If you live in Canada, you know very well that an unbearable winter makes it difficult to barbecue year round. Maybe that is why when the sun comes out, we crave that taste of summer and return to our backyards or cottages to prepare delicious, smoky food. Great barbecue is about so much more than food on a grill. It’s about the experience: the sunshine, the smells, and having friends and family around. There is a connection that many people make between barbecue and happy feelings. You don’t need to have a fancy smoker or a huge barbecue.
All you need is passion, patience and some hungry people to feed. So it says the “Godfather of The Grill”, Ted Reader, who has mastered the art of cooking over an open fire. Ted has written over 21 cookbooks and has several awards, such as “Cookbook of the Year” for the 2014 Single-Subject Cookbook at The Taste of Canada Food Writing Awards for Gastro Grilling. Other books he has written include: Beerlicious: The Art of Grillin’ and Chillin’, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Smoking, and Napoleon’s Everyday Plank Grilling, just to name a few. The award-winning chef, author, food and product innovation entertainer and a professor of Modern Culinary Applications Innovations at the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College shares his knowledge and some tricks to make the most of our grills.
MS: What is it about barbecues that makes them so popular all across Canada? Is it that genuine, freshly grilled food taste, is it the experience of gathering family and friends around the table for a moment of connection or maybe the craving to enjoy outside meals after our long winters?
Ted Reader: I can say that the pandemic made barbecue and grilling more popular. It got people cooking again. We didn’t like being locked up in our homes, so we turned our backyards into living quarters and full entertainment centers with tools and patios and umbrellas, all kinds of stuff… and barbecues! The average consumer used to just have a gas grill in his backyard. And now they have a gas grill, they have a pellet smoker, a charcoal grill or even a pizza oven. They want to cook, to explore, and they are excited to be cooking. So the pandemic got people thinking differently of how they approach life. They can take food and create it at a fraction of the cost of going out and having a wonderful experience in their backyard.
MS: Where does this tradition come from? Is it originally from North America or were we inspired by other cultures?
TR: There is debate that goes on forever, because cooking over an open fire comes from all around the world. But we know that marketing has made it popular and social media has made it popular. So, we now have the opportunity to take flavours globally right into our backyard. You can take the taste of Mongolia and cook it in your yard, or the taste of Peru and cook it in your yard, or the taste of Memphis and cook it in your yard. Barbecue brings a world of flavour to you and you’re only limited by your imagination and your desire to do it. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as much as meat, salt and pepper. And pepper is probably too much. You don’t need much to cook in an open fire.
MS: Throughout your career, you have made it clear that barbecuing is an art. Simultaneously, it seems so accessible for everyone. A lot of people will not attempt to recreate some recipes in the kitchen, but somehow everyone seems to easily find their way around a barbecue. What are your thoughts on this dynamic?
TR: You can make it as easy or complicated as you want to. I believe that everyone should get in their backyard and fire a grill. Whether you’re a man or a woman or an adult, a teenager… learn to work the grill. It’s a necessity in life. Barbecuing and cooking over an open fire has been going on for thousands of years. Since then we have had to cook. Since we are human and we started cooking for ourselves, it started with an open fire. And it is growing, it has evolved in different countries and different styles. And those styles are full of flavour, they open a world of experiences. Whether you’re here in Canada or doing barbecue in the United States, or you’re doing “assado” grill in Argentina or kebab in the Middle East. There are so many things that you can cook. Barbecuing is hot, it is trendy. Forget even it being trendy. It’s a way of life, it brings a lot of satisfaction when you learn to light the fire and create something that’s delicious.
MS: What can go wrong with a barbecue? Any common mistakes you see people frequently making with their grills? Also what are the essentials that we should know?
TR: Yes, here is the basics: when cooking with gas, turn the heat down. You don’t always have to cook on high. Number one thing, though, is you need to have patience. You need to slow things down and let the food cook. Just because it’s an open flame, it doesn’t mean it’s going to cook any faster. Also, if you don’t know how to cook something, Google it! It really works. Or ask your friends, ask your family, your neighborhood. And I am always willing to help, whatever tips you need. Also, a clean grill is extremely important. A clean grill is a healthier grill.
MS: For everyone who wants to take their barbecue up a notch, what is an easy trick can we do at home to make a good impression on our guests?
TR: The food is in the ingredients that you buy. So, if you want your food to taste the best, you have got to buy the best ingredients. You spend a little bit more on certain kinds of meat that give you more flavour and a better result. Buying a steak, for example, in a tray and a plastic wrap in a grocery store versus going to a butcher, those stakes are two very different steaks. So learn about the different types of cuts and the ages and what they do. Because all of your recipes stand from the base of your ingredients. Fresh herbs versus dried herbs. Simple things like garlic and lemon and limes and oranges, citruses… those items grilled, squeezed over meat, make for different flavours. Simple is the best. Slow down, buy the best ingredients and have a fun time.
MS: Can you share one of your recipes for us to try this summer? Make it beginner friendly, please!
Slashing grilled chicken drumsticks
- Take some chicken drumsticks, slash them across the skin, cutting into the meat three or four slashes on both sides.
- Then, you season them with a barbecue seasoning rub and throw them on a 350 degree grill.
- Grill them, turning frequently until they are fully cooked. The internal temperature you want for this is 185 degrees, so it falls right off the bone.
- Toss it in some barbecue sauce with some maple syrup and hot sauce.
- Toss in some crushed up barbecue potato chips and you got a great recipe!