Q: How about the age-old question of grilling vs. BBQ. If you're cooking on propane can that really qualify as BBQ?
—Robin Zingerman Gonzales, Chicago
A: Grilling versus barbecue? There are differences, sure, but I don't much care about what it's called or how it's cooked as long as it tastes good.
Realizing that is not the most informed answer, I turned to Gary Wiviott, a "barbecue life coach" and author, with Colleen Rush, of "Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons." He, as he wryly noted in an email, does get "passionate over semantics " when it comes to barbecue.
"There needs to be interaction with wood smoke to be called BBQ,'' Wiviott writes. "Burgers and hot dogs on a gas grill do not a barbecue make. Fun, sure. Tasty, hopefully. BBQ, no."
Grilling, he adds, is "hot and fast." Barbecue is "low and slow," involving, traditionally, "tough cuts of meat with lots of fat and connective tissue. Long low slow temperatures render out fat and break down connective tissues resulting in deliciously tender cuts of meat."
"Slathering sugar sweet BBQ sauce on something does not magically turn it in to BBQ!" he adds.
I, too, define grilling as hot and fast cooking: Steaks, burgers, sides of salmon, assorted veggies. Yet I've also been known to "grill" a turkey and a hulking prime rib of beef for hours on a covered kettle grill.
For me, barbecue is indeed Wiviott's "low and slow." I tend to think of barbecue being done on specially designed rigs or offset smokers, although I've always had a gut feeling one can "BBQ" successfully in a covered kettle grill using indirect heat and some ingenuity. Recipes in Wiviott's book do offer instructions for using the kettle grill, although it is clearly not his favorite piece of equipment for barbecuing.
You also ask: Does cooking over propane negate the idea of barbecue?
"Propane is an outdoor oven," Wiviott replies. "I am a fan of natural lump charcoal for grilling. Wood and/or natural lump charcoal with wood for low slow smoking, i.e. BBQ … I like to work with hot coals; they're more flavorful."
I prefer natural lump charcoal too. Wiviott does note you can get propane grill with "special smoke boxes to hold smoldering wood chips that perfume the meat."
If you're curious about barbecue and want to learn more, remember that The Windy City BBQ Classic takes place Sept. 1 at Soldier Field's south parking lot. Wiviott is a co-founder of the event, whose motto is: "No Gas. No Electricity. Real BBQ." Check out the event's website, http://www.windycitybbqclassic.com/, for more information.
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