A shout-out for my boys at La Caja China…
A shout-out for my boys at La Caja China…
I was five or six years old, and we were having a family get together at Uncle Vern’s house. My Uncle Raymond, who was, almost assuredly, several mason-jars into the party already, decided that the charcoal in the battered old Weber Grill (which was sitting on a plywood-covered, screened porch – them’s my genes, folks!) wasn’t heatin’ up as quickly as he’d like.
Indignant, he walked over, peered blurrily at the coals for a moment, and then nonchalantly tossed the contents on his half-full cup, onto the open flame.
I was five…and I remember the fireball.
I also remember Uncle Vern and my father grabbing up the garden hose and dousing the smoldering mosquito netting that surrounded the porch. I’m pretty sure they were speaking in tongues… at least a tongue that I wasn’t familiar with at that tender age.
Needless to say, there are right ways to do things, and there are wrong ways to do things…
Let’s take a look at some “right way” options for lighting charcoal.
Firstly…let’s get one thing out of the way… “self-starting” or “quick-light” charcoal should never be allowed to defile your grill. Pre-soaking the coals enough to achieve an instant flare-up, guarantees that the chemical flavor goes all the way through the charcoal, and will not “burn off”, as self-applied charcoal starter will.
No pre-soaked charcoal…ever.
Oh, and all of these methods assume that we’re using a charcoal chimney starter, like this one:
Btw: these babies are just plain awesome for searing the perfect steak over super-high heat! See our recipe, here.
Method #1: Charcoal Lighter Fluid
This is my least favorite method, but it’s also the one that I, along with millions of other backyard barbecue buffs, grew up with. I’m not going to poo-poo this method with the same vehemence I give to the quick-light…stuff, mainly because I’ve grilled up some pretty dang good food over fuel-squirted coals.
Pros: It’s convenient, and quick, and pretty-much fool-proof…
Cons: Well, it’s still a nasty, stinky chemical that’s involved in food I’m feeding my family…as well as a half-gallon jug of explosive liquid that I’m using in an open-flame situation…and I’m clumsy.
If you’re going to use charcoal lighter fluid:
Method #2: Newspaper as Fire-starter
This method is, in my not-so-humble opinion, better than using lighter-fluid, but I still can’t get over the idea that I’m coating my coals with burned ink fumes and residue.
Pros: It’s a pretty easy and safe way to go. Just stuff a piece or two of crumpled newspaper in the bottom side of your charcoal chimney, fill the top with charcoal, and then light the newspaper. In about 10 minutes, you should have hot, burning coals.
Cons: That first minute or so, while the paper is igniting…creates some pretty gnarly grey smoke, so light-up well away from your guests, or anything they’re likely to eat.
My other issue is that it’s 2012…who gets a freakin’ newspaper anymore? Not me, I get all my news digitally…and I don’t think my iPad would work nearly as well for this.
Method #3: The Electric Fire-starter (Like one of these…)
Lastly, and in my opinion, the best way, to light your fire, is to use one of these babies. Charcoal doesn’t require open flame to burn, it just needs enough heat.
Pros: Flameless, odorless, this is probably the safest, cleanest method available to start your coals. Very easy to use.
Cons: You gotta have electricity close by, and…well, it’s a gadget, so there’s always a chance that it just plain won’t work…when you’re already running late…on the night your new boss is coming over for bbq. You know what I’m talkin’ about.
Still, I’ve had mine for years, and it’s never failed me once.
Lastly, it’s probably not something you want to play with in the rain, or while standing in water…unless you want a Darwin Award.
To use, just pour about 1/3 of your charcoal into your chimney, set the (unplugged and unheated) electric fire starter inside, and fill in around it with the remaindered of your coals. Now, set the chimney in a safe place, and plug that baby in!
Be sure to keep any plastic parts away from direct contact with the coals, and keep a close eye, as you’ll need to pull that starter out as soon as the coals start going. Do not leave it in the chimney until the coals turn gray!
