Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alternatives to Beef as Barbecue Season Approaches

Up here in the Pacific North West, when the sun shines you notice.  You don't just notice in fact, you suddenly feel like wearing shorts and firing up the grill, even if it is still in the mid 50s outside.  So as BBQ season fast approaches, I thought I would try to inspire my handful of readers with a few grilling ideas which do not involve beef or pork.

Now don't get me wrong, I love hamburgers and ribs.  I just feel that it is important to limit how much livestock I eat.  As good as beef is, feed lot beef is wasteful in a number of ways.  But at the same time, I don't want anyone to feel that their barbecue is in any way compromised by the lack of beef.  So here are some ideas for successful grilling in a slightly greener fashion.

Vegetables seem to be an afterthought for many 'Qers, but certain veggies for certain people make the meal.  Courtney's favorite (and one of mine too) is corn, grilled on the cob and in the husk.  It is really easy to do, very low maintenance, and delicious.  You literally just throw it on, husk and all, and when the outer layer of the husk is just about burned through, the corn should be done.  Other vegetables that can be grilled whole are any kind of peppers (they cook quickly, so keep an eye on them), asparagus (always place them perpendicular to grill), and long string beans (choose big, thick beans for best results).  Coating any of these veggies lightly in oil will help them keep their moisture, but is not necessary.

Any kind of zucchini or summer squash is great on the grill too, but should be cut into long, thick slabs first.  Eggplant gets the same treatment.  Since you are cutting into these vegetables, you should coat them well with oil to keep them from drying out too much on the grill.  For the same reason, cook them quickly on the hottest part of the grill for best results.  Onions, garlic, or anything similar are great grilled, and after grilling can be used to make sauces and salsas smokier.

Last word on vegetables: you can cook almost anything else in a tinfoil pouch.  This is particularly good for root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, etc.  Cut larger vegetables into rough cubes so they will cook a little faster, and rub the inside of the tinfoil pouch with oil to seal in the moisture.  This is really more like steaming or baking than it is grilling, but since the coals are already hot/ the propane is already burning, why not throw it on.  My brother Nathan, who is possibly the best chef who never got paid to cook, does sweet potatoes whole wrapped in tinfoil  You can tell when they are done by inserting a toothpick right through the foil on the grill.  If it goes all the way through easily, they are ready.  And remember, when you are done that tinfoil is recyclable, no matter how dirty it got during its use.

Yeah, but where's the beef?  I have a little secret that I want to let you in on: ground beef tastes like nothing.  Don't believe me, do you?  Try a little experiment.  Cook a hamburger with no seasoning, no sauce, no oil, just beef and grill.  Eat it like a steak, no bun, no condiments.  The result: blander than tofu.  My first experience with a garden burger was a real eye opener: if the bun and the condiments are the same, the garden burger tastes just about as good as the real deal.

I draw the line at tofu hot dogs, though.  Partially because they really are less flavorful than their meaty counterpart (hot dogs are made with tons of salt and delicious but deadly nitrates), but also because it is a pretty sorry end for some tofu.  I think tofu should be treated like tofu, marinated in an Asian or Hawaiian sauce, and grilled in big square slabs.  Tofu has its own great tradition, and by trying to make it something it is not we just further convince carnivores that it is bland and boring.

Grilled Tofu w/ Homemade Spicy Teriyaki sauce
To get those perfect grill marks, turn 30 degrees halfway through cooking each side

So to sum up the meat replacements, it is all about the sauce.  I recently posted my Cross Country BBQ Sauce on Foodista, and I think it is just about the perfect sauce for anything grilled.  It also happens to be quick and easy to prepare, and very versatile.  Simply adjusting the proportions can make it more sweet, spicy, tangy or salty.

And finally, if you absolutely must have meat, try cooking chicken instead of the bigger polluters: beef and pork.  Tomorrow I will post a recipe for cooking a whole bird on the Q.

Cross Country Bbq Sauce on FoodistaCross Country Bbq Sauce


  1. Will grew up BBQ'ing corn on the cob exactly as you describe it, while I grew up shucking it, buttering, salt and peppering it, and wrapping it in aluminum foil before throwing it on the grill. Both ways are delicious.

    And I have to disagree with you about burgers. If it's really good beef, with the right amount of fat, it needs no seasoning, no bun, no nothing. I've had it, and it's good. Now if I could remember where we bought it, that'd be another story. But I'm pretty sure it was grass-fed, somewhere around 75/25, and very expensive.

  2. You know something Kim, you are absolutely right. I should have said 'most ground beef tastes like nothing.' Grass fed beef has a distinctly different flavor, for sure, no matter what cut you are eating.

    Also, there is a company up here called Oregon Natural Meats which makes ground beef that is very tasty, though not 100% grass fed. Also about 3x more expensive than the average supermarket stuff.

    But most ground beef, I maintain, is totally flavorless.