Shovel grilling began, so legend goes, with a rancher in the Australian outback who had lamb (no shortage of that in Australia) and a campfire, but no grill grate to position over it. So he sterilized the blade of shovel in the hot flames, arranged lamb chops seasoned with salt and pepper on it (and why not chopped fresh garlic and rosemary, too?), and grilled the lamb on the spade thrust directly into the fire.
It's super easy and you can do it over a campfire, wood-burning grill, or charcoal grill. I suppose you could do it on a gas grill, but I'm not quite sure I'd see the point.
- Build a substantial hardwood fire (preferably in an outdoor fireplace or fire pit or where campfires are allowed) or use natural lump charcoal and add hardwood chunks for flavor. Allow it to burn down to glowing, ash-covered embers. (Note: Never burn resinous pine or other softwoods. Ditto for pressure-treated lumber.)
- Use a well-made shovel with a flat blade (steel, not aluminum) and a long wooden handle (not fiberglass or plastic). If new, scrub off any protective coating or manufacturing oils and sterilize the blade in the fire before loading it with meat. If employing a used shovel—rust-free, please—thoroughly scrub the blade with soapy water, then sterilize in the fire.
- Preheat the blade before arranging the meat on it. How hot should you preheat it? Enough so that when you sprinkle a few drops of water on it, they evaporate in 2 to 3 seconds. This promotes caramelization on the surface of the meat, and helps prevents sticking.
- Expose only the blade and metal part of the shaft to the heat to avoid burning the handle.
- This grilling technique words best with 1-inch-thick chops (lamb, pork, or veal) or steaks (beef, pork, elk, or venison). For that matter, the method is awesome for tuna or salmon steaks as well.
Try out your shovel grilling skills with these recipes:
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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is www.barbecuebible.com.