There is to better past time than grilling steak, potatoes and fresh corn on a warm afternoon in your backyard, and it's especially good when you're using locally-gathered oak wood, that you and your friends have made into charcoal. It's a lot of fun to use a wood and charcoal fired "old school" kettle grill for the cooking duties...
Join me on Monday afternoon, August 01, 2022, as I grill another outstanding dinner outside on the patio.
Photo: My $35.00 Weber "Smoky Joe" wood or charcoal-fired grill is simply perfect to create a meal for one or two people, and you can cook for more diners, or make more meals if you grill in shifts. But... where does charcoal come from? The supermarket? ... The hardware store?
Photo: Oak wood grows native and abundant on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and on the east side of California's Central Valley. Oak wood is very similar to hickory for grilling or smoking, and it can be used as fuel for any meal you heart desires.
On a recent camping trip to Lopez Ranch, near Hornitos, CA, we spent a whole day gathering fallen oak wood, cutting it into smaller chunks, and making charcoal, for grilling and smoking.
It's Tuesday, May 10, 2022, and my friend Dan is using his chain saw to cut fallen oak branches to size, so we can burn them in the barrels. Note the campfire that we have lit to cook breakfast, and to aid in our plan-of-the-day: Making oak charcoal. Note the Weber "Smoky Joe" grill, which is nearly identical to my grill at home, that we used to grill last night's dinner.
Photo: Dan and Michael have got the "starter fire" going in one barrel, and are burning logs until they've broken into smaller pieces. Then, the barrel will be covered and the logs will be burnt until they're charcoal.
Photo: Michael keeps an eye on the burning charcoal in the barrel to the right, as the other barrel gets going. Note the holes in the barrels which allow air to fuel a hot fire. A hot fire in an enclosed container is the key to making charcoal.
Note that Michael has a shovel handy to put out the small fires the super-hot barrels started on the drying weeds. We cleared the area around the barrels of grass, but they still manages to start small fires.
Photo: After a hard day's work of making charcoal, it was time to fire up the grill and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We got things started with bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, which are a favorite "starter" on our camping trips.
Photo: When the poppers were finished, we took them off the grill and threw on a steak, which was to used for tacos. You can see the charcoal we had made today, as it provided ideal fuel for our grill, and gave an amazing, smoky flavor to our steak.
Photo: Wednesday, August 03, 2022 it was time to enjoy leftovers from Monday night's grilling session, plus a few "enhancements" to make this a fine, Mexican dinner. I've enjoyed many dinners such as this during my many trips to Mexico...
Leftover steak was sliced thinly, and seasoned with Valentina Mexican hot sauce, rather than barbecue sauce, to give the meat an authentic, Mexican touch. Refried beans, Mexican rice, and guacamole made for a complete dinner.
Photo: Late Monday afternoon, August 01, 2022, I fired up my grill using charcoal from the May camping trip to the Lopez Ranch. I always use a chimney starter to get the charcoal started, and I NEVER use lighter fluid. I use newspaper that arrives in my mailbox from "junk mail" as fuel to get the charcoal going. I let the charcoal burn until it's flaming hot.
I gather oak wood locally in Roseville, as it grows native in the Sacramento Valley, and all you have to do is pick it up, as it's everywhere. I bring it home, cut it into smaller pieces, using my chain saw or sawsall, and then chop it into smaller chunks using a hatchet. I throw oak wood into the chimney starter, along with the charcoal, to use as additional fuel.
Photo: When the charcoal is ready, I empty it into my Weber "Smoky Joe" grill, making sure all of the vents are open, and allow it to smoke for a few minutes. Before I put anything on the grill, I make sure the grate is clean and season it with peanut oil. A well-seasoned and clean grill is not only hygienic, but it makes your food taste better.
Photo: When the grill was ready, I put on the steak, and allowed it to sear before flipping it over. I use both "direct" and "indirect" heat when I grill, which takes a bit of practice, considering my grill is only 14" in diameter.
Photo: Steak is seared on both sides, and I've brushed on barbecue sauce before moving the meat over to indirect heat, and adding the veggies. Since the gill is small and I'm cooking a couple meals, I'm grilling in "shifts."
Photo: Corn, potatoes and jalapeno pepper - every time I grill there is a customary jalapeno pepper - are grilling over direct heat, while the steak has been moved over to the "indirect" side, and is awaiting another brushing of barbecue sauce, before being removed from the grill.
Photo: I removed the steak and am finishing up with the corn, potatoes and pepper. After removing the steak, I "cracked" the lid an inch or so for about 10 minutes, to allow more air to enter, to get the charcoal a little hotter, so the potatoes would be nice and crisp.
Photo: Dinner is served! Grilled steak, potatoes, corn, along with my jalapeno pepper.
This is truly "old school" grilling, and nothing is exact or critical. I don't use any thermometers or timers, as I just "wing it" as I leaned how from my former father-in-law, friends, and during my many trips to Mexico.
Did you know... when all of your meal is taken off the grill, close all vents and allow the fire to die. The next day, when you go to clean the grill, there will be leftover chunks of charcoal and partially-burned oak. You can recycle it and use it during your next grilling session. I recycle about 40% of the charcoal I use each time.
Photo: Sunday, July 17, 2022, I fired up the grill, using more of the charcoal that we made while camping at our friend's ranch.
Photo: I visited my favorite carneceria and picked up a pound of tripa, seasoned it with my favorite seasoning, Pappy's, and am grilling it to make "Tacos de Tripa" for tonight's dinner. Yes, "tripa" is small, beef intestines, which are simply delicious when grilled, and make for some of the best tacos that you can ever imagine! I learned this from enjoying this fine entree during many trips to Mexico.
Check out the article that I posted for Tacos Banny, located just outside Mexicali, B.C., to see tripas grilling on a "Texas hibachi." Delicious tacos! They were using mesquite charcoal, as mesquite grows everywhere in northern Mexico.
Fresh corn is in season during the summer, and I love it, and I eat it every day, with practically every meal, including breakfast. Corn is always a part of every meal I grill when it's in season.
Photo: As they're grilled, the tripas shrink in size, so you'll need around a pound of them to make a couple of heft tacos.
Photo: I'm a happy guy, as my tripas and corn are grilled, and ready to enjoy.
Photo: Just like in Mexico, I cut up the tripas, and garnished my tacos with diced white onion, chopped cilantro, and a little guacamole. Each taco used two corn tortillas, which I toasted over a gas burner on the kitchen range, as it makes the corn tortilla hold together better, and adds a lot of flavor.
Toasting tortillas over a gas burner is another trick I've learned from trips to Mexico.
Photo: Wednesday evening, July 06, 2022, it was time to grill chicken, corn, potatoes, baby carrots and brown mushrooms. When everything was nearly done, I brushed on barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce should always be applied when the food is almost ready to remove from the grill, or when it's placed on indirect heat. Since most barbecue sauce contains sugar, it will burn, and implant a burnt taste into your food.
Photo: My finished dinner, ready to enjoy. There is a bit of a "learning curve" on a "Smoky Joe" grill, but the delicious meals you'll enjoy are worth the effort.
I LOVE my Weber "Smoky Joe" charcoal-fired grill, and I love the oak charcoal we gathered from Lopez ranch, near Hornitos, in Mariposa County, CA. The combination of great food, oak charcoal and an "old school" grill can't be beat!
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