Phil's International Flair

Welcome! With the warm months of summer quickly approaching, many of us will once again begin cooking outdoors. There is nothing like a summer barbecue to fill the air with the wonderful scents of good food.

Cooking outdoors is one of my specialties and definitely one of the oldest styles of cooking known to humanity. Hopefully, readers may learn something new here to complement their own outdoor cooking styles. Much of the information presented here is from my cookbook (yet to be published!).

Of particular interest is the section on smoking meat, fish and fowl. Through the years, I have learned that woods used for smoking are similar to spices in that they are used as seasonings to add particular flavors. When used in this manner, one learns that using a little of this and a little of that is better than overpowering a meal with only one type of wood. So, I have prepared a list of the commonly used woods and other items that will create smoke flavors to improve the flavor of the meats, fish and fowl that you choose to prepare.

First, a few words about the tools you will need… For barbecuing steaks, fish and fowl, any type of outdoor grill will suffice. However for smoking foods, it is necessary to use some type of grill that has a cover. A Weber Kettle is suitable, as are many of the commercial smokers on the market. I do not prefer electric smokers, but if you happen to have one, feel free to use the following recipes with the smoker you have. The other tools you will need are a spatula for turning fish steaks and fillets, and tongs for turning meats and fowl pieces. A hand mitt and apron are amenities that one can use or not.

The recipes presented this month are but a small yet diverse collection of the recipes in my book. What I did not include are the teriyaki recipes and other fish recipes that are equally impressive. However, the recipes presented here should give one a good feel for how to do an excellent barbecue for those outdoor occasions. The recipe for smoked salmon is more of a lox recipe, however if adjusted to produce a longer smoke, this recipe will produce the more typical type of smoked salmon. A warmer smoke is more suitable for other types of fish as well such as halibut and various types of tuna and barracuda.

Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests. Be well and good eating!

Now, on to the recipes!

Cooking in the Great Outdoors
Cooking Methods

Grilling is usually done in a hibachi, kettle, or some similar type of device. The most primitive form of grilling is done over an open wood fire with a grill placed over the fire. Grilling is used on foods which can be cooked quickly, usually tender pieces of meat, fish or fowl.

Commercial charcoal (briquettes) are the typical fuel used in grilling, however wood may also be used, sometimes to benefit the flavor of the food. I prefer not to use the commercial lighter fluids used to start charcoal as they may impart an unpleasant taste to the food being cooked. Igniting a few pieces of cardboard works quite well in starting charcoal. When using charcoal, it is best to allow the coals to burn until they are fully covered with ash before proceeding to cook. The charcoals are processed with hydrocarbons which may affect the flavor of the food if the coals are not properly burned. This is especially important with delicate foods like fish. It is also important if coals are used for smoking meat, fish or fowl.

When cooking over a grill, wood seasonings may be used to benefit the flavor of the food in a manner similar to smoking food. Hickory chips, apple chips or mesquite chunks on the coals will add a special flavor to steaks or fish being grilled. Don't hesitate to use your imagination, but avoid soft or resinous woods when cooking.

The Smoking Method

Smoking is not only a way of flavoring food, it’s also a method of preserving foods. Smoking is often used to dry meats and fish to produce products known as jerky or pemmican. Smoking meat, fowl or fish can be a simple or an elaborate process, depending upon what is being cooked and what you expect the end result to be like. The critical factor in smoking foods is the type of fire used in the process.

The Pit Method

The pit method involves digging a hole, or having a barbecue pit built, in which a fire can be made. The meat or fish to be cooked is wrapped in some type of cloth or leaves and put into the pit to be buried until done.

My grandfather used the pit method for the large parties he had which served hundreds of people. A fire was made in a pit the night previous to the party. The pit was about 3 feet in diameter and about 8 feet deep.

Large chunks of beef (about 10 lb. Each) were wrapped in muslin. When the fire had died down to coals, banana leaves were placed on top of the coals and the meat sacks were placed on top of the leaves. Then another layer of leaves was placed on top of the meat sacks and the entire result was covered with wet muslin cloth.

The meat was left to cook all night. The next day, the meat sacks were pulled out with a hook, and the meat was unwrapped, sliced and served. As I recall, the meat was always tender and delicious.

The same method can be employed to cook seafood on the beach, or beef in the back yard. The method is simple. Merely dig a hole about 3 to 5 feet deep. Build a fire in the bottom of the hole with charcoal, oak, or a similar hardwood. When the fuel has reduced to coals, cover the coals with green leaves (or seaweed if you are at the beach). Wrap the food to be cooked in cloth, and put it on top of the leaves. Put a layer of wet cloth over the whole pit and cover it with a large piece of sheet metal or plywood. Allow the food to cook for several hours and dig up the feast.

