by Bob Blumer
Magazine Issue: U.S. Vol. 2.2 (Updated 2018)
Short of a good old-fashioned barn raising, there’s nothing that brings friends together better than a summer barbecue.
Our family grilling tradition goes back to my great-uncle, who was a cattle herder in Argentina. Cattle ranchers employed him to herd their beasts across the Argentinean pampas (plains) to the coastal markets, where they were sold and shipped to Europe in cattle boats. At night, during these rugged treks, the herders and gauchos would set up camp, build a big fire and roast a whole cow over the open pit. (After all, when you’re moving entire herds, who’s counting.) A traditional fiery sauce was concocted and basted on the meat as it turned. The seared meat was then carved directly from the spit.
My grandfather continued the tradition by grilling rib-eye steaks over the coals of the furnace under the men’s clothing store he owned in Montreal. Friends and customers gathered around as he sliced off strips from the cooked outer portions and served them on pieces of French bread. When he was 78, my dad rechristened himself “Gaucho Jack” and began bottling the original sauce. He traveled the country grillin’ and shillin’ for a decade. As you can tell, grilling is in my blood.
Of course, the times have changed. Propane grills have rendered the charcoal grill almost obsolete. And any gathering of friends usually includes a cross-section of dietary quirks that range from full-on carnivores to the vegetarian camp – which is further broken down into strict vegetarians and “vegetarians” who eat fish, chicken, and occasionally roast beef. Go figure. Fortunately, none of this has dampened my enthusiasm for barbecuing, or diminished the gratification I derive from regressing to the caveman ways of building a fire from scratch.
After you’ve succeeded in building a fire, or flipping the switch to ignite one, don’t fail to take full advantage of your labors by using the flames to liven up some veggies. Common vegetables, such as bell peppers, Japanese eggplant, asparagus and mushrooms, are magically transformed into gourmet fare with a quick brushstroke of olive oil and the flavor of the grill. And roasting corn is as simple as placing the unhusked ears on the grill directly over the hot coals and turning a quarter turn every two minutes until the husk is completely blackened. The high heat caramelizes the kernels, imparting a sweeter, more complex flavor that can’t be matched by boiling corn. The flavors are so textural that after a few outings, you may decide to eliminate the meat altogether.
Best of all, the learning curve is almost as flat as the Argentinean plains themselves. So the next time you’re herding cattle or simply celebrating the rites of summer, fire up the “Q,” and uncork a few bottles of the good stuff. The most difficulty you’ll encounter will be in deciding what vintage to serve with the marshmallows.