by Kerry Knight
There are two things I love to do in the summer: re-read Pillars of the Earth , and muck about with the Barbeque. I have probably read Ken Follett’s epic tale of Tom the Builder et al about ten times. The story follows the fortunes of a master stonemason, corrupt clergy and scheming royals, culminating in the assassination of Thomas a Beckett. Whenever I see it in used book sores I buy a copy of it for my friends, guaranteeing them that they will be hooked by the opening line, “THE SMALL BOYS came early to the hanging.” As far as I am concerned, summer is about this long, leisurely, familiar read, and messing around with the barbeque.
Many of us are already up to our rheumy eyes in barbeque smoke by now, most without a clue of what we are doing, but flamboyantly indulging nevertheless in this atavistic incendiary ritual, a flaming homage to our hunting and collecting forebears. We know that though empires have come and gone and Ozymandias’ ghost wanders in the desert, man’s passion for the barbeque has endured. I believe it was Pliny the Elder who wrote, “Si vos non volo essum exuro viscus, non adveho pro prandium” (“If you don’t like the taste of burnt flesh, don’t come over for dinner”. He is also credited with: “Si vos non amo via ego coegi , subsisto off the sidewalk.) (My Latin is a little rusty.)
The first barbeque I can remember is the one my dad built in our backyard. This was in the Mad Men days of red brick ovens the size of cathedrals and martinis the size of tail- finned Cadillacs, a time when cooking was women’s work, but the barbeque was a man’s world.
Dad’s barbeque was several tall tales high, and beckoned daily to my inner gargoyle. I toppled dramatically off the gothic towers during a particularly bloody re-enactment of a lesser-known medieval battle. I still have the scars.
When the barbeque, which looked like it could roast a Percheron, was not used for Knights and Peasants, or Cowboys and Indians, Dad actually cooked on it; hardwood coals and a gridiron that took an hour to get hot while the pawns tripped over each other in the sprinkler. Mom never barbequed, satisfied to cook every other meal her family ever ate for about 40 years. I do have one snapshot of her though, taken at Bon Echo; she is bending miserably over an open campfire poking at something that’s vexing her, her purple jumpsuit wrapped in a bluish cloud, a look of disdain clearly visible, tinged with longing for Sex in the City days that were at least a generation away, amorphous dreams up in smoke.
90% of pyromaniacs are male: Gale Research (1998.), “Impulse Control Disorders”.
This is a fact filled report. I decided to throw in that statistic, lest you worry that I would asphyxiate you with nostalgia. The fact that 90% of pyromaniacs are male may have nothing to do with the fact that men love to barbeque. Also, boys love to play with their food. This probably has the same degree of relevance. If you Google, “ Why do men love to barbeque?” you will get 16,000,000 results. I have not read all of these but I suspect most are true. You will also come across the picture above, which may also explain something about what men really like.
Unfortunately, my Barbeque looks nothing like a hot rod. It is more like a prototype of R2D2, a Brinkman smoker that my wife and I purchased while living in Texas. There barbequing was a necessity and smoking was a religion.
This trusty l’il workhorse has moved with me more times than my Partridge Family albums and on more than one occasion I have admitted to “L’il Brinx” my deepest darkest secrets. Staring into a pit of burning coals can do that to a person, especially if they were brought up Roman Catholic. And I confess that even though I have barbequed for almost all of my life, I am afraid to try FOREIGN things. As Hank Hill might say, “If it’s any good there’s already an American version of it.” I have my dog and pony show hits, but my repertoire is a little, well, Hank Hill. As penance, Lil Brinks has been insisting that I expand my horizons, burn over a new banana leaf, so I recently picked up a copy of PLANET BARBECUE! (2010, Workman Publishing).
“A Live–Fire Tour of six continents, 60 countries and 309 of the worlds most authentic, explosively flavorful recipes ever, PLANET BARBECUE! covers it all…”
So touts the back cover, and at 638 pages one get the impression that you would indeed have to go to another planet to learn more about grilling and smoking.
Written by Steven Raichlin, PLANET BARBECUE! fills in the existential blanks left by his previous work, The Barbcue! Bible, which supports the conventional wisdom that any Bible can and should be improved upon.
Encyclopedic in scope, PB begins, as you might expect, with “The Discovery of Fire and the Invention of Barbeque,” slides into “Two Million Years of Barbeque History (in 2,000 words)” then tosses you immediately into the flames with the first recipes. In keeping with the hard to shake Bible motif we are confronted with: “In the beginning there was fire. And in the beginning there was grilling.”
And in the end there were agents.
The recipes themselves, most accompanied with smoking hot photos, will make you want to quit your day job. Raichlin includes a chapter each for Salads, Breads, Beef Veal and Game, Pork, Lamb and Goat, Poultry, Ground meat, Fish, Shellfish, Vegetables and Vegetarian Dishes, and Desserts. A comprehensive explanation of at least nine technical tips, numerous descriptions of various barbeques, smokers and grills, a number of recommended fuels- in short- the “Nuts and Bolts of Live Fire Cooking” round out the book. Throw in a few reminders to buy Sustainable, Local and Fair-Trade produce and you’ve got yourself as close to an idiot-proof/guilt-free guide as you’re going to find anywhere. On this Planet.
Clearly this is more than a cookbook, and arguably more barbeque book than you will ever need, but it is hard to imagine a more complete reference book, or “how to” manual. Raichlin travelled for years to 53 of the 60 countries featured in the text, and almost every page has colourful and heartfelt anecdotes concerning his travels; the people he met, the histories which determined their cuisine, cured with a thoroughness that makes National Geographic seem like Readers Digest. For those of us that can’t find Africa or Azerbaijan on a map, Raichlin includes full colour maps of the featured countries.
You know what might go good with a PLANET BARBECUE?
A WORLD CUP ! How about that, there just happens to be a World Cup going on right now! So here is how I plan on tackling PLANET BARBECUE! During a featured match, I will grill the dish of the country I have bet all of my lire, or rand or Euros on. For example, when Italy plays Paraguay on June 14, I will slow grill Bell pepper salad with capers and pine nuts, Venetian shrimp grilled with breadcrumbs and sage, and Tuna steaks alla Fiorentina. This will bring the Azzuri good luck, and I will also fulfill my promise to Lil Brinks to expand my barbeque borders. By the way, for those of you that are rooting for South Africa, you might want to try “Springbok Kebabs with Monkey Gland Sauce.” I know I am!
While the Monkey Gland Sauce is simmering, I will sit down with a pint of mead and learn all I ever wanted to know about this combustible world and its man-hungry appetite. So it looks as if I am not going to have any time to spend with Tom the Builder until next summer. Until then, I’m on fire for ya baby.
Kerry Knight is a starving writer who has been eating all his life. Growing up in a family with eight others, he learned to read devouring the collected works of Kate Aitkin and Mary Moore. He lives in Parkdale and regularly cooks for his wife Ivy and his three dogs, Poppy, Betty and Peabody. His Motto is “Will Poop for Food”.