UP IN SMOKE
It’s been a cold, wet spring here–not that a little rain or snow ever stopped a truly dedicated grill master. But today, the sun is shining and it’s perfect barbecue weather. So all of us at barbecuebible.com bid you welcome to summer and another great season of grilling.
NEWS AND VIEWS
Over the last few months, many of you have asked about my new line of grilling accessories. Well, after what has seemed like an eternity (at least to me), the Steven Raichlen “Best of Barbecue” line is here. Our Ultimate Tongs (the world’s longest). Our Ultimate Chimney Starter (It’s square, so it holds about 25 percent more charcoal). The Ultimate Grill Brush (“monster” grill brush) you watch me use on the Barbecue University TV show. And speaking of BBQ U, our Greatest Hits of BBQ U DVD is finally ready and in the Barbecue Store, with more than 3 hours of grilling tips and techniques.
My partner in this venture is The Companion Group of California. If you already own quality grilling accessories, chances are they were made by Companion. For the Best of Barbecue line, we created many brand-new tools, like our grill hoe (to help you rake out the coals for 3 zone and indirect grilling) and grill rings (for smoke-roasting artichokes, onions, and apples). We also redesigned existing tools, like our fish spatula (now wide enough to lift and turn a whole trout), and a sauce mop with a screw off head to facilitate washing. (The latter was Mrs. R’s idea.)
Also in the line are cool fuels (like wine barrel staves and smoking wood blends) and a new selection of barbecue sauces, rubs, and brines. To read about the items go to the Barbecue Store. You’ll see we’ve completely redesigned the store and we now carry all the Best of Barbecue products.
GRILLS, GEAR, AND FUELS
“Do stainless steel grates give as good grill marks as cast iron?” writes Tom Devane from Downingtown, PA. “Do stainless steel grates need to be really wide to do so, or can they be thin?”
As far as I’m concerned, the best metal for grill grates is cast iron. It readily absorbs the heat and gives you killer grill marks. The next best material is 1/4 inch wide stainless steel rods or bars. Lower down on the pecking order are porcelainized enamel grates and the thin chromed metal grates sold with inexpensive charcoal grills.
But no matter what sort of grill you have, we’ve got something to make it perform better: the Best of Barbecue Tuscan Grill. It’s made of cast iron and modeled on the fireplace grills used by Italian grill masters. (It even comes with screw-on legs for use in the fireplace in the winter.) This time of year, you’ll want to lay the Tuscan grill flat on your conventional grate. Preheat it for 10 minutes-the cast iron bars lay on tack sharp grill marks every time. Remember: when the cowboys branded cattle, they used cast iron branding irons, not porcelainized enamel.
TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
A lot of you (somewhere around 68 percent) will be firing up gas grills this season. Our friends from the Propane Safety Council have several valuable safety tips, and I strongly urge you to follow them.
1. When you hook the propane tank up for the first time, check the connections with detection liquid (equal parts dish soap and water). Brush it on the hoses and couplings–if you see bubbles, you’ve got a leak. Call the manufacturer.
2. Always have the lid open when you light the burners. Failure to do so may result in an explosive gas build up.
3. Always hold your hand a few inches over the burner until you feel heat to make sure the burner is really lit.
4. If you smell gas, shut off the propane cylinder immediately.
5. When you’re finished grilling for the day, shut off the valve at the top of the propane tank.
6. Store propane tanks upright and away from heat sources (such as a lit grill).
By the way, I strongly suggest investing in an extra, full tank of propane. Because there’s nothing worse than running out of gas halfway through cooking.
Since we’re so obsessed with grill marks this month, here are some recipes that let you show your stripes.
Pork Porterhouse with Bourbon Brown Sugar Butter
Method: direct grilling
For the Bourbon Brown Sugar Butter:
3 tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of bourbon
For the Pork:
4 pork “porterhouse” steaks or loin chops (each 1 inch thick and 10 to 12 ounces)
4 teaspoons dry mustard powder
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
A few tablespoons bourbon
1. Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Ideally, you’ll be using a Tuscan grill grate, so you get killer grill marks. Brush and oil the grill grate.
2. Make the Bourbon Brown Sugar Butter. Place the butter, brown sugar, and mustard in a mixing bowl and whisk to mix. Whisk in pepper and a few drops of bourbon. Taste and add another drop or two of bourbon, if needed.
3. Generously season one side of each poterhouse with 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with a few drops of bourbon, patting the spices and bourbon onto the meat with a fork or your fingertips. Turn the steaks over and repeat on the second side.
