Just the word barbecue takes on different meanings, depending on where in the country you reside. In the South, barbecue usually means low and slow cooking at somewhere between 225 to 275 degrees over charcoal. In the Carolinas, it primarily means hog, whereas it’s only beef in Texas. And even in the hog centric regions, it could be whole hog versus just shoulder or butt. And don’t even try to understand the sauce variations, from mustard to mustard vinegar to tomato vinegar to mayonnaise vinegar. Then in the West, it’s grilled hot and fast, especially with tri-tip. And of course, how you’re able to cook depends on your living accommodations, as most condominiums and townhouses outlaw any device with charcoal or fire, leaving you with just George Foreman’s favored grilling vessel.
Growing up in the 50th, there was only one way to barbecue: using a classic hibachi, likely purchased from Longs, that was loaded with Grill Time charcoal and soaked in Grill Time lighting fluid. No one used gas grills, as those in my parents’ generation thought it was too abunai. “Gonna blow up the whole neighborhood with pressurized gas … that’s like a bomb.” So it was always hibachi grilled steaks and chicken that often tasted of lighting fluid.
The Origin of Barbecue
The word barbecue is thought to have originated from the Spanish barbacoa, which takes its roots from the Arawak people of the Caribbean with their barabicu, which translates to “sticks set upon posts.” Though the current barbacoa refers to meat cooked in an underground pit that’s placed above a kettle to collect the juices to create a broth, Spaniards describe the Indigenous people of South America roasting meat over a fire on a framework of sticks. Sounds like an ancient hibachi to me…
Because I spend a fair amount of time cooking outdoors, I’ll admit that I have my fair share (likely more) of outdoor cooking vessels — both charcoal and wooden pellet-based smokers, a charcoal grill as well as a propane grill and even aluminum roasting bags containing wood chips for use in the home oven to smoke-roast proteins and vegetables. While food over an open flame takes on a char and flavors usually not found in electric devices, you can still create a summer barbecue without breaking the bank purchasing these contraptions or breaking your condominium regulations.
Though I’ll never turn down a 12-to-14-hour slow smoked beef brisket or a 10-hour smoked pork shoulder that’s pulled and mixed with a vinegar-based sauce, I guess I’m still a local boy at heart, as one of my favorite types of barbecue is Korean barbecue, whether it’s the luscious kalbi, the sweet and salty bulgogi or our favorite, barbecue chicken. Though we normally purchase chicken breasts as a lower fat, healthier alternative, this is the one time I use chicken thighs.
Korean Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup reduced sodium shoyu
3 tbsp sake
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
1 tsp MSG (optional)
Chopped green onion
Mix all ingredients. Marinate beef/chicken/pork for at least four hours up to overnight. Outdoor grilling is the preferred mode of cooking, but you can also grill this on an indoor electric grill.
And of course, one of the best things about Korean barbecue is the banchan or variety of side dishes and one of our neighborhood Korean take-out places features this delicious take on potato salad.
4 large Russet potatoes, cubed into bite-sized pieces
About 2 tbsp of grated or finely minced garlic
Oil for cooking
About 1/4 cup grated carrot
About 1/4 cup chopped chives
Cook the potatoes in the oil over medium heat like you would cottage fries. When the potatoes are about halfway done, add the garlic and continue cooking until the potatoes are golden brown. Cool the cooked potatoes and garlic then add the grated carrots and mayonnaise as well as salt and pepper to taste.
Despite using chicken thighs for our Korean barbecue chicken, we still primarily cook with chicken breasts, especially when creating this chicken dish from the famed Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl as featured on “Diners, Drive-Inns and Dives”. Chef Glenn Uyeda marinates his turkey in Pepsi Cola, but since turkey is usually only available frozen in the 50th, we usually use boneless, skinless chicken breast. And I use both Pepsi and Coke. The cola (likely the phosphoric acid in cola) tenderizes the chicken or turkey keeping it moist and tender even after grilling. Don’t be alarmed if you find gelatin in your marinating bag, as I believe that’s a by-product of the cola breaking down the connective tissue in the poultry.
4 chicken breasts each cut into three even pieces
1 cup regular cola (not diet or low calorie)
3 ounces shoyu
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Combine marinade ingredients and pour over the chicken. Marinate, refrigerated, at least 4 hours up to overnight. Remove chicken from the marinade and grill over medium heat until cooked through, but not overcooked or it will be dry. Let rest a few minutes. Serves 4.
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.