Kebabs: Paleo-Modernity on a Stick

Sometime around a million years ago, Homo Erectus figured out that his discovery of fire could be used to cook meat. Besides the increased survivability cooking offered in terms of disease reduction, the softer food could be chewed by even the weakest members of the tribe. It was simple. Just skewer the day’s kill onto a stick, roast, and eat. We can only speculate that early man also had the faculty to appreciate the kebabs on the grillflavor that only fire can impart. Fast forward about a million years into the future (minus about 50 or so) and we arrive at a time when this iconic technique is identified with a society that reached the pinnacle of outdoor cooking…the Patio Culture. Mid-Century grill men took what was primarily a Mediterranean cooking technique and brought it into the American mainstream. As stated before, the simplicity was undeniable. This, however, gave the chef little opportunity to express his individuality. To get around this, outdoor chefs discovered they could create marinades to alter the flavor of the meat and add various vegetables to make an otherwise mundane dish spectacular in both taste and presentation. The following is intended to be a generalized overview to guide you through the sheer diversity of kebab variations.

Use the right tools for the job!

To begin your foray into the world of kebab grilling you’ll first need decent skewers. As traditional Middle Eastern grill men know, the flat sword type skewers are preferable as they keep the meat and vegetables from spinning around on the skewer. They should be long enough so that the handles can remain a somewhat safe distance from the heat source. Bamboo skewers are good for smaller individual servings, but be sure to soak them for 30 minutes prior to putting them on the grill. As always, a bed of glowing coals (charcoal or otherwise) rather than a blazing fire is the cooking environment you’ll need.

Marinade it!
kebab marinade
Unless you have access to some prime beef such as Kobe, you’ll probably need to marinate the meat. This is especially true if you’re using typical cuts of stew meat, a popular choice for American style kebabs. The simple chemistry of a decent marinade is one part acid (lemon, lime, vinegar, etc.) to about two parts oil…similar to a vinaigrette. To the marinade base you can add just about anything. Common ingredients include, but are not limited to, chopped onions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, even honey (use care with sweet ingredients as they can easily burn on the grill). Time is the next factor. Marinade the meat for at least 4 hours with overnight being even better.

Cindy’s Kebab Marinade

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • juice from 20 oz. can of chunk pineapple (use pineapple for skewers)
  • juice from one lime
  • 1/2 cup prepared teriyaki marinade
  • 3 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

Mix all ingredients together and marinate meat overnight.kebab meat

Add the works!

When the meat has had time to properly marinate, pat dry and begin threading onto a skewer. Here’s where I differ from traditional kebab techniques. I prefer to have skewers with only meat, and separate skewers devoted to the vegetables. The simple truth of this is because it takes longer for the meat to cook than the vegetables. If you want to go with the more traditional approach, alternate meat and vegetables, but watch them closely to make sure they don’t get overcooked! The old standby veggies such as bell pepper, onion, mushroom, and cherry tomatoes are great, but don’t feel limited to those choices. Any vegetable that is somewhat firm can be used, as well as, fruits (pineapple being my favorite).

Smoked Mushrooms (for when they don’t all fit on the skewers!)smoked mushrooms

  • 1 lb. whole mushrooms, cleaned and with trimmed stems
  • 3 Tbs. fresh cilantro leaves, no stems
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

In a metal pan (one you use for your smoker), melt the butter and mix with the wine. Add the mushrooms to coat well and top with salt, pepper, and cilantro. Simmer on the back of the smoker for about 45 minutes or until mushrooms are soft. Great side dish for any barbeque.
meat on bamboo skewers
Use a thematic approach!

These combinations of marinades, meats, fruits, and vegetables work best when they follow at least some semblance of a flavor theme. For instance, traditional (as stated above), Asian (soy sauce based marinade and fruits served with rice), Mediterranean (using lemon and olive oil marinades served with couscous), and Mexican (roasted meat for tacos al pastor, and grilled green onions on the side).
kebabs and rice

Roast and serve!