So there you go…three popular, reliable, and simple-to-use methods to get your grill on.
Whichever you chose should work great…and be a lot safer fire-starter than a mason jar full of whatever my uncles brewed up in that oil drum behind the barn…
Burnin’ Love BBQ
Yes, I know this recipe isn’t for everyone, but I love grilled chicken hearts, and I love nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce), so I figured that marinating one in the other, before grilling, might be a good idea.
Turns out…it was a fantastic idea!
I’ll keep this quick and simple:
1 lb fresh chicken hearts
Wooden skewers (8-16, depending on length)
1/3 cup lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup fish sauce
2 garlic clove, finely minced
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce (tuong ot toi), optional
Rinse the chicken hearts and pat dry.
In a saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients (except skewers) and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool. If you need to speed this up, only add 1/2 cup of water before simmering, and then add 3/4 of a cup of ice cubes to cool.
Place chicken hearts in a large zip-bag and pour the cooled marinade over the top. Seal and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours. Remove chicken hearts from the brine (dispose of the brine), and let rest on the counter for up to an hour, to come to room temp.
Meanwhile, set skewers in a shallow pan and cover with warm water.
Let soak 1 hour.
Thread chicken hearts into skewers, and grill over very high heat, 2-3 minutes per side, until well marked and just cooked through. You do NOT want a “well-done” chicken heart!
Enjoy as is, or with some sticky rice and sesame Asian slaw. I like to serve mine sprinkled with freshly minced cilantro and a little warmed chili garlic sauce on the side, for dipping!
Burnin’ Love BBQ
Our Facebook Friend Mary asks:
Hi Chef Perry! We’re planning on cooking 3 turkeys in our La Caja China box for Thanksgiving…. 12-14 lbs each. Can anyone tell me approximately how long it will take? Thanks in advance….and planning on brining them if that makes a difference? – Mary B.
Mary, thanks for asking!
Every year, we roast 8-10 whole turkeys in our Semi Pro for the Thanksgiving dinner at our local homeless shelter, The Father’s Heart, in Oregon City.
Here are 5 tips we’ve learned over the years, for roasting the perfect turkey(s) in La Caja China roasting boxes.
Burnin’ Love BBQ
Make sure your turkey(s) are COMPLETELY thawed by the night before. The bone temp of the turkeys will make or break the La Caja China process. The USDA recommends cold water thawing.
Allow about 30 minutes per pound, and be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.
Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Always, always, always brine your turkeys (or chickens) before roasting! The differences in the flavor, the tenderness, and the juiciness of the meat are indescribable.
To brine one turkey, bring 1 quart of water to a simmer, add salt and sugar, stir to dissolve completely. Add 3 quarts of very cold water to cool. (See our recipes, the the link below, for some great tips on other delicious ingredients you can add to your brine!)
Place turkeys in a water-tight container, large enough to allow a little space around each, and pour the cooled brine over the turkeys, add more cold water to cover (if needed). Move turkeys to a cold area, or refrigerate 8-10 hours.Discard brine and rinse turkeys thoroughly, before prepping for roasting.
Just Also, be sure to cover (just) the top of each turkey loosely with a small piece of foil. The thin skin burns easily in the direct heat of the caja. You need a separate piece for each turkey, so you don’t block the heat getting down and under the birds (been there, done that! LOL)
4. NO PEEKING
I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this subject, but it really is important. Lifting the lid from the box effectively removes all the cooking heat, and it takes a LONG time to build back up, as your turkey is cooling at the same time. Use a remote probe thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh, and (personal opinion) a metal dust pan and scoop to remove the ashes, instead of removing the lid. NEVER lift the lid until your turkey has reached “resting temp”…which is 10-15F below your target finished temperature.
5. COLD WEATHER COOKING
Let’s face it, holiday cooking, for many of us, means if we want to BBQ or grill…we’re cooking in the cold! Make sure you start out with every ounce of the recommended coal weight, to ensure that the box reaches its “honey spot” for you.
