Boog" Powell may be standing next to a ballpark barbecue trolley piled with his signature smoky, fragrant barbecued beef and pork, but here is what he's hungry for: leg of lamb.
Boned, marinated, grilled leg of lamb, to be exact. "You take a little olive oil, garlic, rosemary and oregano," he says, "and you marinate it for about three hours -- just let it sit out on the counter. If you've got a lemon hanging around, you can throw that in there."
You can have the butcher debone the lamb, says the big former Orioles first baseman -- though, he notes, "I like to do it myself" -- "and you treat it just like a steak." Cook it flat on the grill till it's medium rare.
"The best thing," says the man who hit 339 career home runs and batted in 1,187 runs, "is to get it really seared on the outside, so it's all crispy, and then when you slice into it, it's tender and juicy inside."
You may think of John W. "Boog" Powell as a man who knew his way around the bases well enough to help Baltimore to the World Series four times between 1966 and 1971, but he is also a man who knows his way around, culinarily speaking.
"I've messed around with grilling for a lot of years," he says, "maybe 30-plus years." Though Mr. Powell and his wife, Jan, are both Florida natives, they always rented a house near Memorial Stadium while he was playing with the O's, as did several other players and families. "When I was playing ball in Baltimore, after the games," Mr. Powell recalls, "we started looking around for things to do on the grill."
What he has discovered over the years is that only imagination can limit the art of the grill. "There's nothing you can do in the
kitchen that you can't do out there on the grill," he says. "Except maybe deep-frying -- but, hey, I've managed to pull that off, too."
A few years ago he put some of his collected expertise into a cookbook called "Mesquite Cookery," which, besides recipes, includes tips on equipment, techniques and a chapter on "Creating a Winning Fire."
These days, Mr. Powell has a terrific home stand going at Boog's Corner, a portable barbecue place on Eutaw Place just behind the right-field bleachers inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The stand, open for all home games, sells beef and pork sandwiches with all the trimmings to game attendees; Mr. Powell is on hand to sign autographs and chat with fans. The food is cooked at the kitchens of ARA Leisure Services in the B&O; Warehouse. If the lines of cheerful fans -- both of barbecue and of Boog Powell -- are any clue, the man who was an Oriole for 14 of his 17 major-league years has another hit.
But "Boog cuisine" goes far beyond ballpark fare, excellent as it is. Burgers and hot dogs -- and pit beef and pork barbecue -- are all very well, he agrees, but truly great grilling begins with a leap of faith. "If there's something that sounds good to you, try it." There will be a failure or two: "There'll be some awful things you put on the table," he cautions, "but usually everything turns out fine."
"The whole key to making everything work is grill temperature," Mr. Powell says, "not cooking on a flame that's too hot or too cool." Sometimes you need a hot fire -- to sear steak, for instance -- but "blue flames" are tops on his list of things to avoid. "When those blue flames shoot up, get your steak out of there."
You should always give yourself space to move things around on the grill surface, he says. "Don't use the whole grill -- no matter what size it is -- just use about half of the surface."
When he published "Mesquite Cookery" in 1986, mesquite grilling was all the rage. "Mesquite certainly has its place," he says. "It burns very hot -- as high as 1,800 degrees. It's great for steaks."
But now, he says, he uses a variety of aromatics to add special flavor to grilled foods. His current favorite is pear wood -- green twigs snipped right off the tree and added to the coals. "It gives a lovely, sweet flavor" to foods cooked over it, he says. But any fruit wood will have a similar effect -- apple or sweet cherry wood, for instance.
He says he often throws a handful of herbs onto the flames: "Oregano, rosemary, whatever you've got in the cabinet. I look in the cabinet and I see something and I wonder, How would that work? I drop some on the flame and see what it smells like." Just a little bit of aromatics can really impart flavor, he says; the trick is making sure the fire is not too hot.
And he likes to use herbs fresh out of the garden. "I'm a big fan of basil," he says.
He has discovered a technique for turning an ordinary kettle grill into a water smoker: He uses an old roasting pan or heavy-duty disposable-foil pan, fills it with liquid, and places it in the bottom of the kettle, then builds a fire around it. Meanwhile, he soaks mesquite or other chips for 20 or 30 minutes, then drains them and adds them gradually to the fire. "If you wish," he says in "Mesquite Cookery," "liven up your water pan with a fruity wine, citrus rinds, vinegar or herbs. You can also put your marinade right in the pan; use a long suction baster to get at it during the cooking process."
"I always put wine in the pan when I'm doing meat," he says. "And if I'm doing bratwurst, I'll put beer in there."
The grilled leg of lamb he craves would definitely be entertaining fare, he says, musing on what he would serve with it. "I might marinate some mushrooms, and do a nice Greek salad, with feta cheese and those great olives. . . . I love that Greek pasta, orzo," he says. "I'd serve orzo with a little bit of mint in it."
And when you serve the leg of lamb, he says, "You slice it real thin, so everybody gets a piece of the 'crispies' on the outside."
For a simple family meal, he says, you could do chicken breasts -- or you could do some shish kebabs. Use the same leg of lamb, but cut it in chunks and put it on skewers with onions and tomatoes. Or shrimp -- "Shrimp are wonderful marinated in champagne and olive oil," he says. "Use half a bottle of champagne, a little really good olive oil, a little black pepper, and just a touch of salt." (Any decent champagne will do, he says: "You don't need Dom Perignon.") Thread the shrimp on skewers and grill. "And you might make yourself a little salad," he suggests. "I like simple little salads, just wedges of lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing."
There's no sign that Boog Powell is going to stop thinking about food any time soon. Will he write another cookbook? "I've had an idea in the back of my mind for a while," he admits. "I just need to sit down and figure out how I'm going to attack it."