If you choose to cook seafood in this manner, allow at least 3 hours for the cooking process. If beef is used, allow 6 to 8 hours. Some good suggestions for a seafood treat using this method are lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, rockfish, salmon, cod, periwinkles, oysters, and crab.

Making the Fire

There are basically three types of fire used in barbecuing or smoking food. There is the "hot" fire, the "moderate" fire, and the "cold" fire. Grilled steaks and salmon are best when cooked over a hot fire with moderate smoke. Roasts, turkey, chicken, and ribs are best cooked over a moderate fire with lots of smoke. Smoked fish and jerky are best prepared with a warm or cool smoke.

The hot fire, as referred, is essentially a bed of hot coals with little or no flame. If you are using wood for fuel, then burn the wood until the surface of it is covered with ash. This may require turning the pieces of wood once or twice. Then spread the pieces of wood enough to diminish the flames. This type of fire is used for food types which cook quickly. Hamburgers, shish kabob and steaks fall into this category.

The moderate fire is produced from a hot fire by sprinkling with some wood chips which have been soaked in water for 30 minutes, and then covering the fire for a short period of time. Select a hard, long lasting wood for the moderate fire. The moderate fire is used for foods which take longer than 30 minutes to cook. Turkey, roasts, chicken, rack of lamb, and large pieces of fish would be cooked with a moderate fire. Cooking with the moderate fire usually requires a lid over the barbecue.

The cold fire is a source of warm or cold smoke to the food being processed. The warm smoke condition can be achieved simply by pushing the coals off to one side of the barbecue, placing the food on the opposite side of the grille, adding the wood chips, and then covering. The control of ventilation will cause the smoke to circulate around the food inside, thus imparting that unique barbecue flavor.

The true cold smoke is a little more difficult to achieve. The larger smokehouses, in which hams and bacon are prepared, use this technique. From a warm smoke condition, the smoke must be "piped" to a contained volume in which the food is housed. The fire is in a separate housing from the food, so the food receives no heat. It is therefore not "cooked", but rather flavored, and perhaps somewhat preserved, depending on how long the food is in the cold smoke.

About the Fuel

The secret to a good flavor in barbecued foods lies largely in the smoke (and flavor) from the fuel used to make the fire. The charcoal briquettes bought in the market are useful for steaks, spareribs, and most other foods, but will not impart that special flavor which is so unique to a truly delicious barbecue. Avoid using a charcoal starter fluid for the fire, since it tends to impart an adverse taste to the food. A few pieces of cardboard will work just as well. The fuel which I prefer for grilling food is oak wood. Oak imparts a subtle flavor to the food which is very pleasant to the palate and is not overpowering.

The smoke from the fuel in a barbecue is what really imparts the flavor to the food. Achieving the proper smoke is like using herbs in a sauce - a little of this and a little of that will make for a good flavor. A dash of hickory, a sprinkle of alder, a corncob, and voila! There are more variations to the smoke than there are types of wood.

The best woods for a barbecue are the hardwoods. Oak is usually preferred because of its gentle flavor. Mesquite has become a favorite in recent years because it burns hotter and longer than most other woods and also has a subtle flavor. Mesquite charcoal has become more available in markets for a good combination of convenience and quality of smoke. Hickory chips are a good addition to a fire for flavor providing that they are used in moderation. Too much hickory will impart a bitter taste to the food unless it is used over an open fire for barbecuing rather than for smoking. Below is a list of woods which I commonly use for making smoke in my barbecue, and a few words about how to use them.

There are many woods to avoid as fuel for a barbecue. Among these are all of the resinous and soft woods such as pine, peach, apricot, redwood and eucalyptus. In general, any wood which has sap seeping from the bark is to be avoided. Also, any strong smelling wood such as cedar or eucalyptus should not be used.

