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How I learned to love propane cookery


By Jim Algie

I almost hate to say so; but I think there’s a place in my life for a propane barbecue.

Maggie has lobbied for this for years. My resistance, I guess, involved cost. Those hibachis are so cheap.

I have three or four of them kicking around, including some that came to me at no cost whatever. And charcoal isn’t too costly, particularly if you barbecue infrequently which was the way with us.


Now I know why we ‘cued so seldom. It’s because charcoal, as fuel, is so hit and miss. I know it’s the primary cooking fuel for millions of people around the world; but somehow, I just never got the hang of it. With briquettes it often takes too long to get cookable coals.

My son-in-law has not one, but two, flashy bbqs on the verandah of his Toronto apartment, and swears by the actual, wood chunk charcoal.  At least that’s what he told me a year ago when he handed over the last of his charcoal burning appliances to me to make room for the latest addition to his propane cookery collection. It was the fire hazard of charcoal that made him switch.

"It’s easy," he said. The gift included a tall, galvanized metal cylinder for illuminating charcoal.

"You put in a couple of sheets of newspaper, then a load of charcoal, light the paper and in about 20 minutes you’re ready to cook."

Only, it didn’t always work that way for me. There’d be the big, paper flare and the smoky aftermath. Then, 20 minutes later, you’d see slight drifts of smoke; but not much heat.

You add more paper and, in subsequent attempts, I began using lighter fluid, despite dire warnings on the fuel container against this.

Another flare, another 20 minute wait.

Supper came late with a slight hint of petroleum. Then, hours later, you’d have perfect coals for toasting marshmallows; which is something, but not exactly what they boast about when the "barby" chefs gather.

What changed it all for me this year was sustained, summer heat. It almost ruled out indoor cooking in our shack up north. Ours is an uninsulated building where, a few years ago, we cleared back a bunch of overhanging birch trees.

The birches had reached the age where they represented a hazard to the building; but they also provided shade. So, this year, when it got so hot outside, it was hot inside and we didn’t want to add to the heat by firing up our propane stove.

Oh, wait a minute. If you’re cooking indoors with propane, why not take it outside? Isn’t that what summer kitchens were all about? Honestly, sometimes I can’t even explain myself to myself.

So, after about 45 days in camp this summer, we bought a little, table-top barbecue adapted to use the same, 20-pound cylinders we use for the fridge and stove and just started cooking outdoors.

This decision was influenced partly by the fact that, last year, when we were away from home back in Owen Sound, our house-sitting neighbour had borrowed and installed a propane cooker at our place for his own, summer use. During the several weeks that followed our return and before the barbecue disappeared from our yard, we used it in the way I’ve described above. Indeed, we used it a lot more than I ever used any of the hibachis in my shed and used it to cook pretty much everything in my repertoire from bread to burgers and brisket.

You turn on the gas, push the start button and flames appear. Lower the lid and the temperature soars. Adjust the gas flow for temperatures to suit your raw food.

It’s perfect for roasting peppers, way better than my electric oven at home. It works for pizza, not to mention the usual bbq fare: steaks, chops and sausages.


Anybody want a hibachi and two thirds of a bag of charcoal?