Grilling In Easton
Some Reflections on Cooking Over Flame, Wood, Charcoal, Electric Coils; and also a Call Out to Cookouts
Yesterday was July 4th — which is first and foremost the day on which America celebrates its independence.
Of course, the celebration and merriment are attended with all sorts of, well, celebration and merriment. That is appropriate. That works.
A lot of cookouts on July 4th. An ingrained and strongly fortified institution, these cookouts.
Grilling is done at cookouts, which is a separate animal from barbecue — which is both a noun and a verb.
The Muscato clan was never big into cooking over flame. I mean, back on Andrews Street the only time we had flame cooked food is when my father fired up a small hibachi on our patio, in which he stoked a gentle inferno of those charcoal briquets (yes, the bad boys made of compressed wood fibers and petroleum and other nice stuff) which he further adulterated with generous squirts of lighter fluid.
Actually not bad though — that grilled food. I could handle it.
When I was a sophomore in high school, our brood moved to a home on Summer Street my parents had built. What was sweet up there is that we had a Jenn-Air stove that had a grill built in — the type which had a metal grate over electric coils. I tell you — steak, burgers, chicken, it all came off of that grill tasting like they were cooked over flame — which I guess, technically, they were … sort of.
All these years later, I have learned to do grilling right. And I am “Old School.” No gas grill, but the basic Weber Kettle Grill. I pack a metal chimney device with 100 percent charred wood coals, under which (and there is ventilated space for this), I place a crumbled sheet of newspaper, which I light.
The flames emitting from the lit newspaper rise and eventually result in coals aflame. When that chimney is nice and glowing from almost top to bottom — then it is time to dump the coals into the kettle, and spread them a bit and place the grill over the coals.
And then lay all the animal protein just right on the grill.
Sue Rivard, former assistant principal at Oliver Ames High School, and Tiger coaching legend (she is in the OAHS Athletic Hall of Fame), used to have a fun July 4th cookout at her home on the corner of Sheridan Street and Lothrop Street.
Lots of fun. It included Sue playing — more like, blaring, actually — patriotic tunes on her trumpet.
I have a friend who is into food, bigtime. And, he studies his grilling and smoking and barbecue — and all of it. Yeah, he knows the proper cooking times, makes his own marinades and dry rubs, and is equally adept using a stove, or a gas or a charcoal grill, or a smoker — you name it .
Funny thing, he used to be employed in an industry in which he had work schedules that might have him crazy busy for several weeks, or even months, and then there would be down time for a few weeks.
So, as for those down times, when he had the days to himself, — and this is a guy who is accustomed to early rising — he would sometimes be standing on the front porch of his abode in the North Easton Village District and doing some a.m. grilling while kids walked by on their way to school.
One of the first “Muscato’s Musings” columns I wrote was about the delicious “meat on a stick” which is so deeply enmeshed and celebrated in the culture of the Portuguese here in Easton.
What am I saying? The Portuguese brought it here, and they have refined it, and they are still the best at it — but all of us, no matter our ethnicity, dig meat on a stick.
Here is a link to the meat on a stick column.
Good meat on a stick — as the Portuguese make it in Easton — is all about grilling that is highly skilled, focused, passionate — and with mountains of love thrown in.
Any patriarch of a Portuguese family in Easton — worth his salt — had in his yard a stone pit or a metal drum cooker that was used frequently to grill meat on a stick.
In the column that is linked to above, is described the wonderful Labor Day Weekend celebration we used to have in Easton at the Villa Rosa Picnic Grounds (located, roughly, in the area behind where is now the CVS at the junction of Washington St./Rte. 138 and Belmont St../Rte. 123)
At the celebration there would be massive fire pits over which meat on a stick was grilled.
So yummy. So good.
I was born in 1963, and for many of my contemporaries, I dare say that some of the first flame cooked burgers we had outside of our home were those consumed at McMenamy’s Hamburger House. They were delicious back then — and the grilled burgers at McMenamy’s are delicious today.
Try the McMenamy’s steakburger with raw onion. Delish.
Up off of Howard Street, the Easton Rod and Gun Club has a gorgeous spread of property. It has a clubhouse — and outside near the clubhouse are cooking pits that are used for grilling for events during the year, including the Easton Lions Club annual cookout.
The Easton Rod and Gun Club holds on the property its own cookouts — and also a popular annual clambake.
I need here to mention one of the most extraodinary parties I've ever been to — in Easton or anywere else. It was a party which had like four outdoor grills going at once — including a gas grill, a stone fireplace, and some sort of pit with burning wood.
This party took place maybe two or three years ago; it was a Halloween party at Bill and Karen (Richard) Callanan's house off of Union Street.
A lot of meat cooked at that party.
And I leave you with this — my grilled food preferences.
When you cook steak on the grill, anything more cooked than medium rare is wasting the meat.
When you grill tuna or swordfish, just give me that char on the outside — that is all the cooking I need of the fish.
After all, a guy needs to stay tied to the primal hunter-gatherer within.