Charcoal_A few weeks back we invited our new Spanish/Argentinian friends over for a BBQ on the rooftop of our rented duplex in Benalmadena. As a New Zealander we love to BBQ. It’s a regular occurrence, especially during the summer months when the majority of meals are cooked on the hotplate. Because of the frequency of barbecuing, and our western need for simplicity, efficiency and speed, BBQs in New Zealand are gas fired. Turn the knob, click igniter, instant fire.

Now in Spain it is a completely different story where carbón (charcoal) is the predominant fuel source for grilling. I am told more people in Spain are shifting to gas, however most people still use charcoal.

 So we headed down to the Eroski superstore and acquired a small grill for 16 euros, a 3kg bag of charcoal which lasts two separate grills for 2.50 euros. Local butchers are the go-to-place for meat. Quite nice in a world where supermarkets dominate the food chain. So we picked up several steaks and a few chorizo sausages from the butcher.

CharcoalBefore I start let me mention this was the first time I had tried to use a charcoal grill. So I poured a bunch of charcoal into the grill, screwed up a few bits of paper placing them strategically around the edges and threw in a few “natural fire starters” (the commercially packaged version)… Set them all alight and waited for the charcoal to get hot.

It seemed to be taking a long time to heat up and there wasn’t much activity. Luckily my Argentinian friend had arrived by now so I invited him over to provide some insight and direction. If there is one place in the world that knows how to grill it’s Argentina! So this guy knew what he was doing.

He immediately said that the missing element was oxygen, or at least this is what I gathered from him miming blowing and fanning actions. We are both beginner when it comes to the exchange of English and Spanish language!

The Secret Tip

He taught me a cool trick: by pinching the thumb and index finger together on each hand, then putting them together so the fingernail tips are directly touching and facing each other (index to index and thumb to thumb) you end up forming a diamond shape between the tips of the four. From there you seal the fingers across your lips so that when you blow out of your mouth the air only comes out through the diamond.

Jeez that was difficult to explain in text.

It really is a fantastic trick as the pressure is concentrated when directed out of the diamond shape between the fingers. This allows for stronger more direct blowing on the fire, helping to make the charcoal heat up faster. Supplementing this action with the fanning from a deflated rugby ball (which my dog punctured) helped us to get the charcoal cranking hot in no time, and eating before midnight.

The Return Grill

My Argentinian friend insisted that they return us the favor. So they came around, brought the meat and cooked it for us. I shot a time-lapse video below to capture the experience.

During the grilling he informed us that this was more like a Spanish grilling technique with cuts of meat more aligned to an Argentinian grill. Apparently in Argentina they make a large natural wood fire pit to the side of the grill and use a long handled shovel to take the wood embers from the fire into the grill. This allows them to adjust the heat depending on what they are cooking. The wood embers also provide a better tasting flavor I am told. Nevertheless it was delicious!

The Outcome

Unfortunately I got lost in the moment and didn’t manage to capture on camera the full array of grilled treats. Basically I was hungry. But trust me when I say the rib meat (short ribs?) was tender and juicy with a great balance of fattiness, saltiness and deliciousness. Missing from the photos are the chorizo sausages which were a little salty but tasted like they had a hundred different flavors and the slab of shoulder which cooked a lot longer, so we had that for dessert. It was tender, smoky and juicy.





What I Learnt

When I think of freedom I think of having the time to live a life full of enriching experiences. If I had to sum up my rooftop grilling experiences, I would say they were enriching.

The best part of charcoal grilling for me was how it evolves over a long period of time, from starting the fire to eating the food it can be a 3 to 4 hour affair. The drawn out process allows more time for enjoying your surroundings, using your senses and of course discussions over a few beers.

Too often in this world (some cultures more than others) we are after quick food fixes without giving any consideration or appreciation for the food we are eating.  In the past few years I have evolved to eating vegetarian 70% of the time. When I do choose to eat meat, more and more I am gaining greater appreciation for the sacrifice the animal made to provide me with sustenance.  I feel this is something we should be aware of whenever we eat meat, as to not recognize/respect/give thanks is essentially disrespecting the life taken. Grilling helped with that, standing around the grill watching the meat slowly sizzling away made the food the focus and gave ample of time to appreciate. It was a nice change to the standard rushed dinner.

I think slow cooking processes, while not practical for use everyday, help us garner greater respect for food, makes us more present and is a great way to balance out our typically fast paced lifestyles.

What are your thoughts, I would love to hear them, please leave a comment in the comments section below.