Keeping the box protected from the wind is key, I often start mine in the driveway, and once the fire had gone out, roll it into my garage – keeping the door open, and the box a safe distance from any flammables, of course!
Also, shave 10 minutes of each “add coals” cycle; this has helped me in the past.
For more tips, tricks, and insider secrets on cooking anything in (and on) La Caja China, be sure to download our free La Caja China eGuidebook!
If you’d like to see a full holiday menu, including this delicious La Caja China turkey recipe, please vist our post: La Caja China Christmas Menu with Recipes
Oh, and if you’re hankerin’ for smoked turkeys this year, watch our short video: Smoked BBQ in La Caja China with the A-Maze-N Smoker
What we’re really talking about is a wonderful day set aside on the fourth Thursday of November when no one diets. I mean, why else would they call it Thanksgiving? – Erma Bombeck
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, but it’s no secret that (especially for us foodies) it can bring with it a lot of kitchen chaos and performance anxiety. So many dishes, so many people, and so many “cherished family traditions” that must be upheld, it would be well-nigh impossible to make it through the day without at least some drama.
That’s one reason I love to fire up the grill every November… it’s a peaceful place to gather with others seeking to escape the kitchen, and prepare some delicious dishes at the same time.
Here are my two “go to” Thanksgiving menu items from the grill…
I gotta say, if given a choice, I will never, never serve another turkey (or chicken) that has not been brined. The improvement in moistness, flavor, and general “cook-ability” makes it a no-brainer.
The aromatics make a huge difference as well. My wife had made it clear that the testing is over; THIS is our Thanksgiving turkey recipe from now on, and no further modifications are allowed!
Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees F.
Combine the stock, boiling water, salt, honey, and peppercorns, in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids, add aromatics, and bring to a boil.
Remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.
Combine the brine, gallon of water, and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.
Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine, and allow the turkey to come to room temperature.
Spatchcock the turkey (here I demonstrate how to spatchcock a chicken – a very similar process) and reserve the backbone for stock.
Preheat your well-oiled grill with all burners on high, and the lid closed, for 10 minutes, then turn off one burner (if you have a 3-burner grill, turn off the middle one).
Place your turkey skin side up in the center of your grill (over the “off” burner). Close the lid, leaving the vents open.
Grill the turkey for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, flipping it skin-side down after the first hour. If you want to judge doneness with a thermometer, insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F.
At 2 hours, brush the back of the bird with cranberry bbq sauce (recipe below), at 2 1/2 hours, flip skin side up and brush with more sauce.
Let the turkey rest, off the heat and loosely covered with foil, for 20-30 minutes before carving.
Serve with additional sauce, on the side.
Empty cranberry sauce into 2 quart saucepan, whisk, add the remaining ingredients, whisk again, and cook, over medium heat, until simmering.
Cook until the mixture is thick like barbecue sauce.
This may not have been a “traditional” Thanksgiving side dish in your home, but it was in mine, and…let’s face it…nothing brings out the awesomeness of asparagus like grilling does!
Place asparagus on a plate. Drizzle oil and lemon juice over the asparagus and turn spears until they are coated. Sprinkle with salt and turn again.
Grill asparagus for 5 minutes, on a medium grill. Each minute or so, roll each spear 1/4 turn. Asparagus should begin to brown in spots (indicating that the natural sugars are caramelizing) but should it not be allowed to char. Dripping oil may cause flare-ups. If you’re using a charcoal grill, keep a spray bottle of water handy to spritz on coals, if necessary.
Remove from grill and serve immediately.
I’ll leave you with my number one tip for having putting on a great Thanksgiving feast, regardless of your experience on the grill, or in the kitchen. It’s one I try to practice every year…
BE THANKFUL! This is what it’s about, peeps… not the turkey, not the pies, and (believe it or not) not about being the perfect grill-master. Find a quiet spot to sit for 20-30 minutes, before you start cooking Thursday morning, and reflect on what you have to be thankful for and why you’re thankful for them.
