Here in Colorado, it feels as though spring/summer has finally arrived. We've had sunny weather, and a string of days with temps in the low 80s (at least down here in Boulder... in the mountains it's another story).
With my mom in town helping out for a few more days, I was able to sneak away for part of Saturday (without feeling like I was neglecting Kelli and Marin) to climb and ski a peak with my buddy, Josh. We set our sights on Hagar Mountain, which is the farthest peak in the back left of the photo above.
From the summit, it's more than 2,500 vertical feet of descent back to the car. Amazingly, we skied literally off the summit, taking a line down the south face of the mountain. From the base of the summit face, we traversed to another long snow slope that descended into Dry Gulch. And from there, it was a quick, easy shot down valley back to Josh's truck. (For a full photo gallery from the climb/ski, you can check out pics here.)
Of course, it's not fair if I have all the fun while Kelli stays at home on virtual house arrest. So on Sunday, we packed up the Jeep and headed to a local park for an afternoon barbeque. Turkey burgers. Asparagus. Potatoes. Watermelon. We don't have a portable grill, so we picked up a bag of charcoal to use at the park's public grills. Which brings up an important gluten cross-contamination question: how to safely grill gluten-free? This is especially important at public grills where you're sharing a grill that's previously been used by someone else. But the answer to the question is also useful if you've recently switched to a gluten-free diet and you're concerned about properly sterilizing your grill at home.
Warning: heavy science content. Gluten-free grilling all comes down to protein. I'll explain. Gluten, as you probably know, is a protein. And proteins, in their myriad forms, all have the same basic structure. Primary structure refers to the actual sequence of amino acids that comprise a given protein. Secondary and tertiary structure refers to how that string of amino acids twists, turns and folds to create a three-dimensial molecule. And quarternary structure (not all proteins have this) refers to multiple 3D protein "subunits" bonding to one another.
All but the primary structure are held together with relatively weak bonds. And breaking down those bonds of the quarternary, tertiary and/or secondary structure is referred to as "denaturing" a protein. Whether you realize it or not, you do this all the time when cooking. For example, when you beat egg whites into peaks, you're denaturing the proteins (this particular type of denaturing is reversible). For another example, when you cook your eggs and the "whites" of the egg turn from clear to white, you're also denaturing the proteins (this type of denaturing is definitely NOT reversible...unless you're a magician and know how to "uncook" an egg).
One of the most common ways that we denature proteins in cooking is with heat. Gluten, though - it turns out - is a tougher protein to denature than most. And even if we're able to denature a gluten protein to the point of breaking down its quarternary, tertiary and secondary structure, we're still left with primary structure. In other words, it's still gluten, and it can still make us sick. What we need is a way to break down the primary structure.
In grilling, the best way to do this is with intense heat for a prolonged period of time. What you're basically doing is incinerating the gluten... denaturing the proteins to the point that you've broken the peptide bonds that link the amino acids. So how much heat is enough heat?
The recommended minimum temperature is 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on who you talk to, you should maintain that temp for between 20 minutes and one hour before cleaning the grill grate with a wire brush, and then cooking your food over whatever temp you want. In practice, the important thing is that whatever food residue was left on the grill grate becomes fully charred (blackened). This is your guarantee that you've done the deed (fully denatured/incinerated the proteins, including gluten). Then, it's happy grilling!