To Grill or Bar-B-Que, THAT is the question!

Having lived all over the country, and being a huge fan of all things grilled, I have learned that there is appropriate nomenclature for each locale.  We learned all of the socially acceptable terms for each area.  We attended festivals and ate all manner of things from a grill, including, but not limited to:  Beef, Lamb, Pig, Fruits and Veggies. 

What about you?  Do you BBQ, or, do you Grill?

For instance, at “home” we were always going to “grill out”, . . . as opposed to grilling in?  I mean, I’m sorry but, your George Foreman, really doesn’t qualify.  Where else is there to grill except “out”? 

What you grill is also a question.  We usually grilled hamburgers, bratwurst or hot dogs, the occasional steak or chicken, but never pork chops (my mom lived in fear that she would not get the internal temperature high enough and we would all get food poisoning and DIE!!)  and almost always, over charcoal.  MatchLight and a match- that’s all you need.  Oh, and if you say BBQ, you mean you are actually going to put BBQ Sauce ON whatever it is you happen to be grilling. 

Simple, to the point.  It wasn’t an art form, just a means to an end- dinner.

Then I moved to Texas!  Wow!!!  In the southwest, they “BBQ or Barbecue or Bar-B-Que”, and how!  In Texas and Oklahoma, BBQ generally involves some specialty wood (Mesquite) and smoke.  Lots of smoke.  Hours and hours of smoke.  It’s a slooooooooooow cook; long and drawn out, much like their speech.  And, it IS an art form all unto itself!  Most of the time the meat of choice involved is a beef brisket. 

There are, evidently, no pigs in Texas.  Brisket was, and I’m sure still IS, the meat of choice and they are readily available at your local super market.  Where I grew up, the only brisket I knew anything about was a corned beef brisket for St. Patrick’s Day.  However, in the southwest, they speak of brisket as if it were a blend of royalty and deity all slathered in some special blend of home-made BBQ sauce and “rub”.    Rub???  What in the world? Yeah, that was my question too?

Everyone in Texas and Oklahoma has their own “rub” recipe and they aren’t sharing.  Rub recipes are highly secured formulas (think  the Coke formula, or better yet, the precise amount of uranium needed in a nuclear warhead) and NO ONE will ever be told the recipe!!!!  You can’t get a security clearance high enough for that!  There are BBQ Festivals and Cook-offs too numerous to even begin to name.  If you are the winner of the Festival, well, let’s just say, everything truly is bigger in Texas- including attitudes and boasts.

In the midwest, they “Cook Out”, hmmm, okay, again, as opposed to cooking IN?  I guess that makes slightly more sense.  They use a gas grill, mostly and choose pork chops, pork burgers, hot dogs and hamburgers, or, if you are in North Central Kentucky, Mutton.  Mutton is to Kentucky as Brisket is to Texas, only greasier.  AND, as an added bonus (?) it is served with a side of burgoo (Don’t even ask).

The grilling style is a nice blend of the other two styles: gas it or smoke it.  The choice is yours.  However, it’s more of a family affair reserved for holidays or group picnics, or even restaurants, as opposed to the,  “it’s really hot and I don’t want to turn on the stove so let’s just grill out”, mentality I grew up with.  Notably, it was in the midwest that I was introduced to the likes of grilled vegetables (which became an addiction),  as well as a pizza cooked, entirely, on the grill.   It was pretty good, but seemed like more trouble than it was worth. 

In the Southwest and Midwest, I think it is just about avoiding the summer heat.  The Texans do it by smoking the poor brisket to death, thereby eliminating the need for their actual PRESENCE outside to monitor the progress.  Just asphyxiate the thing!  It’ll be awwwwriiiiiiiight.  There is the periodic flip of the meat, but all in all, it’s a long, lonely time in the old smoker if you’re a brisket.    As for the Midwest, all they want is OUT of the heat and they get out of it by gassing their food.  Get it done fast! Get back inside and save yourself from the suffocating humidity!  UGH!  ‘Nuff said!

