France is known for many things. The Eiffel Tower, art, wine, and grilling (?). There is a secret to grilling in France that is so rustic, that it comes straight out of its prized vineyards. The wine mecca is Bordeaux, and in this region of France, grilling- or as the French call it le barbecuing- often involves cooking over an open flame that is not stoked by traditional wood. The flames are fueled by grape vine clippings!
You read that correctly. Whether they're cooking steak, poultry, or pork, meats cooked with grape vines take on a subtly smoky and earth flavor. The flavor and aromas of this are unlike ANY other!
Grillionaire™ Pro Tip: This is a secret WORTH stealing!
What Inspired the Wine Mecca to Use Grapevines for Grilling?
Every spring, after the grapes have been harvested and hauled away for winemaking, the vines need to be pruned back for the next growth cycle. The sarments (the twig-like clippings) are stored and dried for the rest of the year as fuel for fires.
There is the occasion where a whole vineyard must be uprooted. The larger stalks and roots (called pieds de vigne or ceps de vigne) are treated the same way.
What is really cool is that even though this practice commonly associated with this isolated region of France, the grilling tradition usually shows up anywhere grapes are grown!
One vineyard owner, Jérôme Sauvète, was asked why they use the grape vines to grill and his answer is somewhat pragmatic. He said ,"We use what we have". Many vineyards have barbecues, during the warmer months, for their clients.
The grills are nothing fancy. Usually like a campfire grill. They use the sarments as kindling and use the trunks and roots to keep the fire going. Once the fire is set, they set the grill on top and it is ready for use.
In the French countryside, grilling with grapevines isn't just for outdoors. MANY older houses are equipped with large stone fireplaces that were-and still are- used for cooking. This is especially practiced in the colder months.
One of the regions best kept secrets-outside of grilling with grapevine- is their used of grapevine to grill duck breasts. The duck comes perfumed with the aroma from the grapevines and charred from the open flame. Some would say that is a PERFECT pairing with a glass of local red wine.
How Can I Grill with Grapevines?
Like most of us, we do not live in the French countryside. DON'T WORRY, I GOT YOU! There are over 250 registered American Viticulture Areas (or AVAs) in the US. So the chances are high that you live close enough to one where you can get your hands on some clippings.
Steven Raichlen, the man who got me interested in barbecue and author of the Barbecue Bible, often uses grape vines when he cooks. He also offers these THREE TIPS:
- Ensure your wood is dry. You want the clippings to be dry enough to snap when they are bent. "Green or damp grapevine trimmings won't catch fire or burn properly," says Raichlen.
- Have plenty of grapevine trimmings around. They burn quickly and you will want to make sure you can keep the fire stoked. ESPECIALLY, if you expect to cook larger quantities or longer smokes.
- Any type of grapevine will work just fine. In the French countryside, they typically use Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc vines since those are the most planted grapes for the region. BUT, it docent really matter. Organic wines are recommend, but just make sure they were minimally treated.
Once you cook with these grapevines, you will never treat le barbecue the same again!
Until next time, make sure you eat well and do well.