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Chocolate Meets Grill

If the way to someone’s proverbial heart is through the stomach, an even faster route is with chocolate. As a spouse, partner, or parent, you probably know this already. If not, learn it fast.

When I was growing up, chocolate was, well chocolate. Today, you have to choose between dark chocolate and milk, bar chocolate and cocoa, single estate chocolate and 90 percent. And what the heck are cocoa nibs?

All chocolate derives from the seedpod of a tropical fruit appropriately named Theobroma cacao (Greek for “food of the gods”). Depending on where the cocoa is grown and how it’s processed, you can pay anywhere from $1.50 to $25 for a six-ounce bar.

So what does any of this have to do with barbecue? After all, for most Americans, chocolate still takes the form of candy or a dessert. The fact is, more and more grill masters are harnessing chocolate’s unique flavor profile (sweet, bitter, earthy, aromatic) and cooking properties to enhance rubs, marinades, sauces, and even grilled desserts.

Valentine’s Day is coming fast. Here’s how to capture the romantic powers of chocolate at your grill.

  • Use it in rubs. A spoonful of cocoa powder adds an intriguing earthy, fruity, bitter flavor to a barbecue rub. It’s one of the ingredients in my Best of Barbecue Java Rub (talk about a great Valentine’s present for that special dude or dudette in your life.) Or try making Jake’s Lamb Rub—a seasoning developed by my stepson, Jake Klein, chef-owner of Der Kommissar in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Add it to barbecue sauces. Melt a square of unsweetened chocolate in your favorite barbecue sauce. You’ll be amazed how it energizes and deepens the flavor. Try Jake’s “3 C’s” Barbecue Sauce (made with cocoa, cherries, and chipotles), or my Mexican Chocolate-Chili Sauce (my take on Mexican mole poblano—a stunningly complex sauce that never met grilled chicken or pork it couldn’t improve.
  • Incorporate chocolate into your favorite rib recipe. One of my faves is the Chocolate-Chipotle Baby Backs, developed by another grilling Raichlen—my anthropology professor cousin David Raichlen.
  • Don’t forget dessert. Like that classic camping dessert, the s’more. Send it to graduate school by sandwiching a slab of premium bittersweet chocolate, like Valrhona or Amano Artisan, between homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Call me a hopeless romantic. To paraphrase Shakespeare: “If chocolate be the food of love, grill on!”

Do you have a favorite use for chocolate in barbecue? Share your recipes, photos, and details on the Barbecue Board. Happy Valentine’s Day to all!