Lemont man takes grilling to new heights
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org July 12, 2013 8:26PM
Updated: August 15, 2013 6:13AM
Fancy yourself a grill master?
You may want to reassess after meeting Robert Bromberek, whose ultra fancy new portable grill cooks whole cows. At once.
“It’s not hamburger. When cooking a cow, I can’t give up. I have to do what I set out to do. When you pay $2,000 for the cow, you have to finish cooking it,” Bromberek said. “It’s not like — oh well, you burned a burger. I have to get it right. An 800-pound cow has to be cooked rain or shine.”
For Bromberek, of Lemont, tailgating has been a social — somewhat competitive — event. Actually, it’s more than a fun hobby. It’s a hard-core tradition.
Bromberek and his tailgating partner, Tim Shanley, are veterans of the art of the pregame parking lot party. Together, they’ve warmed up for many Bears games, stationed in the 31st Street parking lot serving scores of Bears fans from “Da Bus” — a converted school bus, painted in Bears blue and orange. The two men have even entered a television competition together — “Tailgating Warriors.”
Now, after 18 months of planning, designing and building a giant 13-foot high portable stainless steel grill that resembles a trailer, Bromberek hopes to create, ahem, a new moovement. Tailgating For Hunger.
His team, complete with polo shirts and aprons, includes Bromberek, his tailgating partner, Shanley, daughter, Melanie, who is creating Tailgating for Hunger as a nonprofit organization, and son, Aaron, who brings his computer skills to the table. With a new grill and a new slogan, “have cow will travel,” Bromberek is pursuing what he calls “a goofy dream.”
“We could do a lot of good with this,” Bromberek said. “It would be really cool to go to places where there have been disasters, like the Oklahoma tornado, and feed the people there.”
A truck mechanic for 33 years, he wants to be able to travel anywhere with his grill and donate the food to charitable — and carnivorous — causes. He wants the slow-cooking process — an all-day event — to be a “culinary spectacle.”
Bromberek wants people to have fun watching the bovine cook. His goal is to make people aware of what tailgating means to our country economically and socially.
“Tailgating has gotten a black eye with all the drinking. We want to make it more about food,” Bromberek said. “We want to make something you would never make at home.
To be sure, cooking a whole cow on a spit is rare.
Dave Zino, executive chef of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said, “This is not something we’ve ever heard of or seen done given the size and weight of an entire beef animal.”
Still, this is no half-baked idea.
Bromberek said he did “a lot” of homework. He researched how to cook whole cows, and discovered that most people burned them. Through trial and error, every detail was well thought out, from the time the cow is slaughtered, to when the grill is fired up, to the first bite of beef.
Bromberek’s grill is a mechanic’s marvel. It is all stainless steel, with two sides that are raised up to expose the grill and provide cover in case of rain. Inside are buttons, gauges, controls, cooling fans and tubing, along with parts from chicken coops and bicycles. All parts are removable for cleaning.
The spit is hollowed out and filled with avocado oil, which is infused into the beast as it cooks. Avocado oil has the highest smoke point of 500 degrees, he explained. Hydraulic arms on the grill lift the spit and cow on to the grill. The spit stands on jacks that are typically used to lift transmissions out of trucks.
Among the many “bells and whistles” included in his system are wireless sensors which are attached to the cow so spectators can monitor its cooking progress on a computer screen. When the internal temperature of the meat reaches 140 degrees, it is done.
“I’m not guessing,” he said of his cooking process.
Before making his public debut at Taste of Lena on July 27, this extreme tailgater recently grilled a test cow at his home.
Was it as complicated as he thought?
“Yes,” his 13-year-old son, Aaron, quickly responded. But at least they did not burn the beast.
Bromberek was glad there were a few glitches because it provided “valuable” lessons.
His biggest issue was balancing the 800 pounds of “floppy meat” on to his stainless steel spit, which he designed in the shape of a side of beef. If it is not balanced, it won’t turn, said the mechanic, who has designed many rotisseries for other people. He had to add weights to the spit, using whatever he could find — including horseshoes wrapped in tin foil.
Next time, he said, the cow will appear to be “handcuffed” to the spit, with a “collar” around its neck, adding to the spectacle.
Long before it went on the spit, this carnivorous cook took as much care in selecting his cow as he did in designing his grill. He researched where to buy a whole cow, and chose Arnolds Farm, fourth- and fifth-generation farmers in JoDaviess County, which uses no chemicals or antibiotics, only grass-and-grain-fed cows. It was aged for two weeks, then with help from AJ’s Lena Maid Meats in Lena the two sides of beef were mounted onto his spit — a process that took five or six hours.
“They think I’m crazy,” he said.
Over the nearly nine hours it took to cook the first cow, he constantly added charcoal — 400 pounds of it — through pull-out baskets beneath the grill. When done, he rolled a table up next to the grill and cut it off the spit, filling 24 roasting pans with ribs, roasts and steaks.
When he cooks his cow in Lena later this month, the meat will be commercially vacuum-sealed, placed on dry ice and donated to local churches. Reliable recipients have to be lined up well in advance of tailgating day.
Because the meat has to be cooled within four hours of cooking, Bromberek added a walk-in cooler installed on a truck to his portable operation.
This grill is just a start as he is already thinking of ways to improve the system. He wants to get a shredding machine to make shredded barbecued beef, add a fire suppression system and design a fire-proof pad for his grill to sit on.
“Innovation is how America got made,” Bromberek said. “I love this stuff. It’s fun. I might as well have a hobby, and mine is a barbecue grill.”