Almost two million years, that’s how long ago some anthropologists believe man began to place their food over a fire. Faced with numbers like those, it’s not hard to understand why grilling is one of the most common cooking practices in the world. You would be hard pressed to think of a place on the planet where this ritual is not carried out. It’s literally in our genetic makeup, a part of our very being. The scent of meat or fish grilling over coals is as irresistible as your biggest passion and for those who are not of the meat-eating persuasion, grilled veggies are a wonder in themselves.
Barbecuing has always been a favourite weekend ritual in North America, few backyards are without some kind of a gas grill. Diehards will stick with wood or coal and of those, a patient few will even spend hours nurturing a smoker. Here in Portugal, barbecuing will happen on any given day for lunch or dinner. Gas barbecues exist, but are few and far between, the principal grilling fuels are wood and coal. As for a vessel with which to execute your task, well, that varies widely. If you’ve got the fuel and the ingredients, then what you grill them on is whatever you’ve got laying around, or whatever you’ve concocted. My first BBQ experience after moving here was at a friend’s property just across the valley. When I arrived, they were grilling lamb over coals in a wheelbarrow, being fresh off the plane, I found it surprising, but fantastic. In the modern world one gets used to buying specific things for specific purposes, it’s when you experience situations like the one I just described, that you realize that there really are many ways to do the same thing, or perform the same task. Not long after, another friend invited us over for lunch and when we arrived, there he was grilling strips of pork and beef on an old forge. That amazed me because the forge had a small hand-cranked turbine that lit the coals faster than anything I had ever seen.
Then and there I decided that if I ever came across a little forge like that, I would grab it and sure enough, an uncle of mine had one collecting dust and offered it to yours truly, (after a little whining). Today it sits proudly in our outdoor kitchen ready to act on a moment’s notice. Of course, in the past, I’ve used bricks, cement blocks, rocks, whatever is nearby in to carry out the task, what needs to be quality are the ingredients. Sardines and green peppers on the grill, anything more Portuguese than that? Fabulous! I once saw an individual put the sardines right on the coals! The peppers are always placed directly on the coals to grill, but I had never seen the actual sardines thrown on them too! Needless to say, they were also fantastic. Before I sign off, I want to share a trick I learned from a friend in the Algarve. When using wood or coal, the fat dripping off the fish, or meat, can cause flare-ups that could scorch or even burn whatever you’re grilling, instead of sprinkling water on the flames, (which is really the last thing we should be doing on coals), keep a little bucket of ashes nearby and sprinkle some over the area flaring up. Works like a charm.
The barbecue, bringing people together for almost two million years.