The great pleasure of grilling is its ritual: the meticulous arrangement or haphazard dumping of charcoal, the anointment with lighter fluid, the tossing of a match, and the long wait for the briquettes to burn down into coals. Completing this ritual outdoors-in backyards and public parks and front lawns of small town churches-signifies winter's end and spring's arrival. Of course, the ritual's finale-wolfing down hot dogs and beer can chicken with family and friends-isn't so terrible either. Using a portable grill frees the home cook from the constraints of the home. Shoved into the back of a minivan and taken to a park (which permits grilling), the portable grill opens up a new world of dining possibilities. With a cooler full of bratwurst and beer, a few folding lawn chairs, and some slaw for good measure, Saturdays in the park never felt so delicious.
I prefer charcoal grills for their faux rusticity and intense burn. Weber makes an excellent portable model, the Smokey Joe Gold Charcoal Grill. Capable of handling steaks, pork chops, and pineapple, this portable grill cooks just as efficiently as its larger cousins, only with a smaller total output. Don't expect to barbecue for your kid's bar mitzvah on the Smokey Joe-it's more appropriate for afternoons playing frisbee with the immediate family.
Leaving the kitchen for the great outdoors poses two unique challenges: how to work with a limited number of ingredients, and how to keep them at safe temperatures. Prepare proteins ahead of time, and then pack in an icy cooler. Just take care to maintain a consistently cold and sanitary environment when handling raw meats.
For a quick and easy meal, take brats, buns, and potato salads to a green space, along with that trusty grill. Fire it up, thrown on the sausages, and relax. To add a special touch, try making a spicy, smoky mustard to top the wurst. Check out my recipe below.
As a ritual, grilling offers a kind of suburban Zen, a quintessential American task that brings together family around great food. Read more about the benefits of grilling here.
Adobo Mustard makes a little over a cup
Ingredients: 1 cup brown mustard 2 tablespoons adobo sauce 1/8 cup honey 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Combine mustard, adobo sauce, and honey in a small bowl. Using a spoon, mix until completely combined. Add the salt and chili powder and mix thoroughly. Serve on bratwursts, hot dogs, or hamburgers.