With your coals ready, load the skewers onto the grill and cook for about 10-15 minutes being sure to turn often. A little vegetable char on the mixed kebabs is OK but a light coating of cooking spray helps with this. Serve the entire mixed skewer for show, or de-skewer the meat and vegetables, combine, and serve over your choice of carbohydrate. Again, it’s up to you but rice pilaf or couscous are the most common.

August 17, 2008 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Foiled Again! Cooking in a Pouch

Foil cookeryWith the high price of gasoline taking an ever bigger bite out of our summer entertainment budgets, one does not have to travel far from home to enjoy a classic retro outdoor grilling excursion.Bringing back an outdoor cooking technique from the mid-century Patio Culture, foil cookery is an easy and cheap way to appease the Gods of Grilling Past and have fun closer to home. The premise is ridiculously simple. Pack complete and portable meals inside foil cooking pouches, load them into a cooler, take them anywhere you can build a fire, eat them, and clean up with minimal fuss.

While the wonders of backyard cooking were well known to mid-century dads, I’m sure it was mid-century moms who first attempted to contain the resulting mess of charred meat remnants and grease with foil. Apparently successful, foil cookery soon became a common sight on patios all across America. Harkening back to my own Scouting days in the late 1960’s, this type of cookery was considered an intermediate step between regular camp cooking using pots and pans, and primitive cookery using sticks and coals. Leave it to the miracles of science and technology (and moms) to bridge the gap!

Be prepared!
To create a portable meal in a pouch you first need aluminum foil (duh). The next step, however, will vary depending upon what heat source you are planning to use.

1. Double wrap your meal in foil if you are going to be cooking directly on coals. This way you’ll get extra thermal protection from the higher heat. Remember, If you’re going to use an outdoor wood fire, be sure to let it burn down sufficiently to create a nice even bed of burning embers.

2. If you plan to put them on the grill several inches over the coals, you only need to wrap it once.

Traditional Foil Meal
For each traditional foil meal or “Scout Supper”, you’ll need the following ingredients:

  • 1 thick hamburger patty seasoned to your taste (see note)
  • 1 potato, peeled and sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

foil pouchPrepare the foil pouch per the instructions above. Spray the interior of the pouch (shiny side) with cooking spray. Layer the potatoes, carrots, seasoned meat patty, and onions in the center of the pouch. Season with salt and pepper then fold into a tightly sealed pouch (see illustration). Cook for about 15-20 minutes if you’re cooking directly over coals, or 30-45 minutes if you’re using the grate over your grill. Use your senses to help you determine when its done! When it’s ready, carefully take it off the fire, let cool for a minute, then cut open to form a foil “plate”.  Be careful of the steam when you open these, and I suggest you put the foil on a real plate lest you have molten food introducing itself to your crotch!

Hamburger in foil
cooked hamburger in foil

The hybrid meal shown above is an example of the diversity of this type of cookery. Note the squash and bell pepper along with the traditional beef patty, onion, and potatoes.

Note: Steamed meat inherently lacks the flavor that only direct fire can impart, therefore it’s my opinion that you need to add something to help out the meat. Almost anything will do, but I suggest steak sauce, or dried soup mixes worked thoroughly into the meat.

Non-Traditional Foil Meal
The preparation for this recipe is the same as above, except the sky is the limit! Almost any combination of meats and vegetables can be used to create a foil meal. Squash, bell pepper, sweet potato, ham, pineapple, you name it…It’s up to you! I’ll use the following as an example of a non-traditional foil meal.

Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary in Foil

  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 4-5 springs fresh rosemary (or 3-4 Tbs. of store bought)
  • about 1 cup of whole mushrooms
  • 1/2 bell pepper cut into rings
  • 3 thick slices of lemon

Prepare the foil pouch per the instructions above. Spray the interior of the pouch (shiny side) with cooking spray. Layer the fresh rosemary, chicken breast, mushrooms, bell pepper, and lemon in the pouch. Season with salt and pepper and fold to make a tightly sealed pouch. Cook for about 15-20 minutes if you’re cooking directly over coals, or 30-45 minutes if you’re using the grate over your grill. Remove and serve. Note that fresh rosemary tends to pack more of a wallop than its dried store bought cousins, so use accordingly.

chicken in foil

cooked chicken in foil

Don’t forget dessert!
For an extra treat give your foil a quick dose of cooking spray and wrap up firm, fresh apples and bake over the coals for about 30 minutes. Bananas are good too and only take about 10 minutes. Once you’re an experienced foil chef you can try the ultimate tiki dessert…a whole pineapple!

Before Leaving

If your foil cooking adventure took you into the great outdoors, be sure to thoroughly douse your fire (I mean cold to the touch), and pack out your trash. Remember your aluminum foil (and “beverage” cans) are recyclable! You might could even recoup some of your gas expenses depending on your drinking habits!

July 1, 2008 at 11:46 am Leave a comment

Puppet Franks: Protein on a String

While perusing my beloved 1956 Better Homes and Gardens Barbeque Book, I came across an overlooked recipe that might be of interest to the retro grilling enthusiast…Puppet Franks with Catsupdip (one word). That’s right, weenies on a string. Modern and convenient!

Puppet Franks

How does it work? Simple. Using a metal skewer, string “short chubby-type wieners” together using heavy duty string making sure to tie a knot between each frank to ensure that they don’t all fall off. Perhaps a good candidate for this would be a new type of frank I have just seen that is about the size of a bratwurst. Slash the franks on both sides. Once 6-10 franks are strung together in this manner, double them over a wire coat hanger making sure to loop the strings twice over the hanger to secure. Once your strings of franks are on the hanger you can lay them onto the grill allowing the hanger to dangle over the side. When one side is done just the way to like them, pick up the hanger and flip the whole thing over onto the uncooked side. Grill until done then dip the franks thoroughly in Catsupdip. It is suggested that the host serve guests by carrying the dripping hanger around and snipping off individual franks with scissors. Nothing could be more dramatic at an outdoor gathering than to play the role of the consummate protein puppet master plying his ancient art for an eager audience. Serve extra Catsupdip as needed.


  • 1/4 cup salad oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1-14 oz. bottle (1 1/4 cups) catsup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 to 2 Tbs. vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 to 2 tsp. Liquid Smoke (the elixir of the Patio)

Combine all ingredients. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Makes 3 cups or enough sauce for dunking about 2 dozen wieners. Be careful and don’t hurt yourself with this one kids.

June 23, 2008 at 8:11 am Leave a comment

Activate the Lounge-o-Lizer!


It’s time to get those summer patio parties underway, and Patio Culture can help. Need a classic retro cocktail recipe for your next gathering? Look no farther than our latest piece of space-age technology, the Lounge-o-Lizer! We’ve loaded authentic outer-directed cocktail recipe favorites that keep superfluous fruit to a minimum. More like Mad Men than Nouveau Tiki. Just visit The Patio page and push the launch button!

June 22, 2008 at 7:13 pm Leave a comment

Tacos with Pollo al Carbon

This summer I’ve decided to go off theme a little bit with my grilling style. Of course I’ll still be doing retro favorites like steaks, hamburgers, and barbeque (which is not grilling), but I’ll also be posting more Asian and Latin American specialties that I’ve gleaned from the web, as well as posting some of my own recipes.

On the Grill Today: Tacos with Pollo al Carbon, charro beans, curtido (pickled cabbage salad), and salsa muy asada roja.

For Father’s Day I whipped up a little Norteño/Salvadoran menu that goes great with the grill. No, I haven’t forsaken my beloved Tex-Mex! I still consider it the premiere cuisine of Texas on par with any the regional (interior) cuisines of Mexico and the Southwest. Tex-Mex had the unfortunate timing of going mainstream about the time the huge taco chains began to dominate the fast food industry, thus the bastardized corporate version became what most non-Texans regard as “Tex-Mex”. No so, but that’s another post!