At home, for all but the “dog days of August”, you can actually enjoy sitting out by the grill slowly basting and tenderly flipping your meat.  Depending on the evening, it might actually be nice to have that little bit of radiated heat from the grill.  You can sit and read, watch the kids play, sip some lemonade, you know, relax.  There isn’t any pressure to produce the perfect brisket here. 

I’ll take a brat (pronounced “braht”), some Jays and a nice cold drink to go with, please.


Lazy Sunday Afternoons

Growing up, every Sunday afternoon was spent at my aunt and uncle’s house with all the rest of the family who also “happened by”, as expected.  Italian families have strict codes of conduct. They are the unwritten “rules”  that everyone knows and abides by despite any personal inconvenience. 

We laughed and ate.  The adults played cards, discussed business and gossiped.  The kids, and there are MANY in an Italian family, played and watched TV and generally tried to stay out-of-the-way. 

There was always the smell of some version of sauce brewing and brewing until just the precise moment that my Uncle declared it finished.  Then, it was a “first  come – first served” stampede!  You better hurry up because NO ONE was watching out for you, making sure you ate.  When it was gone, it was gone.  Hope you liked it.

Then, there was more card playing and talking and, well, a kid could get pretty bored.  If you had not yet reached the age of card playing ability, but were too old to want to swing or ride a bike, you were pretty much stuck.  What to do? 

Somehow the TV always found its way to –  now get this-Italian family –  the God Father right?  No, oh, that we were so lucky!  No, what the older kids who controlled the dial gravitated to was:  The Beverly Hillbillies.  And, thus, began my education of all things Southern.  We did, with the advent of the VCR, eventually come to know and quote the GodFather by heart, but in those formative years, it was all hillbilly!

So, there we sat, all 15 of us, gathered around a 27 inch console TV with a color tube ready to go out at any moment, soaking up all of the Ellie May we could digest.  In the midst of the culture that ensued was always a candy dish.  There are two flavors of candy in Italian homes- anise and lemon.  Everyone I knew growing up had a candy dish and that one was ALWAYS full of anise candy.  Sometimes it was the hard red kind and sometimes, the black mints, but always anise. 


In my mind I can still smell the distinct sharpness of the dark red pieces.  It was so pretty, all wrapped in red cellophane, like Christmas all year.  Anise is an acquired taste.  My own children have probably never had it.  It’s licorice, but not exactly, and dark cherry, but with a peppery bite to it.  The smooth, tongue numbing square was exactly enough to get you through a thirty minute episode as long as you sucked on it and never crunched it up.  We ate a whole dish each week and had contests to see who could make their piece last the longest.  I could beat them all! 

As I sat writing this Sunday night, I so wished I had a piece, but there is none to be had here.  I’ve looked.  Add it to the list of groceries I need to pick up next time I’m “home”.  

Maybe what I really wanted was just a piece of that family time.  Although it was simple, and  I didn’t understand it at the time, it played a large role in making me who I am today.  Add it to the list of things that are Just Me.

Who Hid the Green Stuff?

It’s March, and where I come from, March can only mean ONE thing: 

Shamrock Shakes are back!!!! 

Yes, there’s the start of Spring and the Big Ten (that’s like the SEC for all of you south of the Mason-Dixon Line) and St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Patrick’s Day, which IS a holiday, is heralded by the return of the glorious Shamrock Shake at your local McDonald’s.  The anticipation is incredible.  See, up North, the crocus, the daffodils, well, they do NOT welcome spring.  If they don’t wait until WELL into the season, they could freeze.  No, to millions of children and adults alike, spring is signaled by the golden arches announcement that Shamrock Shakes are, indeed,  back

You can consult the official unofficial website to find one near you, if you are lucky enough to live up North!

For now, I will have to be content with my memories of home and the good old days and Uncle O’Grimacey .