It’s summertime, and we all love to spend time outdoors, happily camping and grilling and barbecuing under the open sky.
Some people love it when it smokes. The smell of wood or coal smoke adds something special to the taste of food. Just like the good old times when our ancestors used to prepare everything on the open fire.
But there is something unpleasant with a smoke smell: it sticks. And when you grill and barbecue regularly, it accumulates. So one day your house may smell like a smokehouse, unless…
How about a decent propane burner?
No, seriously. Even if you are a devoted fan of an open fire, there is one thing you have to admit: it’s a mess. There’s a great deal of soot and grime, fat sprinkles and so on. And you have to dump ashes somewhere. And washing dishes afterward -- Gosh, it’s a pain in the neck.
Propane makes a far fewer amount of exhaust products.
It’s cleaner. It takes less amount of fuel to build a higher temperature. And it’s comparatively cheap -- the one that was rated as the best on the internet costs $186, others are even cheaper.
What is propane?
Propane is a gas, a by-product of processing petroleum and natural gas. If you are interested in the formula, it’s C3H8. It replaced kerosene in our everyday life -- heating, cooking, brewing and so on -- because it’s cheaper and safer. Some cars also run on propane.
Its main benefit is that it can be easily liquified under pressure and stored in tanks until used. When released from a pressurized gas tank, it vaporizes and can fuel your car or your stove. It is non-toxic and odorless, so they add some odor to notice the leak and take measures until something bad happens.
So, how do we use a propane burner?
Get yourself a propane tank and a burner. Hook them up with a tube (added to any good burner you buy online). Screw the tube securely onto the threaded opening of the tank. When the connector is screwed tight, turn the tank’s top valve counter-clockwise. The propane rushes into the tube until pressure is stabilized.
Then light a long lighter or a long match and put it close to the gas outcome of the burner. Then turn on a regulator knob. If everything is alright, your propane burner will be lit. Use it to cook whatever you need, adjusting the temperature with the help of a regulator knob (again, way easier than adjusting it by adding or removing coal or firewood).
To turn the burner off, just turn the knob to “off” position. That would be enough to make flames cease. Then, for further security, turn the tank’s top valve clockwise. Well done.
How do we cook on a propane burner?
Nice and easy! Just put your frying pan or your kettle (pot, distiller, whatever) on a burner and adjust the temperature.
What do we cook on a propane burner?
Now, that’s the saga to be told!
We prepare outdoors the kind of food we cannot prepare indoors, don’t we? And what is meant here is the amount of food. I am a great fan of Georgian cuisine. Not the USA state Georgia, but the former Soviet republic (nothing against the USA Georgia, I just never have been there).
Georgian cuisine is famous for its grilled meat, mzwadi. Russians used to call it shashlyk, but mzwadi is a genuine name.
It is very simple to prepare, you just take a decent piece of fresh meat (any meat will do: pork, mutton, beef, no matter) cut it in small pieces, string them on skivers, add salt and pepper as you like and cook on hot coals until it gets fried on both sides. Then you serve the meat sprinkled with pomegranate juice with lots of fresh herbs and marinated onion.
(Some people think that proper mzwadi requires meat to be marinated before cooking, and they are wrong! Every Kakheti Georgian will tell you that.)
You see, the recipe is quite simple, so what is special about imzadimzwadi? It’s quantity! Mzwadi is not a meal you enjoy alone or on a one-on-one basis. This is a wide party meal. You just cannot cook it in your oven and be done with that. You host a party, you have to have a big fireplace or a powerful burner to feed every guest.
Some will say that mzwadi on gas is nonsense. Believe me, it is not. And if you want to have a flavor of vine shoot smoke, which someone considers to be necessary for mzwadi, you don’t have to burn the whole bunch of dried vine shoot, just add some to the frying pan you use to cook meat above and let it burn and smoke.
Or take another my favorite from the Georgian cuisine: hinkali. They are big dumplings that cannot stand freezing. I wouldn’t dawdle with pastry and mincemeat to prepare four or five of them (which is enough to feed Hulk, believe me, they are huge), and, since they cannot withstand freezing, they have to be eaten fresh-boiled, which means: powerful fire and a big cooker and a big company to mold and eat them.
I also like to treat my guests with a pilaw. It takes a big cauldron to prepare a good Tatar pilaw. Of course, one can prepare a small amount of pilaw in the kitchen, and sometimes I do.
But the most I like to make pilaw a party event. You have some benefits in it: you can make your guests take part, slice carrots and onions for you while you wash rice and prepare meat (mutton, of course, for Crimean Tatars, are Muslims and don’t use pork). You cook lard and when fat is molten, you take away scratchings and put in sliced onion and cook it until it is fried golden.
Then you put in the mutton cut in pieces and stir-fry it with a wooden spatula. Then you add carrot and spices. And when the carrot softens, you add water (enough to cover the meat), season the meat with pepper and salt, according to your palate and add a whole garlic bulb (young, if the season is right).
Then put in the rice, spreading it with spatula flatly over the meat, but not mixing it with the meat. The rice must be long-grain, like Basmati or Jasmine. Water has to be just enough to cover the rice. Put in one chili pepper if you like it hot. Now, put the cover on the cauldron, make a small fire and wait until the water is boiled out. Do not stir! Entertain your guests until the rice is cooked, and then enjoy pilaw all together.
You may say I am too keen on former Soviet republics cuisine. Guilty as charged! I think there is nothing I can tell Americans about barbeque or Germans about grilled sausages or a Chinese about wok. But I used to live in Georgia for a while and I learned how to prepare Georgian meals, and Tatars from Crimea taught me to cook pilaw.
Of course, I do grill sausages and hamburgers and kebabs, but there is nothing special about them I can tell, I just do it like everyone else. I used to prepare them on the open fire, but there was the time when I was working as a cook for the archaeologic expedition, and I dealt with propane burners, huge cookers, and half-meter wide frying pans a lot. That was the time I valued a good propane burner! And the first thing I learned about them:
The main point about burners is, well, that they BURN. Which means fire hazards. So, rule number one: don’t leave them unattended. No way you can light a propane burner and then go nap for a while or on a getaway for shopping.
The wind blows out the flame, the gas leaks and accumulates, then you try to light your burner anew and KABOOM! In the best-case scenario your propane that you paid dear money for, is just gone with the wind.
Which brings us to the next point: don’t use your propane burner indoors. Gee, said a person who was used to use it indoors because in the expedition I had a shabby shack for a kitchen. It was so shabby it could go down with a sneeze, let alone a propane burst. Because of that, I was very very careful.
I positioned my burner on a level surface, I kept doors and windows open because I had no chimney, and propane, while burned, produces a small amount of carbon monoxide which is extremely unhealthy.
The worst thing about it is that it has no smell or color, so you cannot distinguish it until your head starts to ache, and you have vertigo and nausea, and in an hour you just say goodbye to this wonderful world. And if poisoning is non-lethal but chronical, you feel like you caught flue, you can feel like that during decades until ½ of oxygen in your blood is replaced by carbon, and then you are a goner.
I had no choice except cooking in that shack (the weather was pretty rainy), but while you have a choice, please do not use a propane burner indoors. Deal?
And of course, keep kids, pets, and fools away from your propane burner.