Tacos with Pollo al Carbon

I consider this “interior” version of Pollo al Carbon to be Norteño (northern Mexican) since it’s grilled over coals in the traditional fashion. The vaqueros of the northern desert, however, would have undoubtedly have eaten the beef version of this! Don’t worry, chicken is an acceptable choice for we petroleum-deprived suburbanites.

Tacos Pollo al Carbon


  • 2 small chickens, cut in half down the middle
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tomatillos, husks removed, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Saute onion, garlic and tomatillos in oil until soft. Add juices and spices. Simmer for about 10 minutes while stirring. Set aside and allow to cool. Place chickens in a large container or large resealable bags. Cover with sauce and refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours (I did it overnight). Preheat grill. Remove chicken halves from marinade and place on medium hot grill. Grill for about 30 minutes turning occasionally and basting with reserved sauce every 10 minutes. Do not baste in the last 10 minutes of grilling. Remove when done and serve with salsa and tortillas. I top the tacos with queso fresco and garnish with radishes, limes, and tomatoes.

Frijoles Charros (Cowboy Beans)

Charro Beans
Bowl of charro beans when the author suddenly remembered to photograph it. Half eaten and unphotogenic, it was nonetheless delicious!
  • 2 lbs. pinto beans washed, soaked in water overnight, and drained
  • 2 medium white onions, peeled and chopped
  • 8 large garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard
  • 2 sprigs epazote
  • 1/2 lb. bacon, diced (chorizo may also be used)
  • 4 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 serrano chiles, chopped
  • salt to taste

Place the beans in a large pot with half the onion, half the garlic, oil and epazote. Add 2 quarts water, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until tender (35-45 minutes if done in a pressure cooker). Add salt to taste. In a large saucepan or clay casserole, cook the diced bacon until some of its fat is rendered, add the remaining onion and garlic, and saute until the onion softens. Add the tomato and chile, and continue cooking until the tomato releases its juice. Add the cooked beans with their liquid and cook over a low flame for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Taste for salt. Serves 12-15 (I make only half of this recipe).

Salsa Muy Asada Roja (from Felix’ in Cabo San Lucas)

  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 to 2 jalapeños (to taste)
  • cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste

Place everything but the salt in a large iron skillet (or nonstick frying pan) making sure that all items make contact with the metal. Turn on the heat and let the vegetables get burnt on the outside. Turn as needed to insure this…don’t worry it’s okay. Once the vegetables are nice and charred on the outside, remove them and deglaze the skillet with some water. Add the vegetables, salt, cilantro, and just enough of the deglazing water to keep the salsa thick and blend to a somewhat chunky consistency. You should end up with a rich, smokey, almost maroon colored salsa!

Curtido (spicy pickled cabbage salad)

  • 1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 white onion or 3 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup cider vinegar or white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

This dish form El Salvador is traditionally served with pupusas (filled tortillas). Some folks put it on fish tacos, so I thought it would go with my tacos as well. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours. Let the liquid drain from your portions as you serve them. Note that some recipes call for blanching the cabbage in boiling water for one minute before mixing. I’ll think I’ll do this next time since the marinade alone did not quite soften the cabbage as much as I would have liked. This is related to saurkraut and kimchee so it keeps for awhile.

June 16, 2008 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

Is it, or isn’t it?

Strange memories abounded when I came across this now infamous Sears ad from 1975.Sears underwear ad

Suburban housewives all across the country beamed with various degrees of muted laughter as they called and told their friends to “Look at the new Sears catalog on page 602.” Sure enough, there it was…just to the left of item #6. Those women who took time from their domestic chores to peek at the mystery were rewarded with a familiar sight indeed! Familiar? Well, these women lived through the end of the Baby Boom you know.

Air Force photo analysis sections were much too busy dealing with Cold War reconnaissance imagery to settle the dispute once and for all, so the mystery continued.

The question that remains is did clever corporate advertising wonks deliberately place “it” in the photo to seduce women (who were the purchasers of the family’s clothing) into becoming loyal Sears customers? We’ll never really know, but I suspect that many a Patio kid chafed against crisp new Sears underwear elastic for years to come.

