Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Mastering The Art Of Urban Grilling

New York City has a 24-hour-subway system, gay marriage and David Chang. What we don't have are rolling suburban lawns on which to accommodate Charbroil Offset Smokers when we want to char the hell out of some animal flesh. With Labor Day fast approaching, 4th floor walkups and a lust for a perfectly grilled ribeye will soon collide, and an urban grillmaster will have to adapt. Here’s how (with bonus Beer Can Chicken recipe)!

Grilling in New York City requires access to serviceable outdoor space. I don’t care if it’s a roof deck on the UWS, a fire escape on the LES, a patch of grass in Prospect Park or a sidewalk in Canarsie. If it’s not combustible or patrolled by cops, use it. If you don’t have access to outdoor space, start sleeping with someone who does. If you have a fire escape, get comfortable with carrying loads of food through your bedroom. Brooklyn may be considered twee by some, but at least we can grill outdoors in our Olmsted-designed park. And what’s more New York than an extended family celebrating a Quinceañera, playing dominoes and grilling al fresco near the bandshell?

OK, you've secured a venue. With a few modest tools, you too can be a Patio Daddy-O and still catch Massive Attack at Terminal 5 in the same day.

You're going to need:

1. A charcoal grill. This isn’t one of those boring philosophical arguments that guys get into about the “purity” of grilling or whether gas provides a more even heat or anything like that: it’s a given that gas grilling is lame. This is about convenience. Gas grills are huge and unwieldy, and propane is hard to get in NYC. Also, it's illegal: "Standard 'backyard-type' propane barbecues (using 20 pound LPG containers) are not allowed on balconies, roof decks, rear yards and courtyards of apartment buildings and other multiple dwellings."

Charcoal grills are better suited to roof decks, gardens and fire escapes anyway. Some nice options include the classic Weber Kettle, the smaller, more portable Smokey Joe and the timeless Hibachi.

2. Hardwood charcoal. Sure, if you hate yourself, go ahead and use self-starting charcoal, soaked in so many chemicals that it burns faster than a spliff at Lollapalooza. Lighter fluid? Just give up and order Domino’s or something. Natural lump hardwood charcoal like Wicked Good Charcoal’s emasculatingly named Weekend Warrior blend burns hotter, cleaner and longer. As a bonus, you can reuse it: just snuff your fire out when you're done grilling by closing all of the vents on your grill. Deprived of abundant oxygen, hardwood charcoal will just go out and you can reuse it later. Who knew that belching smoke into the sky could be so green?

3. A chimney, the New York Times and a grill brush. With no fancy accelerants to get the charcoal going (and make your food taste like Raid), you’ll need a chimney and some newspaper. Just add a Bic lighter. When the coals start to glow, you’re in business. Super easy.

Oh, and do everyone a favor and have ready access to a spigot or hose or fire extinguisher. Be an adult.

A common misconception is that grilling is the sole province of carnivores/Paleo Dieters. Not true! Granted, for me, meat is as essential to grilling as fire (Meat-Loving Exhibit A). But if you're a vegetarian (which, why?), there are plenty of awesome things to grill.

There’s nothing like grilling sweet corn in its husk, or sugar peas and shallots with some olive oil, salt and pepper in a grill tray. Make some polenta and finish it on the grill with robiola; throw Japanese eggplant on with red onions; char some scallions that you then toss with olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Asparagus! Haricots verts! Red and yellow peppers! New potatoes! Portobello mushrooms! Meat is incomplete without these simple grilled accompaniments.

Grilling is like adding butter: it makes just about anything taste better. However, you need to start with good ingredients. Don’t bother inviting people over to hang out on your rooftop if you’re going to slap frozen Costco beef pucks on the grill and call them burgers. You live in New York! You’ve got Staubitz Market and Fairway and Union Market and Whole Foods and the Food Co-op and greenmarkets as well as the occasional bodega with D’Artagnan products. Use them!

Once you decide what you're throwing on the grill, let’s talk about how long they should stay on there. What are you preparing, and how long do you have? A few bone-in ribeye steaks? A couple of minutes over direct heat. Two racks of baby backs? Maybe an hour and a half on indirect heat. Plan accordingly so that you don’t have to struggle to adjust the fire or reallocate finite space on the grill. Asparagus is only gonna take 5 minutes over direct heat, so save it for the end when the tagliata of bone-in ribeye is resting. You do know how to rest meat, don’t you? The greatest sin—Garden of Eden expulsion-worthy—is overcooking meat on the grill. So remember to cook just shy of your desired temperature, remove it from heat and let it rest, tented under tin foil, for at least ten minutes. The internal heat will finish the cooking, and you’ll retain more of the flavorful juices. You can always throw something that’s a little too red in the center for your tastes back on the fire. But like the old joke about light bulbs and pregnant ladies, you can’t unscrew an overdone flank steak.

