Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 17, 2009

What I Did This Weekend – or Dinner for 120

Did you know that it takes roughly 28 square feet of grill space to simultaneously grill 28 chicken halves? 

As all 12 of my regular readers know, I’m in the Society for Creative Anachronism.  We’re a medieval re-creation group who, among other things, spend our weekends wearing suits of armor and hitting each other with swords.   While armored combat is the most dynamic and visual of our activities, we do many other things as well.  And one of my favorites is feasting.  For the second weekend in a row, I was in the kitchen.  Well, figuratively speaking.

I was lead spatula on this weekend’s grill crew at the Lusty Month of May event down in the Shire of Tal Mere, and I spent most of Saturday out-of-doors tending a large steel grill, cooking all of the meats that would be eaten by 120 dinner guests. I’m learning a lot about the challenges involved in catering, and with working with an all-volunteer staff. 

We started work at a slightly later time than I would have been comfortable with.  The Head Cook had had a mis-communication with the individual providing the meat.  She had apparently worked out a deal with the butcher to get our chicken, beef, lamb, and pork at a bargain rate, but he thought he needed to have it ready for pick-up on Saturday, and we need to pick it up on Friday to start cooking early on Saturday.  As you might imagine, it was a stressful morning.  Props to the butcher, though.  When he got the right information, he did back-flips to deliver on the dead animal flesh as quickly as possible. 

In the meantime, I topped and tipped about thirty pounds of carrots and removed the outer rind of an entire bag of oranges.  While we were awaiting the critter-parts, we also roasted a bag of onions and stemmed what seemed like a cubic meter of young spinach.

Eventually, the meat rolled in.

But first, a word about the weapon.  Our Head Cook had managed to borrow a massive seven-foot portable grill for our protein carbonization needs.  It had  a cook surface seven feet long and three feet wide, with a higher six inch by seven foot raised cooking area as well.  The cooking surface was probably about four feet off of the ground; counter height and very comfortable to work at.  The body was stainless steel and had two massive lids that, when we tested immediately resulted in the decision: “we’re going to need a guy to run this.” I think that both lids together equalled the body weight Head Cook.  It ended up taking two of us.  When she told me about it, she kinda dismissed it as “excessive.”  And we had ten bags of charcoal.  We needed every square inch of that grill to finish remotely on time.  I had reached man-vanna.

We had everything in order to light the grill on time at 2:00.  We assumed 20 – 30 minutes for it to reach cooking temperature.

You know, kids today have it pretty good in many ways, but they missed out on explosive charcoal lighter.  You wouldn’t know it today, but there was a time when I was young when charcoal lighter was volatile at room temperature.  I can dimly remember my dad stepping back and throwing a lit match at the charcoal, and the resulting *fu-whup* of the ignition.  Of course, nothing goes smoothly.  About twenty percent of the charcoal had gotten wet.  Technical tip: if you’re storing charcoal in plastic bins, the kind of bins with lids that split at the center to not keep the contents dry.

It was a bit of a challenge to keep it lit initially.  We also startled a smoker with his sudden popularly. 

“Hey, look!  Here comes a smoker!”

“Uh, hi.  What have I done wrong?”

“Nothing – you’ve brought FIRE.   Welcome, Prometheus!”

All non-smokers, there wasn’t a match to be found among the kitchen team. We were about to have to light a punk from one of the stove burners and try to walk it outside.

Once we finally got it lit, 28 half-chickens, 20 pounds of lamb, 20 pounds of pork, and 14 salmon fillets went under my tongs, to be delivered hot and on time.  We cheated a bit on the timing, I must confess.  “Coolers” also keep things warm.  So we finished everything early and packed it in coolers to keep it warm.  By pre-portioning out each meat in 14 shares, we were able to hand the kitchen meat ready-to-plate.  Hopefully, we were able to save them some time at the plating stage.

It’s been fun, but two weekends in a row is my limit.  I think I’m gonna take a little break from the kitchen for a little while.  I’m going back to the tourney field.  It’s less tiring.

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  1. You neglect to mention roasted sweet potatoes and carrots on your grill! And they were wonderful too – adding all the extra butter didn’t hurt a bit!
    Good job on manning the grill all day, I’d like to say my station at the stove top was less hot, but I don’t think so. And the way the smoke came through the kitchen, I think I smelled about as smokey as you must have at the end of the day. But hey, clever Lady Bianca to bring in two Laurel ‘ringers’, it went off very well, everyone was fed and damn few leftovers! Good Work Team Bianca!

    • The sweet potatos just weren’t cooking through, but they were burning on the outside. Then I remembered my Alton Brown. Use fat for heat transfer. “Hey Bianca, is there and butter left?” “Here, take it all,” with the “just get out of my way so I can concentrate” implied. So I’m standing next to the sweet potatos with 3/4 of a pound of butter in my hands. I exercised superhuman restraint and only used a half-pound. It looked a little try after the first quarter pound.

      I think we were more comforatable than you guys. We had a steady breeze. Unfortunately for you, it was at our backs. I think you guys got more smoke than we did. In fact, I recall fairly early on a comment from inside: “Uh – why is the kitchen full of smoke?” I yelled “I think that’s us.” “Ok – just wanted to make sure we weren’t burning something.” Oh, and we had beer.

      And I’m hardly a ringer. I’m a woodworking laurel. I hope I didn’t get too much sawdust in the food. (Chicken fat gums up my tablesaw.)

  2. sounds like you had loads of fun.

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