Wood for Smoke

Woods commonly used in barbecues:

Alder: A fine hardwood for smoking and barbecuing. Alder has a distinct but mild flavor. It is difficult to use too much alder. This wood is excellent for smoking or barbecuing trout, salmon, albacore, and whitefish. It is also good for beef and fowl, but may be hardly noticeable with the stronger flavored meats. Alder is a subtle smoke flavor compatible with all meats, fish and fowl. Apple: A few dried apple twigs or trimmings make a good addition to the smoke of a fire. The flavor that apple imparts to the food is moderate in intensity. A large amount is not necessary and the flavor is pleasant. Corncobs: Corncobs are obviously not wood, but are included here because the corncob's smoke flavor is very unique, and imparts an almost sweet taste to the food. I've heard that the corncob smoke flavor is one of the secrets to the famous Virginia smoked ham. I save the cobs from the summer sweet corn to use for smoke when cooking pork spareribs, steak, and warm smoked trout and salmon. It makes superb smoke flavoring addition for all foods. Hickory: Many unseasoned barbecue cooks use hickory to an extreme. The flavor of hickory is very strong as woods go. Too much hickory imparts a bitter flavor to the food which may be offensive to some people. Use hickory sparingly. It is an excellent wood for cooking steaks over a hot open fire, and is very good with pork. Use sparingly for salmon, trout, and other fish. Moderation is the key to successful flavoring with hickory. Manzanita: This wood burns very hot and relatively fast. It is rare unless you happen to live in the right area. This wood should be used like sycamore, but keep in mind that it burns much hotter. This wood is great for open fire cooking or as a basis for coals used in smoking. Mesquite: Mesquite has a very subtle flavor suitable for most types of outdoor cooking. It generally is used in flavoring commercial charcoal, but the flavored charcoal is no substitute for the real thing. Mesquite is a versatile wood suitable for barbecuing meats or for smoking fish when used in moderate quantity. Oak: Oak is one of the finest woods for cooking because it burns long and hot. It also has one of the finest flavors for beef, fish, and fowl. Oak flavor is mild, so it is difficult to use too much. It is an excellent wood to use as the basis of a barbecue, adding flavors from other wood to the oak before cooking. Sycamore: Sycamore burns fast and relatively hot. It is therefore best suited for cooking hamburgers, steaks, shish kabob, short ribs of beef, and other foods which require a hot fire and cook fast. The flavor of this wood is not particularly interesting. It is good for grilling but not for smoking.

Phil's Barbecue Sauce

  • Two 64 ounce bottles catsup
  • 1 large can tomato sauce
  • 4 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1 lb. brown sugar
  • 2 cups honey
  • 12 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 medium onion (finely diced) or 2 Tbls. onion powder
  • 8 cloves garlic or 1 Tbls. garlic powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbls. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbls. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • ½ tsp. dried rosemary leaves
  • 2 Tbls. Kitchen Bouquet
  • 2 Tbls. mustard
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 2 Tbls. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbls. liquid smoke

Begin by simmering the onions and garlic in a large pot with the olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the catsup, tomato sauce, brown sugar, and honey. Warm this mixture under low heat, stirring frequently, until all of the sugar is dissolved. Add the bay leaf and spices, the Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon stick, and Kitchen Bouquet. After this mixture begins to simmer, dissolve the mustard in the vinegar and add to the pot. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon, and add the tomato paste to thicken. Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently, until it is thickened (about 10 minutes). Finally, add the liquid smoke and remove from the heat.

Alternate ingredients:

As a variation to the basic recipe, I frequently add or substitute other ingredients to change the flavor, depending on what I have on hand. Use your own imagination in adding these options, but remember that it is better to be moderate in the quantity until you have a feel for what is flavorful to you.

  • Chile powder (½ tsp. Suggested)
  • Tabasco sauce (¼ tsp. Suggested for zest)
  • Maple syrup (expensive, but a good substitute for sweeteners)
  • Molasses (a cheap substitute for the sugar)
  • Dark corn syrup (a good substitute for the honey)
  • Steak sauce (substitute for the kitchen bouquet)
  • Soy sauce (substitute for the Worcestershire sauce)
  • Lemon pepper (adds a bit of flavor because of the MSG)
  • Red or white wine (to replace some of the vinegar)
  • Orange or pineapple juice (add to change the flavor)
  • Cider or wine vinegar (substitute for the regular vinegar)
  • Lime juice (substitute for the lemon juice)
  • Suggested herbs to add: summer savory, basil, and marjoram
  • Yields: 10 Quarts
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Quick Barbecue Sauce

If you don't have time to make an elaborate barbecue sauce, try this quick sauce in a pinch. Don't be afraid to be imaginative. If you don't have steak sauce, leave it out and add a little more catsup. Italian salad dressing can be used instead of vinegar or lemon juice.
  • 1 cup catsup
  • ½ cup steak sauce
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbls. vinegar or lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbls. Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ medium onion

Place all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Use as you would any other barbecue sauce.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Pork Spareribs

This recipe is a favorite of many cultures which enjoy the succulent flavor of pork at its finest. Making good ribs is an art more than a recipe. Using the recipe for Phil’s Barbecue Sauce above and following this recipe will yield more than satisfactory results.

