Once and For All: To Barbecue or To Grill?

I have to settle something that I feel is grounds for argument: There are those who say “barbecue” and those who say “grill.” Which is it, really?

As a bit of personal history, my family has always said barbecue. That’s how I always remember referring to this method of cooking, as well as the device used to cook via this method. Most everyone in the more mature generation has always said barbecue as well. Who could forget Paul Hogan of “Crocodile Dundee” fame, who starred in the campaign for the Australian Tourist Commission, slipping a shrimp on the “barbie” (slang for barbecue) for us? OK, so it is barbecue, right?

Then I met Tony and Morgen, two of my best friends in college, who I’m still close with today. I was invited to their house for dinner, and hamburgers were on the menu for the evening’s feast. When the time came to cook, I referred to the meal as barbecue. It was their opinion that because barbecue sauce was not being used, then it was grilling, and not barbecuing.

I don’t remember the exact details that followed in the conversation, but it was one of the most interesting debates about food I ever had. Was my family and I wrong all this time? Did Paul Hogan want to drench my shrimp in a bunch of tangy sauce? Well, not exactly.

What would have ended that debate is what I am doing in this article. If you are in doubt, go to a good source and look it up! I turn to my trusted advisor, Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, for the clues to solve this mystery of barbecue versus grill. I found the following definitions.

The entry for “barbecue” gives us two functions of the word. The transitive verb defines barbecue as “to roast or broil on a rack over hot coals or on a revolving spit before or over a source of heat,” and “to cook in a highly seasoned vinegar sauce.”

The noun defines barbecue as “a social gathering especially in the open air at which barbecued food is eaten” and “an often portable fireplace over which meat and fish are roasted.”

The entry for “grill” gives us two functions of the word. The transitive verb defines grill as “to broil on a grill,” and “to fry or toast on a griddle.” The noun defines grill as “a cooking utensil of parallel bars on which food is exposed to heat (as from charcoal or electricity),” “food that is broiled usually on a grill,” and “a usually informal restaurant or dining room.”

After reading both of these definitions, I can only draw the conclusion that “barbecue” and “grill” are actually one in the same. The word can be used interchangeably. Barbecue sounds “down home” and able to satisfy a hardy appetite. When I hear the word, I think of energetic music, beer and loud conversation.

I think the reason so many people use the word grill is because that’s what they have learned in cookbooks, on television and by reading their new favorite column, Mixed Grill. It sells! Grilling sounds refined. I think of upbeat jazz, glasses of wine and intimate conversation.

Both concepts conjure different images. Neither is right nor wrong. What we must agree on is that both lead to great food. Just for ease of confusion, I chose to use the word grill when writing this column.

The first recipe I want to share is one of my own and very close to my heart. Last year, KSBW Channel 8 ran the KSBW Garlic Recipe Contest before the Gilroy Garlic Festival. I missed the deadline for the official contest the Garlic Festival runs every year, so I thought it was worth a chance to enter this one.

I got started in the kitchen. My goal was to create a recipe that was unique, simple, used at least 90 percent locally available ingredients and, of course, had lots of garlic! I was so honored to have been selected as one of the five winners. Part of the prize was presenting the recipe during the noon news, live! I was very excited and wasn’t nervous. Everything went smoothly, and I couldn’t have been happier.

It is my pleasure to share one of my original recipes with you today. Enjoy!

Salmon Garlic Tacos

Serves 4; 6 with side dishes

1 1/2 pound salmon filet

3/4 cup olive oil

1 bulb of garlic, peeled

1/2 tsp. chili powder, salt and pepper

2 cups mixed salad greens, washed & dried

2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbs. Mexican oregano

1/4 cup cilantro

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 yellow peach or nectarine skinned and diced (if these are out of season, use another seasonal fruit or extra tomato)

1/2 to 1 red onion, diced

1/2 to 1 jalapeño, finely diced (optional)

12 corn tortillas (or 12 flour tortillas if you prefer)

Step 1: Mix bulb of garlic and olive oil in small saucepan. Simmer 20-30 minutes or until garlic is soft. Cool and separate garlic olive oil from roasted garlic.

Step 2: Dust the salmon filets with salt, pepper and chili powder. Pour 1/2 cup of garlic olive oil over the salmon and make sure filets are well coated. Marinate about 30 minutes or longer if you prefer.

Step 3: Grill salmon over low fire until done, about 20-30 minutes depending on thickness (grill should be brushed with oil to prevent sticking … garlic olive oil may be used!). Flake into large pieces (may be used warm or chilled).

Step 4: Toss mixed salad greens with balsamic, 2 Tbs. garlic olive oil and 1 Tbs. Mexican oregano.

Step 5: Rough-chop roasted garlic. To make salsa, mix with remaining Mexican oregano, cilantro, tomato, peach or nectarine, red onion, jalapeño and a shake of salt and pepper.

Step 6: Warm tortillas on grill. Heat each side for about 30 seconds, or until done. This will add a good smoky flavor and crisp texture.

Step 7: Assemble by layering from bottom to top: tortilla, salmon, salad greens mixture and salsa.

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