running off to the office, plopping your ribs or chicken or veggies into the stuff and going from there. (NOTE: Because most marinades contain acid ingredients, the marinating should be done in a glass, ceramic or stainless-steel container—never in aluminum.)

Chris Schlesinger, owner of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge, Mass., and coauthor (with John Willoughby) of the popular book The Thrill of the Grill, has written that overnight marinades work best on larger cuts of meat, such as flank steaks. Practically speaking, marinades also soften up tougher or inexpensive cuts of meat, game and fowl. Regardless of the quality of cut, always bring marinated meats to room temperature before grilling.

In many instances, Schlesinger prefers using a dry rub, which he notes, “imparts surface flavor more efficiently, but also aids in the formation of a flavorful crust or feel.” Rubs, made up of herbs and flavored salts, permeate food deeply and create subtle, sometimes contrasting layers of flavor. They should be applied to the meat you’re barbecuing three to six hours ahead of grilling.

Rubs are generally not recommended for vegetables, fish fillets or lighter cuts of meat. Regardless of whether you use a marinade or a rub, the purpose is to accent and complement your meal, not to disguise the intrinsic taste of your main course. Rubs can transform a rather banal backyard grill into an Asian-infused treat, a Moroccan-inspired feast or a down-home banquet.

Try the following, then experiment with your own marinades and rubs. Useful sources include The Thrill of the Grill; Molly O’Neill’s A Well-Seasoned Appetite; Bold American Food by Bobby Flay; Fire and Smoke, the Complete Grill Guide by the Cole Group Kitchen Art staff.


Minted Turkish Delight Marinade
(From July 1995 Bon Appetit)

Perfect for lamb kebabs and chicken; good dip for raw veggies and bread

1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup chopped fresh mint
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Whisk first three ingredients together until smooth. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and chill. Can be made one day ahead.


Tuscan Marinade
(From A Well-Seasoned Appetite)

Perfect for steak, chicken and vegetables

2 cups red wine
2/3 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
2 tablespoons minced sage leaves
4 teaspoons minced rosemary leaves
4 teaspoons black peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in glass or ceramic bowl. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.

Marinate chicken for up to four hours; steak for eight hours; vegetables for eight hours. Makes about 2 cups.


Cilantro-Soy Paste
(From A Well-Seasoned Appetite)

Perfect for chicken, shrimp and fish

2/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed and seeded
6 tablespoons soy sauce

Process all ingredients in blender until smooth. Make sure to scrape down sides of jar. Refrigerate in airtight container for up to two days. Cover food to be grilled with paste for three hours before grilling; turn in the marinade frequently. Wipe off excess paste before grilling.

Makes 1/2 cup.

Outdoor Dining in the Capital Region

Full Service

Adirondack Pub & Brewery
33 Canada St., Lake George, 668-0002

Albany Airport Hilton Garden Inn
800 Albany Shaker Road, Colonie, 464-6666

Alibis Bar & grille
1100 Madison Ave., Albany, 489-5972

Corner of Putnam and Phila streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060

1192 Western Ave., Albany, 438-1144

The Barnsider
480 Sand Creek Road, Colonie, 869-2448

Bayou Café
507 Saratoga Road (Route 50), Glenville, 384-7226

Bayou Café-Downtown
79 North Pearl St., Albany, 426-8550

Four Corners, Delmar, 475-1111

47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-2755

BFS Restaurant
1736 Western Ave., Guilderland, 452-6342

Big House
90 North Pearl St., Albany, 445-2739

Big House Grill
112 Wolf Rd., Colonie, 458-7300

Bleecker Café
State and Dove streets, Albany, 463-9382

Burden Lake Country Club
104 Toten Lodge Road, North Nassau, 674-8917

The Cambridge Hotel
4 West Main St., Cambridge, 677-5626

54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park, 383-4150

Christie’s on the Lake
Christie’s Lane, Lake George, 668-2515

Crazy Crab
Van Schaick Island Marina, Cohoes, 235-4846

Davidson Brothers Brewery & Restaurant
184 Glen St., Glens Falls, 743-9026

203-207 Lark St., Albany, 449-3532

El Loco Mexican Café
465 Madison Ave., Albany, 436-1855

El Mariachi II
289 Hamilton St., Albany, 432-7580

Everglades BBQ & Seafood
827 Saratoga Road, Wilton, 580-9631

2012 Central Ave., Albany, 869-0494

16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-7359

Gideon Putnam Hotel
Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, 584-3000

The Ginger Man Wine Bar & Restaurant
234 Western Ave., Albany, 427-5963

45 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 584-4790

Holmes & Watson
450 Broadway, Troy, 273-8526

Horseshoe Inn Bar & Grille
1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909