Keep those thoughts firmly in place as you ride into battle, and remember that, in addition to all of our other many blessings, each of us here at Grilling is Happiness is thankful for you!
Have a great holiday!
A Rub is a spice and/or herb blend that’s used to coat meats prior to cooking. Rubs can be completely dry or can incorporate some liquids. This is called a wet rub or paste. Rubs are typically used in barbecue and grilling because they stick to the meat whether it’s on a gas grill or in a smoker. A common rub base is paprika and/or chili powder to add color and mild flavor.
Personally, I like to combine a generous amount of dry rub on the outside of the meat, with an injectable marinade to add flavor to the interior, especially with large cuts like pork shoulders.
Homemade dry rubs are cheap, simple to make, and usually taste better than store-bought varieties, plus they can be easily tailored to your personal tastes or dietary restrictions. Once you nail down the basics, you can create an endless variety of dry rubs.
A good dry rub should include five elements: A base, a salty element, a sweet element, a spicy element, and a signature element.
Base: I like smoked paprika for a solid rub base, but many folks use a hot or sweet paprika as well. You can customize your paprika base by adding chili powder or cumin.
Salty: This would be salt. Avoid iodized table salt in your rub (in fact, avoid that stuff in anything you plan to eat…) common options are Kosher or sea salt (coarse or medium), seasoned salt, Hickory or smoked salt, or for pastes and wet rubs, you can try soy sauce or Thai fish sauce for your salt element.
Sweet: Again, an almost endless list of options: white or brown sugar, honey, molasses, or maple syrup (wet), ginger, cinnamon, etc.
Spicy: Black, white, and red ground peppers, red pepper flake, or for serious spice, try a little (a little!) ghost pepper powder.
Signature: Finally, make it your own with a dash or two of something you like, spices like coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, mustard, rosemary, and thyme. Even garam masala or curry power, anything goes!
Make it a cup at a time, and tweak your recipe until it’s perfect!
Let’s face it, there’s no “wrong” time to fire up your gas or charcoal grill, and the holidays are certainly no exception.
Sure, the weather might be a little cooler, the days a little shorter, and some of you may have to shovel a path through the snow to your grill, but that’s a small price to pay for some smoky, seared treats to go with all of that turkey and pumpkin pie, right?
Okay, I’ll meet you halfway… here are two of my favorite holiday side dishes that require minimum time outdoors, while still bringing tons of great grill flavor to the party!
Drain the sweet potatoes and let cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and arrange in a single layer. Refrigerate until cool, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients (only use the sauce from the chipotles, not the peppers themselves) in a small pot and bring to a slow simmer, stirring constantly.
Cook until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and keep warm.
Once the sweet potatoes are cool, pre-heat your grill to medium high (375°F) and oil the grates.
Halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise. Cut the halves lengthwise into 3/4-inch-thick wedges and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.
Place the sweet potato wedges on the grill in a single layer, cover, and cook until grill marks appear, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the wedges to the other cut side, and repeat.
Transfer grilled sweet potato wedges to a platter, and drizzle with Caramel Adobo Sauce.
I tested this recipes on some friends recently, one of whom informed me that while she despised Brussels sprouts, she would “try one” for me. She made a point of telling me, after dinner, that she had gone back for seconds. If you know folks who’ve never met a Brussels spout they loved… this is a good one to introduce them to!
Meanwhile, bring the chicken broth to simmer in a stock pot. Cut off the stem end of the Brussels sprouts and remove any off-color outer leaves.
Add the Brussels sprouts to the chicken stock, return to a simmer (if necessary, add water until sprouts are just covered), and cook 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until they are still firm, but you can poke a skewer through them.
Drain and allow the sprouts to cool until you can handle them. Skewer 6 to 8 sprouts onto each skewer, and brush with reduction sauce.
Place the skewers onto the grill over medium heat. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the skewers over and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.
Serve as is or for an extra punch of flavor, remove the sprouts from the skewers, plate, and drizzle with remaining reduction sauce.