4. Grill the chops until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side, rotating them a quarter turn after 3 minutes to lay on a handsome crosshatch of grill marks.
5. Transfer the chops to a platter or plates and top each with a spoonful of bourbon brown sugar butter.
Failproof Barbecue Chicken
Method: direct grilling
4 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves (each 6 to 8 ounces)
2 tablespoons of your favorite barbecue rub, like the Cold Mountain Rub in BBQ USA or our new Best of Barbecue All-Purpose Barbecue Rub (available at the Barbecue Store)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
3/4 cup of your favorite barbecue sauce (two good bets are our new Best of Barbecue Chipotle Molasses Barbecue Sauce or Smoky Mustard Barbecue Sauce)
1. Place the chicken breasts in a large baking dish. Sprinkle the rub over the breasts on both sides, patting it into the meat with a fork or your fingertips. Let cure in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the basting mixture. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the liquid smoke.
3. Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Ideally, you’ll be using a Tuscan grill grate, so you get killer grill marks. Brush and oil the grill grate.
4. Arrange the chicken breasts on the grill, running diagonal to the bars of the grate. Grill until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Rotate each breast a quarter turn after 1 1/2 minutes to lay on a crosshatch of grill marks. After turning the chicken over, baste with the butter mixture and continue basting abot every minute until the breasts are cooked through. Use the poke test to check for doneness-the chicken should feel firm when pressed with your fingertip.
5. Transfer the chicken to a platter or plates. Brush with any remaining smoky butter and serve with the barbecue sauce of choice.
MAIL BAG: YOUR QUESTIONS AND QUERIES
Every once in a while, you get an email that stops you dead in your tracks. Consider the following from Linda Hunt of Rensselaer, New York.
“You may know that some of us barbecue fanatics happen to be blind. Barbecue provides a multi-sensory experience. Some of the tips and tricks I personally use are a talking thermometer and a set of oven gloves that can withstand high temperatures. I also like grilling baskets I can put the food in, then flip the basket when the food needs to be turned. I’m looking forward to spring here in the Northeast, when I can resume outdoor grilling. I bought some cedar planks and am planning to use them to grill salmon. Now, here’s my question: What tips and tricks and accessories would you recommend if you were barbecuing blindfolded?”
Wow. Now that’s what I call a passion for grilling!
My immediate thoughts are to use a gas grill with at least 3 burners. Set one on high, one on medium, and leave one off to give you a hot zone for searing, a medium zone for cooking, and a cool or safety zone where you can move the food if you get flare-ups. (You probably recognize this as a classic three zone fire.) If your burners run left to right, set the left burner on high, center on medium, and leave the right burner off. If your burners run front to back, set the rear burner on high, the center burner on medium, and leave the front burner off.
Of course, indirect grilling requires less precision timing than direct grilling, so it makes a great option for larger cuts of meat, like whole chickens, pork shoulders, and ribs.
Many of the cues we use at Barbecue University are non-visual. The “Mississippi test” to check the heat of a grill, for example. (Hold your hand about 3 inches above the grate and start counting. Over a hot fire, you’ll get to 2 or 3 Mississippi before the intense heat forces you to move your hand. To “5 or 6 Mississippi” over a medium fire. To “12 Mississippi” over a cool fire. Tap the end of your tongs on the grate so you know where and how high to hold your hand.
Then there’s the “poke test”–used to check the doneness of steaks and chops. You poke the meat with your fingertip–if it feels soft and squishy, it’s rare; gently yielding, medium-rare to medium; and firm and springy, well done. Use the end of your tongs to locate the food to check it.
Use the “Charmin” test to check the doneness of barbecued onions and apples. Squeeze the side between your thumb and index finger–if they feel “squeezably soft,” they’re done.
Learn to line up the food on the grill in neat rows, using the front or side of the grill as a guide. That way you’ll know where to find the food for checking. (Even sighted grillers should do this–it looks more professional and helps the food cook more evenly.)
I’d like to throw this challenge out to the other members of our barbecue community. Do you have some thoughts on how you’d grill if you were blind? Please share them with us on the Barbecue Boardand we’ll be sure to pass them on to Linda.
Steven Raichlen's official newsletter, Up in Smoke, is available exclusively on barbecuebible.com. Culled from experiences on the barbecue trail and beyond, Steven brings you reviews you can use, recipes, answers to your questions, special BBQ store discounts, and more. The newsletter is FREE and comes out every month. It is available first only to subscribers to the newsletter and then posted a month later in the newsletter archives. Sign up today!