Barbecues 101, Rick Rodgers

133 pages; Black and white, No photographs or sketches. Paperback
Broadway Books, New York, 2001
Reviewed by Katherine DeWitt for Good Cooking November, 2001
Barbecues 101

Which was worse? The constant testosterone-fueled diatribes regarding the best way to stack the briquettes or the multiple demonstrations on how exactly to achieve medium rareness? I can't decide. Nevertheless, after an entire summer in the chef s dug-out, with my male partner assuming the role of starting pitcher, I was more than happy to take the mound armed with Rick Rodger's Barbecues 101.
Considering my limited knowledge of charcoal grilling, I decided every good pitcher needs a little pre-season training and stuck to the basics. Although Rodgers has many versions of marinades and rubs including recipes for Tequila Fajitas, Spicy Peanut Dip for Chicken Sate and Zinfandel Sauce for Skirt Steak, I was most interested in the easy-to-follow guidelines: How to Build a Charcoal Fire, Importance of Temperature, and Grilling Times. The introductory How-To Section was great for my novice arm and super user-friendly. Concise bullet-points helped me build a fire (that not only stayed lit, but used no starter fluid), understand when the coals were their hottest, and how long to cook a steak for medium rare without using a thermometer (in general, eight minutes per inch over very hot coals).

For the menu I prepared Grilled Oysters Vera Cruz with a Smoky Tomato Salsa, Grilled Steak with a Red Wine Marinade and finished with a Mixed Green Salad. Although grilled oysters are a loved appetizer on the West Coast, we New England types usually go for the boldness of the raw variety. Regardless, the crowd raved about the fresh, tangy topping as much as I enjoyed the easy instructions to shuck them (use a basic bottle opener, with the pointed end). The steak marinade was straightforward, lots of fresh herbs and wine. And although I was most concerned about the grilling, I simply followed the instructions and the steak came out perfectly well-done on the ends and medium-rare in the center (yes, there was a well-done eater in the crowd). In general, the cookbook met all of its stated claims; I would have liked to see more variety in meat choices, but as a basic primer for barbecuing it was right on. Overall, Rodgers Barbecues 101, helped de-mystify the grilling process and prepared me for stepping up to the plate next season.

Good Cooking found this book helpful. Disaster often strikes when barbecuing because of a bad firetoo much lighter fluidfire goes outnot understanding the differences of heat on the grill! Rick Rodgers covers all of this in understandable language.

Smoky Tomato Salsa

Direct Grilling/High Heat

Makes about 2 cups

Make ahead: The salsa is best the day it is made. If not serving within 1 hour of making, cover and refrigerate.

Grilled vegetables give a smoky edge to this salsa. Canned chipotle chiles in adobo, smoked jalapeno in a chile puree, are available at Latino markets. Be careful when handling the chilesthey're very hot.

1 medium onion, cut in half crosswise, but unpeeled
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 large tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill and let it burn until the coals are covered with white ash. In a gas grill, preheat on High.

2. Lightly oil the cooking rack. Brush the cut surfaces of the onion with the oil. Place the onion halves, cut side down, on the grill, with the tomatoes, and cover. Grill until the onion is beginning to soften, about 3 minutes, then transfer the onion to a plate. Grill the tomatoes, turning occasionally, until the skins are cracked and peeling, about 5 minutes total, then transfer to the plate. Cool the onion and tomatoes un til easy to handle.

3.Cut the tomatoes in half through their equators and poke out the seeds with your finger Chop the tomatoes and transfer to a medium bowl. Peel and chop the onion and add to the tomatoes. Stir in the lime juice, cilantro, chipotles, and garlic. Season with salt.

4. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before serving to blend the flavors.

Grilled Oysters Vera Cruz

Makes 4 to 6 appetizer servings

Direct Grilling/ High Heat

In Vera Cruz, fish are often served with a spicy tomato sauce, an idea that is easily transferred to oysters. Here, each shell gets a dollop of salsa before grilling, giving them a self-contained sauce.

Have the fish store open the oysters for you the morning you plan to grill them, because opened oysters spoil quickly. Nestle the oysters on a bed of ice in a roasting pan, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.

If you have to open the oysters at home, don't bother with an oyster knife-there's an easier way. Use an old-fashioned, pointed can opener, the kind that are sometimes nicknamed "church keys. "Place a rinsed and well-scrubbed oyster, curved side down, on a folded kitchen towel. Oysters are usually teardropshaped. Locate the spot where the top shell meets the bottom shell at the pointed end of the teardrop. Pointed end up, wedge the point of the can opener into the hinge, about 1/4 inch below the tip of the shell. Push the end of the can opener downward, and the shell shouldpop open from the leverage. Run a small sharp knife around the top of the shell to release it. Slip the knife under the fat top shell to cut the oyster free, and discard the top shell. Run the knife underneath the oyster in the curved bottom shell to loosen the oyster meat. Refrigerate the opened oysters until you are ready to grill.

About 1 cup Smoky Tomato Salsa (page 26)
2 dozen large oysters, on the half-shell
Lime wedges

1. Build a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill and let it bum until the coals are covered with white ash. in a gas grill, preheat on High.
2. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the salsa into each oyster shell. Place the oysters on the grill and cover. Cook just until the juices are bubbling, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the oysters to serving plates, being careful not to spill the juices in the shells. Serve immediately, with the lime wedges.