Hudson Harbor Steak & Seafood
351 Broadway, Albany, 426-5000

The Inn at Saratoga
231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1890

Jake’s Round-Up
23 Main St., South Glens Falls, 761-0015

301 Lark St., Albany, 436-7008

Krause’s Restaurant & Grove
2 Beach Rd., Clifton Park, 371-8033

La Serre
14 Green St., Albany, 463-6056

The Lakeview Inn
Route 43, Averill Park Center, 674-3363

408 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-7766

Londonderry Café
Stuyvesant Plaza, 489-4288

The Lookout
622 Watervliet-Shaker Rd., Latham, 785-4757

288 Lark St., Albany, 436-5660

317 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 580-0312

1562 New Scotland Ave. (Route 85), Slingerlands, 439-5555.
Stuyvesant Plaza, 482-8000.
Shopper’s World Plaza (off Route 146), Clifton Park, 383-6666

Mansion Hill Inn
115 Philip St., Albany, 465-2038

Martel’s at the New Course at Albany
65 O’Neil Road, Albany, 489-0466

4 Clinton Square, Albany, 463-1455

Miki Japanese
236 Washington (Rt. 29), Saratoga Springs, 583-9175

Mama Rosa’s
271 Lark St., Albany, 472-9555

Moscatiello’s Italian Restaurant
99 North Greenbush Road, (Route 4), Troy, 283-0809

My Linh
272 Delaware Ave., Albany, 465-8899

Nicole’s Bistro at the Quackenbush House
25 Quackenbush Square, Albany, 465-1111

Nicole’s Ristorante
556 Delaware Ave., Albany, 436-4952

Original Saratoga Springs Brew Pub
14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 580-BREW (2739)

Pagliacci’s Ristorante
44 S. Pearl St., Albany, 465-1001

Parting Glass
40 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916

284 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs, 583-2423

Professor Moriarty’s
430 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-5981

11 New Scotland Ave., Albany, 434-8186

Randy’s at The Dovegate Inn
184 Broad St., Schuylerville, 695-3699

The Riverfront Bar & Grill
Corning Preserve, Albany, 426-4738

Sargo’s at Saratoga National Golf Club
458 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-4653 ext. 601

Scholz’s Hofbrau
Warner’s Lake, East Berne, 872-9912

Shepard’s Cove
Lower Montcalm St., Lake George, 668-4978

168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030

30½ Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 584-9618

Springwater Bistro
139 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6440

Stephanie’s on the Park
462 Madison Ave., Albany, 449-2492

Steuben athletic Club
One Steuben Place, Albany, 434-6116

Styx Restaurant
3295 Route 2, Brunswick, 279-9993

Sutter’s Mill & Mining Co.
1200 Western Ave., Albany, 489-4910

3360 Route 9, Valatie, 784-2770

Troy Pub & Brewery
417-419 River St., Troy, 273-BEER (2337)

Uncle Milty’s Diner
21 Frontage Road, Glenmont, 434-3761

Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant
137 Madison Ave., Albany, 436-1868

The Van Dyck Restaurant & Brewery
237 Union St., Schenectady, 381-1111

Vellano’s International Restaurant
1118 Central Ave., Albany, 459-8610

Victory Café
10 Sheridan Ave., Albany, 463-9113

Washington Tavern
250 Western Ave., Albany, 427-0091

The Waterfront
626 Crescent Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-2628

The Wheat Fields
440 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-0534

The Wine Bar
417 Broadway, Saratoga Springs 584-8777


Counter Service

Brown’s Beach Grill
Route 9P, Saratoga Lake, 587-8280

Bountiful Bread
Stuyvesant Plaza, 438-3540

Hungry Spot Cafe
480 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-9060

24 Main Ave., Wynantskill, 283-5110

Jumpin’ Jacks
Collins Park, Scotia, 393-6101

Kurver Kreme
1349 Central Ave., Colonie, 459-4120

Lakeside Cider Mills
336 Schauber Road, Ballston Lake, 399-8359

1565 Central Ave., Colonie, 869-6279

Lickety Splits
Route 9, Latham, 785-6178

Mrs. London’s Bakery & Cafe
464 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 581-1834

On the Farm
273 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, 785-9930

South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-7427

1342 New Scotland Ave., Slingerlands, 439-7084

26 Picotte Dr., Crestwood Plaza, Albany, 438-1648

Tom’s Tastee Treat
2105 New Scotland Ave., Slingerlands, 439-3344

Tastee Freeze
58 Delaware Ave., Delmar, 439-3912

Uncommon Grounds
402 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 581-0656

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