May 10, 2008 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment


Jot! A cartoon name as simple as its animation. A name as simple as the cartoon’s moral premise…good vs. evil. Jot was a Christian sponsored cartoon that aired in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area during the late 1960’s. Whether their family was religious or not, a kid growing up in the suburban Patio Culture watched Jot on Sunday mornings. You had to…there was no other kid programming on TV (except Davy and Goliath) on Sunday morning. Usually it was the non-religious families that found Jot playing on their televisions because they were enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning and not getting ready for church.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with a little dose of morality in a cartoon world then filled with violence and moronic behavior. Looking back at Jot, one must also appreciate the Jesus meets Zen psychedelic wrapper in which the moral message was wrapped. If the message became too heavy for the impatient nine year old, there was always another option…actually go outside, rouse your other heathen friends, and play.

January 13, 2008 at 10:42 am 1 comment

Major Matt Mason

Major Matt Mason…just the name sounds macho! He was America’s man in space! Standing just over 5” tall, the Major was a rubber bodied fellow with an internal bendable steel skeleton. He had a snap on space helmet which attached to his permanent spacesuit. He and several other action figures that were a part of his team lived in a three-story moon station complete with a lunar walker. The moon station was comprised of a top story (the command module where the action is) with removable tinted plastic windows; a second story which was open to the moon environment (kind of like a garage for space junk), and the lower level touched the “lunar surface” and provided a place to wipe your boots. The “turbine powered-front wheel drive” lunar walker had two big multi-spoke “wheels” and the chassis dragged the ground at the rear. No wonder the Soviets never made it to the moon!

January 13, 2008 at 10:08 am Leave a comment

GI Joe

GI Joe..fightin’ man from head to toe! A guy with a crew cut and a scar on his face had to be the very embodiment of suburban testosterone! All boys worth their mettle wanted to be just like Joe and many imaginary adventures allowed them to do just that. Joe did many important things…defending the free world from the Godless Communists, taking care of those pesky Third World insurgents and exploring the reaches of outer space in his sliding plastic door Mercury capsule, just to name a few….

January 9, 2008 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Patio Culture’s 10th Anniversary!

Patio CultureIt was Labor Day Weekend 10 years ago that the ol’ Grillmeister coined the phrase Patio Culture and built a website (and now a blog) to explain the concept. Taking naming conventions from archeology, Patio Culture was created to describe the suburban American culture that emerged after World War II and roughly ended around the 1970’s. And as they say, the rest is history.

After beginning renovations on a house in the neighborhood I grew up in, I began to recall all of the interesting events that transpired in that very place. By 1997, many Baby Boomers were reaching an age where they began to look back fondly on the times that surrounded their youth. At least “trailing edgers” like me did. Thus began my mission to not only bring back a slice of our childhood, but to explore larger pop culture themes such as Mid-Century Retro, Tiki/Exotica, Lounge, and Rockabilly.

That Labor Day weekend seems like a thousand years ago as I juggled writing code and graphics with tending the brisket (of course) and keeping up with the unfolding Princess Diana tragedy. After the site launched, it was amazing to hear from other Boomers and retro buffs who recalled the quirks of the era in which they came of age. It was even more exciting when Patio Culture garnered a segment on CNN’s website reviews, and was listed under “Thumbs Up” on Yahoo Internet Life’s Yippie Yahooey. CNNCNNCNNMuch has changed since we all eagerly watched our “hit counters” and gleefully posted every web kudo we received. Yahoo Much has changed. Even though the website is about the past, I’ve tried to keep up with certain technical advances taking place in the social media world. Hopefully, the addition of YouTube, Myspace, WordPress, forums, and other Web 2.0 gizmos have added value and enjoyment to your visit. This blog is an example of the new avenues that are available to reach out to fellow Boomers who have an interest in the past. Thanks for a great ten years and please drop by the website!

September 3, 2007 at 9:45 am 2 comments

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