Direct v. indirect heat also has implications beyond how you prefer to prepare the food. Direct grilling throws off a lot of smoke, unlike indirect grilling. So, if you have a neighbor who has an itchy trigger finger for dialing FDNY, you might opt for indirect (and more discreet) grilling. Because there's nothing more depressing than dousing a Weber Kettle with the champagne bucket on a W 70th St. rooftop with the FDNY looking on. Trust me.

A simple recipe for those of you looking to take the training wheels off. Now, normally, I feel like grilling chicken is like kissing your sister, or scoring an empty net goal. But Beer Can Chicken combines simplicity and beer, and the result is pretty hard to beat. Off we go!

Procure yourself a nice-sized Murray’s Chicken. Rinse the bird, get rid of the gnarly stuff in the cavity and rub it down with olive oil. Select your favorite dry rub (this stuff is my favorite, because I’m juvenile and immature), and liberally season your fowl inside and out.

Got a can of beer? Of course you do, hipster. Open a 12 oz. can of beer, and drink about ¼ of it. STOP! Jeez, OK, go get another beer, and this time stop after you drink a few sips. Pour a couple tablespoons of your rub into the beer can, reminding yourself that this is the only acceptable reason to ruin a perfectly good beer. Ask the chicken to lie back and think of England, and gently shove the seasoned beer can up the cavity, balancing the bird on the upright can. Feel free to have the chicken do a little jig with its legs at this point.

Get a hot fire going in your grill, reserving a space in the center of your coals for a foil pan with some water in it. You can also throw some aromatics in that pan, from sliced apples to sprigs of rosemary. Balance the chicken on your grill, using the base of the protruding beer can and the chicken’s legs to create a macabre tripod. Cover and cook for at least 45 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the meat is pierced. If the skin starts charring too much, adjust your vents and tent the chicken with some tin foil. The steaming beer in the can will help cook the chicken from the inside as well as keep it moist and juicy.

Serve that beast with some grilled veggies or roasted potatoes. Tear apart and devour with your hands. Be sure to remove the can first.

John Ore knows that fire is good, yes. Fire is our friend, yes.

33 Comments / Post A Comment

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I grilled a leek the other day. It was good! Although I should have disregarded the charring on the outside a little longer so the middle got more tender. But yeah, leeks!

iantenna (#5,160)

every time i get nostalgic for my time in what is arguably the greatest city on earth, i read something like this and am reminded that having 3000+ square feet of backyard in a 2nd or 3rd tier american city ain't bad. we may not have a 24-hour-subway system, gay marriage or david chang, but we've got a fat ass barrel grill with smoker attachment, chickens, and a pear tree or three. so, yeah, thanks.

iantenna (#5,160)

also, that chicken looks like it has more than just a beer can and legs for a stand. are you cheating on your own recipe?

John Ore (#7,170)

@iantenna Oh, hush you. My wife got it for me for my birthday. Because I'm an idiot/showoff and was using tall boys that fall over easily.

iantenna (#5,160)


iantenna (#5,160)

though i do appreciate your use of tall boys, that shit is just good business sense. $5.99 for a 12oz 6-pack or $6.99 for a 16oz 6-pack? do the math.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

Not a bad beer-can chicken recipe, and I agree that gas grilling is better termed "outdoor cooking," but why do you disrespect Calvert Vaux?

John Ore (#7,170)

@SidAndFinancy Too far of a walk!

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@John Ore I will not accept this non sequitor as an answer! Olmstead without Vaux is like McKim without White. Or John without Yoko. (On second thought, let's stick with McKim without White.)

Warren without Wetmore (the cutest)

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)

@Charismatic Megafauna Thank you.

