This continues a series of guest columns on how technology is reshaping hobbies and passions – basket weaving, rugby – whatever.
This time it is Floyd Teter at Jet Propulsion Labs and author of the ORCLville blog about all things Oracle. Here he writes about all things BBQ.
“Fatherhood and BBQing traditionally go hand in hand in my family. My father was a master of the grill. Some of my best family memories are of sitting on our patio eating Dad’s steaks fresh off the grill. Dad was a natural.
So you can imagine my disappointment when, as a young father, my wife would begin to stutter and my children would start to cry whenever I fired up the grill. Unlike Dad, I was not a natural: everything I grilled came off black and blue (burnt outside, raw inside) and tasting of lighter fluid. I was a Dad, so I had to BBQ, but I was terrible at it. In the end, technology saved my bacon (and my steaks and my chicken and my burgers and…well, you get the idea).
About ten years ago, faced with pleading from my wife and outright rebellion from my kids, I decided to work on my BBQing skills. Being the geek that I am, I approached this problem by focusing on research, gear improvement, and hands-on practice.
Technology first came into play with my research: I googled up some good BBQ books and ordered those books through amazon. The standouts in the numerous books I read include Smoke and Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison, BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen, Backyard BBQ: The Art of Smokology by Richard McPeake, Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time BBQ Cookbook by Ray Lampe, and Elizabeth Carmel’s Taming The Flame. The reading taught me about how to prepare the fire for cooking, the flavor benefits of hardwood smoke, how to avoid the black and blue issue with indirect heat, and how best to flavor your entrees with marinades, rubs, and sauces. Turns out there is a lot more to this BBQing thing than just throwing a hunk of meat on the flame and pulling it off when the BBQ starts to burn.
Next, I upgraded my BBQ gear. Of course, Google came into play again here as I selected my equipment. I retired the K-Mart “blue light special” charcoal grill in favor of a Charbroil gas grill and added a Brinkmann Smoke King Deluxe as well. The gas grill, a result of modern technology, provides a more consistent heat source than wood or charcoal. And I can still get that smoky charcoal flavor from my gas grill by adding some wood chips as I start the cooking.
The Brinkmann is a pretty neat piece of technology all by itself. The idea is that a box holding the fire is offset from the smoking chamber. The firebox and smoking chamber are connected by a slot, which leads directly to a water pan in the bottom of the smoking chamber. The water pan serves as a heat sink to enable evenly distributed heat throughout the cooking chamber. I’ve also modified the Brinkmann by converting it to gas; I use a cast iron pan to place the hard wood over the gas burner when I’m smoking.
In addition, I added the two most important cooking utensils I own (both techie items): a Maverick Redi-Fork and an Acu-Rite Thermo-Timer-Clock. The Redi-Fork provides instant temperature readings through sensors in the fork prongs, so I know the internal temperature of whatever I’m cooking. The Acu-Rite also provides internal temperature readings with a wire-attached probe, but is designed for continuous temperature monitoring. Continuous monitoring really helps out in cooking fish without drying it out. The Acu-Rite also serves as a portable timer, which is critical for the “low and slow” BBQing I do with the Brinkmann.
Finally, I practiced. I knew I was on the right track when I could get the dogs to eat my spare ribs, but it really took several months of work and a few charred meals before I started getting consistently good results.
After a few years spent perfecting the craft, my wife and kids formally anointed me as “King of the Grill” by presenting me with a cooking apron displaying that title. My wife even gave me a six-burner Charmglow grill for Father’s Day last year, in addition to remodeling our dining room to resemble a BBQ joint. Although the kids are adults now, they consistently appear at my home whenever the word gets out that I’m BBQing. In fact, I usually have a few neighbors dropping by as well (I’m starting to think they must have a rotation schedule worked out). I’ve also graduated from just cooking meat to complimentary foods as well. Grilled fruit and veggies, smoked cheese, bread, tofu, pizza…I’m getting deeply into pastas and other Italian dishes this year. I’m still not the natural that Dad was, but technology has allowed me to continue the family tradition of fatherhood and BBQ…the wife and kids (and neighbors) seem grateful.”