I’ve just returned from a week-long visit with Zia in Michigan, where Spring has finally sprung — even if it is much wetter and colder than most would like. The arrival of Spring in Michigan’s Thumb means that Summer is just about here for the rest of the country. And with Summer comes barbecue season, but hold onto your skewers. First, a little history …
The old two-flat had a great barbecue in the backyard that Grandpa built during the Summer of 1959. Pictured on the right is the construction site and below, to the left, the finished monolith. Grandpa was a master at masonry and he created the arch over the grilling area. (It wasn’t until I was much older that I appreciated the skill involved in doing that.) The grilling area had 3 sections: the top was the grill surface; the middle was where the fire burned; and the lowest section was where the ashes collected. The doors of the lower 2 sections had vents with which you could limit and direct the airflow to the fire, and thereby control the grill’s heat. The flue system practically guaranteed that there would be no smoke to bother the eyes of the barbecue’s many users. To the left of the grilling area was a large, flat surface that served as a work station and, under that, an area for storing wood. He’d thought of everything.
Once it was finished, that barbecue was often a center of activity for both households, regardless of the weather. In Winter, our yard was turned into an ice skating rink and the grill helped to warm us as it heated our hot chocolate. In warmer weather, I clearly remember seeing Dad, the High Priest of Grilling, standing in front of his altar, umbrella in his left hand & struggling with the wind, as his right hand tended to the sacrificed beast that would become our meal. Once Summer came, there were many Sundays when both families feasted together on some main course that was char-broiled to perfection. As for Grandpa, he could often be found “out back” on Fridays grilling shrimp, his specialty and today’s recipe. Somehow, I always found myself at his side as he grilled and, lo and behold, he would give me 1 or 2 shrimp just for “keeping company.” I think I got the better part of that deal. Not only did I get a couple of shrimp back then but now, years later, whenever I lay skewers of shrimp on a grill, my thoughts inevitably turn to the times spent standing next to my Grandpa in front of his master work — and I smile.
Back now, to the Present. Many stores today offer shrimp that have been cleaned but with the shells still on. These shrimp are definitely preferable to those that have been peeled simply because the shells offer some protection during grilling and so the shrimp are less likely to burn. Not only that but the opening left from the de-veining process makes a perfect home for stuffing. When buying shrimp destined for the grill, I’ve found that bigger is better. Large shrimp aren’t so quick to burn and they make a more memorable presentation. As for the stuffing, the amount of olive oil you need will vary depending upon the bread crumbs you use — i.e., fresh, store-bought, or panko. The goal is a stuffing that’s rather wet, though not “soupy.” You want it wet enough to survive the heat of the grill without drying out completely and yet dry enough so that you do not see stuffing and oil pooling on your serving platter. For the grilling, you can use a webbed grill basket, the kind with 2 sides that can be opened and that will hold the shrimp in place while grilling. This type of basket will allow you to turn over all the shrimp with ease. Lacking a grilling basket, thin bamboo skewers can be used after they’ve been soaked to prevent being burned on the grill. I use 2 skewers per set of shrimp and this, too, makes turning them over much easier.
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Grandpa’s Barbecued Shrimp Recipe
- 1 lb extra-large shrimp (no smaller than 21 – 25-ct), de-veined but not peeled
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup olive oil
- salt & pepper, to taste
- thin bamboo skewers, soaked in water for at least 1 hour before grilling
- lemon wedges for serving
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- In a mixing bowl, combine the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, salt & pepper and mix well.
- Add enough olive oil to the mixture to produce a wet, but not soupy, stuffing. Mix well.
- Place the shrimp into the bowl with the bread crumbs and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, arrange the coals, if used, to enable the “indirect cooking method.” Start the grill or fire up the coals so that the fire is ready when the shrimp are.
- Use 2 skewers to hold the shrimp. Place one skewer near the shrimp’s tail and the other skewer near its opposite end. Grab a second shrimp and do the same, using the same 2 skewers so that this shrimp is on top of the first one that you skewered. Be sure to include a little stuffing between the shrimp. Repeat the process until the skewers are full, keeping in mind the size or your grilling area. You may only be able to skewer 3 jumbo shrimp or 5 – 6 large shrimp per set of 2 skewers.
- Repeat step 5 until all the shrimp are skewered.
- With the grill very hot, clean the grates and use a wad of paper towels dipped in vegetable oil to coat the grilling surface. (No need to coat the grates if using a grilling basket.)
- If using the indirect method, the shrimp should take no more than a total of 5 minutes to cook both sides, depending upon the size and temperature of the grill. The time will be less if the shrimp are peeled and even less if they are grilled directly above the flames. Stay near the grill and watch them closely.
- Once cooked, the shrimp may be served as-is, on the skewers, or off of the skewers and arranged on a platter.
- Serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side.
With minor changes, you will see this bread crumb mixture, the Bartolini breading mixture, used again and again throughout this blog. The Bartolini Girls used it to stuff a number of vegetables, from artichokes to zucchini, not to mention seafood preparations from stuffed calamari to baked tilapia. Learn to make it, and to adjust the moisture level to suit the dish being prepared, and you will be amazed at how many uses you’ll find for it. Just please don’t forget to come back here and tell us about it.
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Those look wonderful. And I want that grill!
Thanks, but you’ll have to get in line for that grill. That’s the one thing I miss most about the old two-flat.
What a great memory and the grill is indded a work of art. The shrimp look great. I’m glad Gail sent me your way!
Welcome aboard, Dave. Yes, that barbecue really was something, wasn’t it? How I would love to have it in my back yard now! Every night at dinner time, I’d morph into my father and battle the elements while grilling supper.
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I’d love to have a grill as such in our backyard whenever we settle down. Actually I’d be extremely grateful. The kitchen is the heart of the home and extending it to the outdoors is the ultimate goal. Thanks for sharing the memories with us my friend.
My family moved out of that two-flat in 1985. Since then, time and time again, when that grill is mentioned, it’s unanimous that someone should have figured out a way to take it out of there. That arch over the grilling area was a work of art but when Grandpa built anything, he built it to last. The only way that grill would have been moved would have been to completely dismantle it. 🙂
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Gosh, that brick BBQ looks terrific! How great that must have been. And who doesn’t like shrimp? They’re great on the grill, and you’re so right that they should be in the shell, and large. And don’t even try grilling them with just a single skewer (been there, done that!) – you need two so they don’t twist when you turn them. Really nice – thanks.
Thanks, John. Yes, that barbecue was a work of art. I didn’t really appreciate it as a boy. It was only years later that I was able to see the mastery in the bricklaying. Grandpa really knew his stuff. He also knew how to grill shrimp, too. He gave me my life-long love of grilled shrimp and I can think of no better way to prepare them. And, yes, 2 skewers are a must. Any less is a rookie mistake. 😉