Be sure to choose ribs which are lean and meaty. Baby back ribs, although more expensive, are worth the price. Regular pork ribs or country style ribs will be excellent if the directions are followed explicitly.

The can of water on the grill serves to produce steam in the covered environment of the barbecue, and helps to tenderize the meat when cooking. This one factor will make a major difference in the final product. The other factor which will make the difference between good ribs and great ribs is the smoke flavor. Oak bark, a little hickory, and two corncobs is the best combination of smoke "spice".

  • 2 slabs pork spareribs
  • Phil's Barbecue sauce
  • Salt and pepper

Split the ribs into sections and slice the sections so that the ribs are somewhat separated but still connected. While a fire is being prepared, salt and pepper the ribs to taste. Once the coals are established, apply the corn cobs, alder chips, oak bark, etc. And put a can of water in the center of the grille, directly over the coals. Arrange the ribs around the grill so that they receive radiant heat from the fire, and cover. After 20 minutes, turn and rearrange the ribs so that none get overcooked, and so that all get adequate smoke circulation. Recover and smoke for an additional 20 minutes.

After the ribs appear to be thoroughly browned and cooked, dip them into the barbecue sauce and return them to the grill to char briefly, turning once more. Once the ribs are slightly charred on each side, remove from the grille, slice and serve.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 50 minutes

Spring Chicken

If you like the flavor of garlic as much as I do, then this is a recipe for you. This a simple and wonderful method of preparing chicken on the outdoor grille, or for cooking under the broiler in the house.
  • Frying chicken cut in half lengthwise (allow 1 chicken per 2 people)
  • 1 cube butter
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped

Place the chicken halves over hot coals on the grille. Do not cover the grille. In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the garlic. Once the butter begins to simmer, remove from the heat. Use the garlic butter to baste the chicken frequently on both sides. Cook the chicken about 30 minutes per side, turning and basting every 10 minutes. Prepare more garlic butter if necessary. Be careful not to allow the coals to flare up into flames as this will cause the chicken to burn very quickly.

Extra garlic butter may be spread on bread and toasted for excellent garlic bread.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 60 minutes

Garlic Marinated Short Ribs of Beef

This is an old family favorite which is normally prepared for a medium sized family event. The meat is prepared three days in advance, two days minimum. If you decide to prepare this course only two days in advance, then allow the meat to marinate at room temperature for the first 12 hours. Turn the ribs daily while marinating. Normally, the meat is marinated in the refrigerator for three days, and then barbecued. Allow 1 to 2 lb. of short ribs for each person. The leftovers from this recipe keep very well in the refrigerator, if they last for more than a day or two, that is!
  • 20 lb. beef short ribs, sliced and folded open to expose the meat
  • 35 cloves of chopped garlic
  • Plenty of oregano
  • 1 quart white vinegar

Layer short ribs in a pan to marinate as follows: place one layer of short ribs in a pan, cover generously with chopped garlic, and oregano. Place second layer of ribs over the first and cover generously with garlic and oregano. Continue this process until all of the ribs are covered with garlic and oregano. Finally, pour vinegar over the ribs until they are covered. Allow the ribs to marinate for three days under refrigeration, turning them each day to fully marinate the meat. After the third day, barbecue the ribs over charcoal until browned on both sides. The meat will be tender and succulent, because of the marinade, and very flavorful because of the garlic and oregano.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 3 days
  • Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Grilled Salmon Steaks

Of all the fish in the sea, salmon lends itself best to the grill. Salmon steaks are preferred, as the bone tends to hold the fish together during the cooking process. Salmon is rich and flavorful. For the best results, let simplicity be your guide.
  • 4 Salmon steaks, 1 inch thick (allow one per person)
  • Butter or oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the salmon steaks by first applying salt to taste, both sides. Let the fish remain in a pan until ready to cook. This process will firm the flesh of the salmon and help prevent it from falling apart on the grill. When ready to grill the fish, brush a coating of butter or oil over the surface of the steaks. This will prevent the fish from sticking. Pepper to taste and place over hot coals on the grill. Cook the steaks about 6 minutes per side for one inch steaks. Top with a little melted butter and some chopped parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 12 minutes

