We like to think that the way we barbecue today is a far cry from Neanderthal methods. Yet, regardless of our hi-tech cookers, gadgets and seasonings, we follow the same Neanderthal formula: meat plus fire equals barbecue.
I love Gary Larson’s classic Far Side cartoon portrayal of the first barbecue gadget. Two Neanderthal men grimace with flame pains while holding meat with their bare hands over fire. At a nearby campfire, “Zog” holds his meat skewered on a stick. His hands are a comfortable distance from the heat. An observant peer exclaims, “Hey! Look what Zog do!”
Today’s barbecue gadgets are more advanced than sharpened sticks. Modern pitmasters use shears, injectors, sprayers, mechanical tenderizers and other gadgets before putting their meat into hi-tech cookers bearing no resemblance to Neanderthal campfires. Inside their cookers you may see temperature probes connected to remote monitors. The meat looks like it’s on life support in a Barbecue Intensive Care Unit.
How about treating yourself to meat and potatoes cooked Zog-style over flames and coals this summer? No hi-tech grill, injectors, forks, tongs, aluminum foil or thermometers—just stick-skewered meat in direct contact with fire. Add potato, pepper, salt and butter as neo-Neanderthal embellishments.
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Zog’s way is simple. It yields delicious results. Is it better than today’s methods? You decide. There are many ways to barbecue. We each choose our favorite methods along the continuum.
Hi-tech methods, gadgets, imaginative seasonings and other embellishments can yield delicious results and win contests, especially if sweetness is in the mix. The Zogs in our family tree had none of that, yet they started a tradition that has hooked humankind on barbecue for many thousands of years.
It’s hot outside. Go forth and Zog!
Zog Steak & Potato
Zog didn’t know the Stall or the Jump. He didn’t know collagen from myoglobin. He was removed from thermometers and other gadgets by tens of thousands of years. Try this:
Serves 1 or 2
1 8-to-10-ounce boneless ribeye steak
1 or 2 russet baking potatoes
2 or 3 3-foot green tree sticks
Start a hardwood or oak fire on the ground or in a barbecue kettle. Observe rigorous fire safety precautions. I put a mix of charcoal briquettes, hardwood charcoal and hickory chunks in a charcoal chimney to start the fire. Let your fire build while you prep potato and meat.
Scrub potatoes over fresh running water. Carve a sharp end on a stick and shove it into one end of the potato. Likewise skewer the steak with a sharpened stick.
Hold potato and steak over direct flames and coals until they reach your desired level of doneness, at least 30 to 45 minutes. If potato is too firm when the steak is ready, go modern and microwave it for 2 to 3 minutes.
If you like the results tweak this method to your own specs and invite family and friends to a cook-it-yourself Chow Town Zog Party.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent releases are America’s Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with chef Paul Kirk, and Barbecue Lover’s Kansas City Style .