Spring and summer herald the return of the barbecue in backyards throughout Canada, but this year the good ol' grill may be making a comeback like no other. That's because real barbecuing - not grilling with propane - is actually a pretty cheap way to cook dinner, and these days, everyone's looking to save a few bucks.
Bob Haselbach, Whistler's local barbecuing guru, is quick to point out that there's a huge difference between your average backyard grilling, which usually uses propane, and barbecuing low and slow - the proper way - over a charcoal grill.
"It's like comparing CDs to vinyl. CDs are really convenient, but vinyl sounds better," he said with a grin.
Haselbach has done his homework, discovering that historically, barbecuing has roots in the Caribbean, where soldiers gave locals the leftover cuts of tough, inedible meat. To make the meat palatable, the locals created the first jerk rubs and marinades, and cooked the cuts over low heat for a long time to tenderize the meats.
Using the traditional barbecuing methods, you, too, can turn cheap cuts of meat, like brisket and pork, into delicious, tender delicacies. Plus, a ten-pound bag of charcoal briquettes sells for just $8.49 at Canadian Tire right now. According to Haselbach, a 20-pound bag will provide enough fuel for about 30 meals for two.
"More people are getting into it; charcoal is making a comeback," Haselbach said.
But just because it's cheap doesn't make it easy.
"You've got to be patient. You've got to wait for the coals to get hot, and then once they're white hot and glowing, then you cook on it. If they're still black, you'll get a nasty taste," Haselbach said, making a face.
Propane grills are fine for people who want to grill things up quickly, but Haselbach finds the propane infuses the food with a strong taste.
"If you do get those cheap cuts of meat and you want to barbecue low and slow, you can. You've just got to change it from direct heat - because cooking on charcoal is direct heat, its direct cooking," Haselbach said.
In smokers he uses for competitions and in the kitchen at BBQ Bob's, they use water pans to deflect the heat and retain moisture.
"Usually, people are just in a rush, that's why they grill everything on high heat," he pointed out.
On a propane barbecue, Haselbach recommends turning the heat on low on only one half of the grill and putting a pan of water inside to try and trap some of the moisture, while putting the meat on the side of the grill that isn't over direct heat.
But whether you decide to stick with your tried and true propane barbecue or kick it old school this summer, Haselbach encourages even the most amateur grillers to be experimental and try cooking new things; don't just stick with burgers and hot dogs. Try your hand at some new recipes, like this one that Haselbach suggests:
Bob's grilled NY steak & rosemary cherry tomatoes
Steak marinade (four to six 8 oz. NY strip steaks)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 oz. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
6 cloves peeled garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 tsp. cracked chili peppers
1 oz. lemon juice
Mix all together in a bowl and marinate steaks two hours prior to grilling.
Rosemary cherry tomatoes
Remove the bottom 2/3 of rosemary leaves from six stems, then toss cherry tomatoes in some olive oil, salt and pepper (just enough to coat the tomatoes.) Use rosemary stem as a skewer and place a few tomatoes on each skewer.
Preheat grill to high or 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove steaks from marinade and place on grill (keep heat up, as you want the grill really hot). Keep a close eye for flares and flip steaks accordingly (cook each side for about six to eight minutes.) It's important to let the steaks rest for about three to five minutes before you eat them. While they rest, turn the heat down to medium or 300 degrees Fahrenheit and grill the rosemary tomatoes for three to four minutes each side. Serve with a baked potato or salad.
The extra scoop
The Squamish Farmers Market has been running for five seasons, and this year, it promises to be stronger than ever, with three farmers from the Squamish area offering local produce, plus more fruits and vegetables from the surrounding region.
Good Time Farming and Glacier Cap Organics are just a few of the local producers participating in this year's market, which starts on Saturday, May 16 and runs each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Oct. 10 at the corner of Cleveland Street and Victoria Street in downtown Squamish.
Expect a great selection of prepared foods like bread, baked goods, soy products, honey, and maple syrup, as well as arts and crafts and live entertainment.