One could say the idea of grilling was sparked by the domestication of fire some 500,000 years ago.
Of course, things have changed a bit since the Stone Age, with today’s backyard ritual having coincided with a post-war boom during which people flocked to the suburbs and were suddenly gripped with the urge to play with fire.
In Sweden, the art of modern barbecuing has taken on a life of its own.
Backyards aren’t actually necessary. In fact, you don’t even have to own a grill.
A popular option for those who find themselves without a full-scale grid iron is the ‘engångsgrill,’ or one-time grill, offered by most local grocers and convenience stores.
These disposable, aluminium pans, are a common sight on Swedish beaches and in parks across the country, despite their negative imprint on the environment.
Titti Qvarnström, the head chef of Malmö’s top-rated Bloom in the Park, says these singular-use charcoal cookeries are nothing but trouble and suggests an alternative method for their use.
“If I were by the beach, I’d dig a hole in the sand, put the mesh grill on top, pile on the charcoal, burn it, and use the aluminium container as a pot to cook just-caught fish,” she says.
And the weather doesn’t always need to be beach-friendly for Swedes to fire up their grill–disposable or otherwise.
At the first sign of spring, Swedes are quick to ignore still bone-chilling temperatures in pursuit of meat with a charcoal-kissed taste, even if bundled in a parka, mittens and hat.
“After a far too long, cold, and dark winter, we just can’t wait to get outside, see some daylight and prepare some lovely food over hot charcoal,” Qvarnström jokes.
As the Swedish summer temperatures rise, so do the number of grillfests, bringing a whole lot more heat to the few quick summer months.
At a typical Swedish grill party, the host might serve up grilled salmon, corn-on-the-cob (often from a can, sadly), vegetable skewers decorated with cherry tomatoes, as well as slices of red and green peppers, mushrooms and onions.
And while salmon is certainly popular, one shouldn’t forget the ever-present ‘flintastek,’ a revised version of Sweden’s Christmas ham cut in slices and heavily marinated in vinegar before being slapped on the grill. (Hint: use crushed red pepper to bring the pink colour back!)
Of course, anyone with first-hand experience in Sweden can likely guess the most popular item over the northerly nation’s outdoor heat.
“We love our korv (sausages) and we love them in all shapes and sizes!” the head chef exclaims.
And while the actual ingredients in Swedish sausages and wieners have been the subject of much humour, rumour and speculation, it is of no deterrent to Swedes.
According to the national Federation of Swedish Farmers (Lantbrukarnas Riksförbund), every year an average Swede consumes roughly 36.7 kilograms of pork, the main ingredient in sausages, while the nation’s annual average hovers around 345,000 tonnes.
If you’re a rookie to the craft of grilling and still looking to host a Swedish style grill party before the summer slips away, you need only rise above the smoke and flames and learn a few things before you’ll be brandishing the tongs like a pro.
The top ‘good-to-knows’ include how to build the right fire, the difference between direct and indirect heat and where the lid should be placed depending on your grill and food of choice.
To conceal novice skills and throw a delectable grill fest with a twist, Qvarnström suggests tossing a few unexpected but devilishly simple and tasty items on the barbie.
“Any shellfish is perfect to quickly toss on the grill, especially scallops. It’s just so simple,” she says, warning not to forget the ever important sauces.
“Other things such as watermelon, peaches and veal-liver grill nicely and without much effort.”
Naturally there are items to steer clear of over the charcoal like escargot and mullet belly, the top chef warns, just in case those items sprang to your mind.
But, if you’re looking to amp up your grill game and offer a few new dimensions to your outdoor feats, try grilled lemonade.
A commonly shared recipe calls for a few simple steps – halve a couple lemons, dip them in sugar and pop them on the grill for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, make a simple syrup by combining sugar, honey and a few sprigs of rosemary – which can and should be heated on the grill.
Squeeze the charred lemons into a pitcher, add the syrup and dilute the juice with water to taste.
Of course you can always bring it to the next level by adding vodka, rum, gin or even bourbon.
Qvarnström also offers up her own summer grill recipe, suggesting a stop at your local fisherman for a fresh filet of grey mullet (multe).
“Marinate this lightly with a couple sprigs of mint, some lime, sweet chilli and olive oil. This will make the grill event of the year!” she exclaims.
She also recommends a fresh and easy sauce of Turkish yoghurt mixed with a sprig of Hyssop, roasted and grinded coriander seeds, half of a squeezed lemon, salt and a tablespoon of your favourite chilli powder topped of with a sprinkling of roasted pine nuts for a little crunch.
With these tips, it’s time to head out, fire it up and start spreadin’ the heat and love with your very own grill fest.