Seven a.m. on any given day is certainly not what you’d call prime-time TV. But when you’re walking the treadmill and channel surfing, a foodie will eventually settle on the Food Network.

So there I was power walking in one spot and watching a chef thread thick succulent tentacles of octopus onto fancy metal skewers. These grayish appendages were about the size of a rather large, long carrot, all covered with slimy little suction cups. They had the texture of a puddle of Jello and flopped around aimlessly as the chef skillfully lanced each one through the center from end to end. Then he doused them with olive oil and covered them with a secret combination of herbs to no doubt offer plenty of flavour. Then he grilled them on a really hot barbecue grill. They looked amazing. What a great start to barbecue season!

The next day I watched as another chef blanched whole artichokes on the barbecue. He took a large stockpot, filled it with water and then added not only the artichokes but plenty of other whole vegetables as well. He put the giant pot on the barbecue and closed the lid. It was to be left there for 45 minutes (one second TV time).

The show never did demonstrate just how to remove the piping hot pot from the barbecue. I would have been interested to see just how they maneuvered such a large and hot pot to drain the vegetables. Obviously this would have to be done inside the kitchen, effectively steaming it up on a hot summers day.

While the artichokes were cooking, he took some glowing red hot coals and put them in the bottom of a smoker (of course, who doesn’t have two major pieces of equipment ready to prepare one veggie dish?). Then he laid wet alderwood chips over top. The lid of the smoker was placed on top. The food rack slid into the middle.

Next he took six Roma tomatoes and sliced them in half. The tomato halves went on the food rack, cut side down, the rack was set in place and the tomatoes left to smoke for about 20 to 30 minutes – 1 second TV time.

Once cooled the artichokes were halved, brushed with a bit of olive oil and laid on the hot grill to achieve all those delicious caramelized flavours (a favourite term used by all chefs who barbecue on TV).

When the tomatoes were done smoking, they were diced finely and dressed with a special vinaigrette that was prepared in a food processor – also outdoors of course. The artichokes were arranged on a plate with their grill marks proudly showing and the luscious smoked tomato compote was spooned into the centre of each one. All six artichoke halves looked absolutely beautiful!

Day 3, 4 and 5 of watching The Food Network was equally delicious yet equally unreasonable for home cooks to achieve on their own. Scallops poached in lobster stock and grilled for visual affect. Lavender grilled jumbo shrimp with creamy squash and sweet potato bundles. Bourbon marinated ostrich with French lentils and homemade mustard cream sauce. It all started my mouth watering and in no time at all I was dreaming of enjoying each and every one of these dishes.

Now, I’ve come to terms with the fact that the barbecue shows I’m watching on the Food Network are strictly for entertainment purposes. I have no one to prepare them for me and I’d never try any of the complicated  and extravagant processes at home.

But it is barbecue season and if you want more than just putting a slab of meat on the grill, there is one trick that makes outdoor cooking a lot more exciting with very little effort.

I call it playing with the heat. Direct heat is quick grilling over an open flame, lid up or down and indirect heat, is grilling with the lid down with only one burner on and the food over the burner that has been turned off. With indirect heat you never put the food over the flame. In either case, if you play with the level of heat in the barbecue, you’ll be able to cook many different foods at once and even your entire dinner with one piece of equipment – your barbecue! Convenient? You bet!

As for the Food Network, yes I’ll keep watching as I’m walking. After all, who doesn’t find it fun to watch someone prepare a stenciled roast of venison stuffed with loin of rattlesnake and dressed with heritage beans harvested by an endangered tribe on the remote side of Tuscany?

Direct Heat: Turn all burners on high, close the lid and thoroughly heat the grill. When you’re ready to grill, turn the burners down to medium and grill away. Direct grilling is very hot and suits smaller foods like fruits, vegetables, seafood and small portions of meat such as steaks or racks. 

Indirect Heat: Turn all burners on high, close the lid and thoroughly heat the grill. When you’re ready to grill, turn one of the burners off. Place the food on the unlit side. Close the lid and allow your food to cook. On a three-burner grill, turn the centre burner off and place the food on the centre grill. Indirect grilling is best for meats that will drip or for very large cuts of meat like pork shoulder or rib roast that take longer to cook.

Lynn’s Barbecued Beer-Can Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

Chicken on the barbecue is popular at my house but I don’t like to lather it up with sticky sweet barbecue sauce. Instead, mine is simple, succulent and refreshing.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 whole chicken (3 ½ to 4 pounds)
  • 1 can (12 ounces) beer
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 shallot, peeled
  • ½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Directions

In a small bowl, mix the mustard, butter, salt and pepper together. With fingers, carefully loosen skin from chicken breasts and rub mixture under and over skin. Tuck wings under chicken. Refrigerate overnight.

If you’re using your good roasting pan, line it completely with foil, or purchase a disposable roasting pan. Using a can opener, remove the top of the beer can. Remove one third of the beer and place it on the pan. Slide the chicken over the beer can until it is all the way into the chicken cavity. Place it on barbecue. Grill, covered, over indirect medium heat 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours or until a thermometer inserted in thickest part of thigh reads 170°-175°. Do not lift the barbecue lid during cooking.

Meanwhile, to make the chimichurri sauce, place the remaining ingredients in a food processor; puree until almost smooth (or as chunky as you like). Season with salt and pepper and chill.

When the chicken is done, carefully remove pan from the grill. Remove the beer can from the chicken, cover the chicken with foil and let it stand for 15 minutes before carving. Serve with chimichurri sauce. Serves six.

Written By: Lynn Ogryzlo