Weber makes a gas hibachi (Propane Gas Go-Anywhere) that uses little canisters for hand-held blow torches (you can find the gas at pretty much any hardware store.) I used one for years on my fire escape. I know it's lame, but you get fewer frightened upstairs neighbors than you do when you start a charcoal chimney.

jolie (#16)

Oh, and do everyone a favor and have ready access to a spigot or hose or fire extinguisher. Be an adult.


deepomega (#1,720)

Chimneys are magic, basically. When I first saw one used my jaw dropped right off my face and clattered to the floor like Jacob Marley's ghost or something.

black rabbit (#10,816)

Behold, the Cadillac of portable gas grills:

It uses 16 oz propane bottles, which cost 2 buck a pop out here in flyover country and last for and hour and a half or so.

C_Webb (#855)

Those are some handsome mutts in the background waiting for a handout.

jetztinberlin (#392)

I have just been informed by my carnivore boyfriend that the correct name is Beer Butt Chicken.

Also, word on the corn and Portobellos.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

The day I take my recipes from a Slovak….

IBentMyWookie (#133)

@IBentMyWookie GODDAMMIT, I meant Slav.

John Ore (#7,170)

@IBentMyWookie Doesn't matter, you got it wrong twice. (sobs!)

BadUncle (#153)

Totally agree on hardwood charcoal. Better yet? The off-set smoker for hardwood. Which I have. Because even in Brooklyn, I refuse to live anywhere without grilling space. My dog doesn't even crap in the backyard because that is my kitchen.

However, a gas grill is also pretty damned great if you just want to throw fish or steak or vegetables on the fire.

Where you going to put those Weber grills in a NYC apartment? Why not try an EcoQue 15" portable, which can cook just as much food, but collapses down to be only 1.5" inches thick.

Hi! If you're just figuring out how to grill in the city, definitely don't make those baby back ribs over indirect heat! That is too hard! Nobody will like you or your crusty flavorless bones after they have waited two hours and there is not even any potato salad left!

iantenna (#5,160)

@Charismatic Megafauna you're allowed to start grilling before company arrives.

That is certainly true, but I have to say, in the urban contexts described in this posts, it would still be very perilous. It is really hard to grill ribs – to do indirect heat you need a huge grill (I have never successfully pulled it off on my 22-1/2 Weber) or else a smoker box (and that takes way more than 2 hours). Also, would you fit that equipment on your fire escape, or drag it to the park? I don't think so.

In my opinion, a better (more urban?) option would be to braise those ribs in the oven ahead of time and then throw them on the grill over high, direct heat for a few minutes to caramelize the rub or sauce, while your guests look on in admiration of your culinary machismo. And the results will be delicious.

John Ore (#7,170)

@Charismatic Megafauna Now, I wouldn't have suggested it if I hadn't been very successful. Many times.

CR: I like this.

kneetoe (#1,881)

As someone who, and I'm being humble here, is amazing on his Weber grill, I agree with much here. But I must say that I find even lugging everything down a flight of stairs and out to the yard (yes, I have a yard), seriously cuts back on my grilling/barbecuing (ok, I'm fucking lazy, but so, probably, are you). And on the neighbor with the trigger finger, is fast in and out direct better? I mean, slow cooking a pork shoulder is not subtle–it smells soooooo delicious and for a long time. And I always use freshly cut green wood to get serious smoke, which is, like, seriously smokey.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I love just about everything about this piece, but the random Young Frankenstein reference at the end is what won my heart.

agent mule@twitter (#23,096)

That's called West Hollywood chicken in most of America and as for the difference between a bbq and a cookout allow me twenty secs to clarify:

KenWheaton (#401)

That Charbroil Offset Smoker you link to is a flimsy piece of crap (and at that price is highway robbery). This Brinkmann, which can be found at Home Depot in Brooklyn, is pretty solid for an assemble-yourself piece. Especially once you seal up all the joints.

Note 1: Skip the much larger Brinkmann offset as it too is a flimsy POS.

Note 2: This is, of course, assuming you, like me, live in Park Slope and have a back yard. :)

SeanP (#4,058)

A couple things: 1) zucchini: awesome on the grill. Slice in half lengthwise, paint w/ olive oil, sprinkle with whatever herbs, rubs, spices, etc, you like, a few minutes on the grill on each side.

2) Same idea as "weekend warrior", but with a manlier name: Cowboy Charcoal. Beats the snot out of Kingsford.

Bradley (#242,492)

Huge fan of grilling and smoking veggies. One of my top favorite veggies on the grill is zucchini with olive oil and kosher salt sprinkled on it. If you really want a mouthwatering treat, then try food smoking! I recommend the Bradley Smoker:

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