by John Ryan
Sometimes you don't need a new cookbook, just a subtle shift in perception.
I've always liked the story of the guy who goes to a psychiatrist. The doctor starts the session by pointing to a glass of water and asking him if he thinks the glass is half full or half empty. The guy hesitates and looks confused. After a minute or so the doctor grows impatient, "Come on, come on, this isn't rocket science, half full, half empty, which is it." To which guy responds very sincerely "Neither one, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be."
The grill could benefit from a similar shift in perception.
The grill is generally treated as a unique appliance--like a microwave--something with a separate set of rules, exceptions, and dangers. While I grant you that the microwave is truly unique, when food writers treat grills as different, they're just blowing smoke.
Of course, smoke is one of the great things about grilling, though it shouldn't get all the credit. One source for that great outdoor flavor writers rave about comes from marinades. Another has more to do with good browning than with the magic of charcoal management. (Those of us without kitchen exhaust fans rarely let our pans or ovens get hot enough to make those deep brown blisters of delicious flavor, because when we do, the smoke alarm goes berserk).
Another source of that outdoor flavor has to do with texture--grilled food develops such a great crust because it's not cooked in a pan and doesn't simmer in its own juices. (Sure, an oven broiler does the same thing, but with a grill you don't have to clean up the drip pan afterwards.)
So what's a grill? Where is that shift of perception? I had grilled hot dogs, dabbled with satays, slowly nursed along labs of barbecued pork, and made bruschetta. Slowly it dawned on me that the grill wasn't a new kitchen beast or simply as an outdoor broiler. When I made bruschetta I saw my grill as a toaster. When I barbecued pork I realized that my grill was an oven and a smoker.
Ah ha! Suddenly my grill was more than just a broiler for salmon steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs and so on. I started putting roasting pans or baking dishes on my grill and using it as an outdoor oven. That brought some of my winter repertoire outside. And if the grill was on, I had a toaster to create bruschetta and croutons.
My grill became my summertime stove. And all it took was a slight shift of perception.
Now, have you heard the story about the semi truck stuck under a bridge. Everybody is standing around scratching their heads trying to figure out how to get the truck out and there is talk of raising the bridge or cutting off the top of the truck and a little girl speaks up "Why don't you let some air out of the tires?"
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created July 1999
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