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Into The Outdoors: Outdoor Cooking

This week, let’s start things off with a look at a seldom covered outdoor topic. That would be outdoor cooking, something about which I am truly passionate. While it may not be a sport in the traditional sense, it is still done outdoors.

One of the basic outdoor cooking activities would be smoking food. Over the years, I have had a number of smokers, including propane, charcoal and electric. Recently, I purchased an Old Smokey electric smoker. It is far and away the best smoker I have ever had. For one thing, you can precisely regulate the temperature. I have smoked cornish hens, chickens, venison backstrap, beef and fish in it. If you follow the directions in the owner’s manual, it is fast, too. For example, a chicken takes about two hours. I always have a probe thermometer inserted throughout the process, to make sure the meat is done to a safe temperature. For fish filets, you know they are done when they flake easily.

There are many woods that can be used for smoking. The bottom line, however is that just about any hardwood will do the job. You can buy commercially made wood chips in bags, or make your own with a chainsaw. I am fortunate in that I have a friend whose hobby is fashioning hardwood items on a wood lathe. He sweeps up the shavings and gives them to me. They are the exact consistency needed to generate a good smoke.

The other major activity in my outdoor kitchen is grilling. This is something I have been doing for about fifty years. I use both propane and charcoal, but I prefer charcoal. I have heard that it can be bad for you, but I only do it in warm weather. My brother in law in Minnesota has for years, always grilled on New Year’s Eve, He usually has to wear a Woolrich outfit while doing it.

A pretty good argument can be made that charcoal is charcoal, period. Over the years, though, I have noticed some subtle differences. My absolute favorite is Humphrey Charcoal Briquets, which are made in nearby Brookville. To me, they just seem to burn longer, hotter and more evenly than the others. I have found that you can cook just about anything on a grill, with few exceptions. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but grilled stuff just seems to taste better to me.

When it’s warm enough to do so, I like to do my deep frying outside, too. That way, I don’t mess up the kitchen with the inevitable splatters.

Since last summer, I have acquired two new outdoor “appliances.” One is a propane powered flat top griddle. The other is a wood fired outdoor oven. So far, all I have made in it is pizza, but I am anxious to try some other things. Admittedly, it’s kind of a pain in the backside to use, but it gets good results.

We haven’t had much in the way of really hot days lately, but everyone knows they are coming. Those of us of the outdoor persuasion need to take some common sense precautions in the heat. In a recent column, I made reference to the need to use sunscreen, especially if you are fair skinned. That’s not all. You must stay properly hydrated. Dehydration is one of those things that can sneak right up on you, much like hypothermia. Drinks like Gatorade go a long way toward replacing minerals lost due to excessive sweating. Plain old water is good, too. Back in my running days, I once passed out from the heat. It’s a weird feeling when you wake up in the middle of a road. Luckily for me, the road was lightly travelled. On another occasion, I came pretty close to passing out while golfing on a ninety degree day. The point of this is that one should always have sufficient liquids when enjoying the outdoors. Alcoholic beverages actually speed up the dehydration process, so don’t. use those.

Hot weather is nothing to fear. In fact I like it, as I have grown increasingly sensitive to cold. A little common sense is all it takes to stay safe.


Chris Henderson email:

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