Saturday, May 26, 2012

Grilling for the birds

           Warning: this blog contains a graphic recreation that may shock, revolt, repulse or even nauseate the weak of stomach.  Proceed with caution and keep in mind that I do not make this stuff up.  I write about real life experiences.
Each spring, summer and fall throughout my years as the wife of a die-hard-boat-driving fishing, hunting and camping fanatic, I spent a lot of time cooking on camp stoves, charcoal grills and other instruments meant to give food caveman appeal while driving women nuts.
Our camping generally started around Easter, giving our kids the thrill of adorning long-underwear and earmuffs to hunt Easter eggs in the snow.  The camping season ended near Halloween most years, but I do recall at least one Thanksgiving turkey sizzling away in our Weber Smoker as we sat around a campfire holding cups of coffee more to capture the hand-warming heat from the hot cup than for the caffeine.
In the early years of my marriage to Lonnie Gray, we camped in a tent and I recall one wet spring when rain fell throughout the night, soaking our cots where they touched the tent’s canvass side.  A river of water ran under of the plastic waterproof floor, giving us the surreal feel of walking on a waterbed.  “That’s it,” I said the next morning.  “A camper or no camping.”
We then bought a converted bookmobile that came with cupboards, a table that made into a bed and a propane stove and refrigerator.  The only thing it lacked was running water and a toilet.  “No bathroom, no showers, no camping,” I said the next year, and we fixed that by parking in an area with showers and inside toilets nearby.  For the next 10 years, I was a happy camper.  Well, except for cooking with charcoal.
Even though we could cook inside on the camper’s propane stove, we rarely did.  Consider that most summer days in Kansas reach triple digits.  Some of the fancier campers came with air conditioning, but ours, like those of most of our friends, came with open windows and doors hoping for a breeze.  Heating up one’s bedroom to cook a meal was not an option.
That meant cooking most meals outside on a grill that came with the campsite or in the Weber Smoker, Lonnie’s cooker of choice.  He would start the charcoal early in the morning, add a pan of water under the meat and we would leave for the day, coming back on occasion to add coals to the fire and/or water to the pan.  Late in the afternoon, he might add a few vegetables to the pan of water and that night when we returned after a day of fishing, water skiing or playing in the water, our meal came out cooked to perfection and ready to devour.
Grilling, however, was my job, whether it was chicken, hamburgers or steaks.  I would start the charcoal and hope the coals come to the right temperature before grilling the meat choice, usually hamburgers and hotdogs.  Potato and pasta salads and other side dishes made ahead of time and brought from home joined the condiments set out on the picnic table.  We then ate, trying to shoo away the flies and mosquitoes wanting to share our feast.  We also found out it was good to watch out for birds.
On one occasion my brother-in-law, George Gray, taking particular care placed a hamburger patty on a bun, and then holding it open-faced, applied a large slice of onion, pickles, catsup and mustard.  All dressed and ready to bite into, he prepared to place the bun’s top on when a “splat” of white “plopped” smack in the middle of the yellow mustard as a bird flying over hit its target.
A priceless look of horror spread across George’s face.  “Well, hell,” he said, dropping the hamburger in the trash and grabbing a cold beer out of the ice chest.  The rest of us laughed until our sides ached, but George went hungry that night.  Sorry, George.  I just had to tell it.
Although I no longer camp and sometimes miss the happy laughter, the moments that make memories and the friendships that remain dear, I do occasionally grill, especially in summer, but I do not use or miss charcoal.  Here is my philosophy:  “If God wanted us to grill our foods using charcoal, he would not have created propane.”
Even cooking with propane it seems silly to heat up the grill for one hamburger, one steak or one piece of chicken.  So, when I heat the grill, I cook a bunch and then freeze the remainder for other meals.  A quick zap in a microwave is all you need.

Grilled Ground Beef
(Makes 8 patties)
2 Pounds lean ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste

1.     Turn on propane grill ten minutes before ready to cook.
2.     Divide ground beef into 8 pieces and gently form into ½” by 4” patties.  Do not overwork.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3.     Season grill and leave on high.  Place patties on grate, leaving space between for the heat to circulate.
4.     Close lid and grill 3-4 minutes.
5.     Gently turn patties.  Do not press down.  Close lid and continue grilling 3-4 minutes longer, depending on desired doneness.  The patties should be firm with an inside temperature of at least 160°F.
6.     Remove patties from the grill and allow to set 5 minutes before serving.  To freeze any leftover patties, lay cooled patties on a parchment lined cookie sheet, cover with a sheet of waxed paper and place in freezer for 30-45 minutes.  Once the patties are partially frozen, place in a zip lock freezer bag.  When ready to serve, remove a patty from the freezer bag and microwave 1-2 minutes, flipping halfway through to insure even heating.  Allow patty to set for about a minute before serving.  Re-seal bag and place remaining patties back in the freezer.

Note:  I also make my own buns, using the recipe for Whole Wheat Bread from my February 8, 2012 blog.  Follow the recipe through step 6, but rather than forming into a loaf, divide the dough into 6-8 balls, depending on the size of bun you want.  Flatten the dough balls into circles, ¼ - ½” thick, place on parchment paper and freeze.  Once frozen, place frozen circles in a freezer bag.  When ready to use, remove as many buns as you wish.  Thaw in the refrigerator.  Lay thawed dough circle on parchment-lined cooking sheet and allow to rise to double in thickness before baking in a 350°F oven for 15-20 minutes.  Allow to cool before slicing through side-to-side and adding hamburger patty or other filling of choice.