Smoked Salmon

This particular recipe is really for Lox. Lox is a lightly cold smoked salmon fillet. The secret to making good lox is to use very fresh salmon, that is, use fish that is no more than 8 hours old and which has been kept very cold. Silver or red salmon is preferred, but any type of salmon or steelhead may be prepared in this manner. For best results, do not use a fish which has been frozen. Follow this recipe explicitly for an excellent result.
  • 1 filleted side of fresh ocean caught salmon (about 4 pounds)
  • ½ gallon cold water
  • 2 cups salt
  • 1 lb. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. Wright's Liquid Smoke

Mix the water, salt, sugar and liquid smoke, making sure to dissolve all of the sugar and salt. Immerse the side of salmon into the liquid and allow to soak for only 30 minutes, turning once after 15 minutes. Prepare a small fire with oak or alder wood in a covered barbecue grill and scoop the coals to one side of the grill. The fire should not be very hot. Briquettes may be used, but if so, make sure the briquettes are completely covered with ash before processing the fish. When using briquettes, use only about 12 briquettes for the fire and ignite the fire with cardboard or bits of wood rather than lighter fluid which may impart an unpleasant taste to the fish.

Put one or two pieces of moist oak bark or a handful of moist alder chips and one dried and moistened corn cob on top of the coals. Make sure the corn cob does not have any kernels on it or this will impart an unpleasant bitter flavor to the fish. Place the fish, skin side down, on the opposite side of the grill from the heat. Do not allow any part of the fish to be placed directly over the coals. Cover the grill and allow the smoke to circulate for no more than 30 minutes.

The fish may then be carefully removed and refrigerated to cool. The fish should not be "cooked". Rather, the appearance should be more like raw fish. Any remaining bones may be picked out. Layers of the salmon flesh may now be peeled off and arrange on a platter for serving with bagels, cream cheese, or eaten plain. Sushi fans will love this recipe by rolling some steamed rice in the peeled salmon layers, slicing and serving with soy sauce.

By using a longer smoke process, a different type of product will result, yet equally tasty. When smoking other types of fish, a warmer and longer smoke is preferred. However, I never smoke my fish longer than 3 to 4 hours as this may result in the fish becoming more like jerky than smoked fish.

A warmer smoke may be achieved by using more coals or wood for the fuel. Just make sure that the fish is not placed directly over the heat. Always keep a close eye on the fish when using a warm smoke as it will not take long for the fish to become "overcooked", dry and rather strong tasting of wood rather than fish.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 60 minutes

Prawns, Puerto Varrarta Style

This is a unique and delicious way to cook prawns. Be sure to allow plenty for everyone, as seafood lovers will take these prawns to heart.
  • 2 lbs. medium to large prawns (allow 1/3 to ½ pound per person)
  • 10 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 cube butter

Shell and wash the prawns in cold water. Skewer the prawns on metal or bamboo skewers. Melt the butter in a small skillet and add the garlic. Grill the prawns over a bed of coals, basting frequently with the garlic butter. Turn once or twice. Do not overcook. These prawns will be done in 5 to 8 minutes.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Grilled Steak

Steak cooked over an open fire is one of the finest ways to prepare a good slice of beef. Select either sirloin, porterhouse, T-bone, London broil, New York, or, if you feel like going to the expense, filet mignon. The main tip to success here is don't overcook the meat, and select a cut of meat which is nicely marbled with fat.
  • 4 good quality steaks -- allow one steak per person
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Liquid smoke (optional)
  • Lemon pepper (optional)
  • Worcestershire sauce (optional)
  • Garlic to taste (optional)

Prepare the coals, preferably using oak wood or mesquite coals, and put the grill over the fire. Allow a few minutes for the grill to become hot. This will help to prevent sticking. Salt and pepper the steaks to taste and sprinkle or brush a little Worcestershire sauce on both sides before putting them directly over the coals. Optionally, slice thin slivers of garlic and imbed these in the meat with a knife. To do this, simply cut a slit in the meat and slip a sliver of garlic into the slit.

Cook the steaks for approximately 6 minutes per side for medium-rare, depending on thickness. Do not allow flames to burn the meat, but do allow flame to char the surface and seal in juices. A little water sprayed or sprinkled on the coals will suppress the flames if necessary.

Try adding a little lemon pepper on the less expensive cuts of meat before serving. A few drops of liquid smoke on top of the steaks while they are cooking is a good variation, but don't ruin the naturally good flavor of a good quality steak with other flavors. The flavor of the oak wood, or mesquite charcoal, with a good cut of meat is enough in itself.

A filet mignon may be served with a fine sauce, like béarnaise, for that special occasion.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes