Thanksgiving may be receding in the rearview mirror, but the rest of the holiday season is gaining on us faster than a Tesla Roadster (the high-performance electric sports car).
So take a deep breath: In the coming days, not only must you come up with inspired gift ideas for the people on your “A” list, but in all likelihood, well-intentioned relatives and friends will be asking you what’s on your wish list. (Besides the Tesla.)
This year, of course, Americans’ purchasing decisions will be heavily influenced by the weakened U.S. economy. It’s been predicted that consumers will not only be spending less during the holiday season than they have in the past, but they’ll be seeking out more practical gifts–even making homemade gifts.
That’s good news for us. It’s hard to get more practical than barbecue.
As a genre, barbecuers and grillers have always been easy to please. Their needs are fairly basic: Fire, fuel, food, and friends.
With that in mind, Nancy Loseke, Features Editor of Up in Smoke, and I have compiled a holiday gift guide specifically for people who love live-fire cooking—people like us.
(Steven): I have long been a fan of Lodge Cast Iron, a Tennessee company that has been in the cookware business since 1896. I not only own several “Sportsman” hibachi-style grills—you’ve seen them on Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen—but I consider Lodge’s cast iron skillets a grilling necessity. You can cook anything from Yorkshire Pudding (see The Barbecue! Bible 10th Anniversary edition page 439) to smoked-roasted Blueberry Crumble (BBQ USA, page 715) in them. Recently, Lodge added individually portioned Mini-Servers to their line—great for entertaining at home. They come in four shapes: round, oval, rectangular, and divided rectangular.
(Nancy): Fewer hours of daylight (not to mention snow and numbing cold) can make winter grilling challenging. Believe me, I know: I live in Cleveland, and spent several wintry weeks testing recipes for Raichlen on Ribs. Weber has incorporated grill lights into its most popular gas grills, and also manufactures a solar-powered unit that clips to the side of the work table.
For external grill lights, it’s hard to best Steven’s Best of Barbecue Grill Headlight and Lumatongs®. The former clamps onto your work table and shines 10 LED bulbs under the grill hood onto your food. The latter was one of the first barbecue tools Steven ever designed. Lumatongs® feature spring-loaded tongs (the longest on the market) with twin halogen lamps built into one arm to illuminate whatever you’re cooking. Talk about a great gift for your favorite grill lover!
There’s nothing more disappointing than running out of gas in the middle of a grilling session. GasWatch™ manufactures a UL-approved, easy-to-read gas level indicator for 20-pound tanks. Additional features include a built-in leak detector and an emergency flow limiter (in the event of a major leak).
(Nancy): If you watch our shows, you know we’re always beating the drum for “killer” grill marks. The easiest way to achieve them is to grill on cast iron grates—available on some, but not all grills. Enter our cast iron Tuscan Grill, which you lay directly on top of your stainless or porcelain grate. Preheat until it’s screamin’ hot, brush with oil, then grill. You’ll get grill marks worthy of a pro.
And since it’s December, we might point out that the 14- by 14-inch Tuscan Grill, which comes with attachable legs, was originally designed for use in your fireplace. Perfect when the weather outside is frightful or the power’s off. Or when you want to infuse your food with the primal scent of wood smoke. Priced well below comparable models.
(Steven): Based on our mail, it appears one of grillers’ biggest insecurities is knowing how to determine doneness. An instant-read thermometer is your best ally, and one of the finest on the market is the Thermapen™. This device digitally calculates temperature in as little as 4 seconds, and has a range of -58˚ to 572˚ F. Even more appealing is a thin, needle-like probe that can infiltrate a thin piece of sole as readily as a jaw-stretching hamburger. The thin probe also minimizes juice loss. The Thermapen™ is admittedly more expensive than most instant-read thermometers, but if one beautiful, expensive steak is saved from overcooking… Well, you can do the math.
(Steven): It’s hard to improve upon the iconic Weber 22-1/2-inch kettle grill that was first sold in the 1950s and is beloved by millions of people the world over. But this accessory proves you can teach an old dog new tricks: The 2290 Rotisserie enables you to spit-roast everything from boneless prime rib to whole pineapples. And as an added bonus, the metal collar that supports the spit and heavy-duty motor is useful in its own right: It raises the lid of the grill by several inches—enough to accommodate a large turkey or a bevy of beer can chickens.
Food, we’ve read, is going to be a popular gift this year. Here are some recommendations for companies we have personally done business with:
Are you all “turkeyed out”? Seafood is a great alternative to all those heavy holiday foods, and it doesn’t get any better than Legal Sea Foods. Fresh lobster, swordfish, tuna, Alaskan crab legs, and much, much more, are only a mouse click away. All are superb when grilled. Gift certificates are also available on the company’s website.
Melissa’s, based in Los Angeles, California, is one of the country’s top purveyors of specialty produce from around the world. Their huge online store features a Grilling Basket filled with grill-worthy seasonal produce such as cipolline onions, portobello mushrooms, chayote squash, fennel, elephant garlic, Anaheim chile peppers, and other goodies. Hardware includes a perforated vegetable grilling basket and a set of four circle kebabs. Nancy has visited their facility, and pronounced it “first class”; they even have separate facilities for their organic business.
Our next idea is shamelessly self-serving, but we like it anyway because everyone wins: Give your family and friends gift certificates to the best steakhouse in town…which just happens to be at your house. Buy prime steaks from the same supplier the pros use and we use on Primal Grill, Chicago-based Allen Brothers. Consider their bone-in filets mignons, beautifully marbled center-cut rib steaks, or dry-aged bone-in ribeyes.
A “Steak Lover’s Grill Kit” will guarantee your success: an incomparable rub, steak sauce, beef smoking chips, and two button-type thermometers are included.
People who love live-fire cooking are always trying to improve their game or add new recipes to their repertoire. I have never put Nancy, who has worked for me for several years, on the spot to name her favorite book from the Barbecue Bible series. But she volunteered that she gives How to Grill to graduating seniors, newlyweds, and people who rarely venture beyond hamburgers or who really want to learn more about the art of grilling. The more adventuresome, foodwise, get BBQ USA and/or The Barbecue! Bible.
She likes to package them—along with a few goodies like Best of Barbecue rubs and sauces—in a galvanized ash can, and then runs a big ribbon from the bottom, through the handles, and over the lid. This year, everyone on her gift list will be receiving the “Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen” DVD—three commercial-free hours of the first seven episodes of the show, along with additional footage. And her brother—the one who continues to believe the last grilling session’s residue will season the next one (it will, but not in a good way)—will be getting The Ultimate Grill Brush.
Of course, homemade gifts—always appreciated, and never out of style—are a great alternative when times are tough. And even when they’re not. As you might know, Steven has been been traveling extensively throughout the world this year, doing research for the next book, “Planet Barbecue.” Below are two recipes he collected while in Africa—a chutney and a rub that would make great gifts.
SOUTH AFRICAN FIG CHUTNEY
Makes eight 1-cup jars
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, or good-quality canned tomatoes
2 pounds fresh or dried figs, stemmed and chopped (see Note)
1/2 cup red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup Coca-Cola
1 cup of water
Granulated sugar to taste (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent, 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and continue cooking until the vegetables are lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes more.
2. Stir in the tomatoes, figs, vinegar, bay leaf, thyme, rosemary, Coca-Cola, and 1 cup of water. Simmer the chutney until thick and jam-like, 30 to 40 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon. You can start cooking the mixture at a higher heat to evaporate the excess liquid. As the mixture thickens, you’ll need to lower the heat to medium, then to low. Do not let the chutney burn.
3. The chutney should strike a nice balance between sweet and sour. Normally, the sugar in the figs and Coca-Cola is enough to sweeten the chutney, but you can always add a little granulated sugar if you feel you need it. Likewise, additional vinegar can be added for extra tartness. Remove the bay leaf and package in attractive jars.
Label, and include instructions for keeping (refrigerate) and serving (excellent with ham, pork, and poultry, especially duck, pheasant, and game hens).
PIRI PIRI RUB
For best results, be sure to use fresh spices. This rub is inspired by the fiery chicken dishes based on the piri piri chile that you find in Angola, Mozambique, and Portugal. To use, mix the Piri Piri rub with a little vegetable oil or olive oil, and slather it over chicken, lamb, or shrimp before grilling.
Makes about 1-1/2 cups
1/3 cup paprika
2 to 5 tablespoons cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup ground coriander
3 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons garlic powder
Combine all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk to mix; break up any lumps with your fingers. Package in attractive jars and give instructions for use. Will keep for about 6 months away from heat and light
From all of us—myself, Barbara, and Nancy, have a wonderful holiday season.
Steven Raichlen's official newsletter, Up in Smoke, is available exclusively on barbecuebible.com. Culled from experiences on the barbecue trail and beyond, Steven brings you reviews you can use, recipes, answers to your questions, special BBQ store discounts, and more. The newsletter is FREE and comes out every month. It is available first only to subscribers to the newsletter and then posted a month later in the newsletter archives. Sign up today!