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Call it Mission Impossible. Call it the impossible choice. When Up in Smoke editor Nancy Loseke asked me to name my ten favorite recipes from a lifetime of grilling, my mind reeled at the magnitude of the task.

After all, I’ve written 31 books—28 of them cookbooks, and 12 focused on barbecuing and grilling. The big books, like Planet Barbecue and BBQ USA (Workman Publishing) contain more than 500 recipes—each!—and even the smaller books run from 100 to 200 recipes.

I can’t begin to imagine the number of recipes I’ve written over the course of my career, but it runs in the many thousands. And that’s not even considering original recipes I create for my TV shows and for the New York Times and dozens of other publications I’ve contributed to over the years.

Nonetheless, there are some recipes I keep preparing for my family and teaching long after a particular book or article has been published. After months of debate (Nancy gave me the assignment back in August!), I’ve come up with the Raichlen top eleven—eleven essential recipes I can’t grill or live without and that I’m sure I’ll continue grilling for the rest of my life.


Steven Raichlen’s 11 Best Barbecue Recipes

1. Catalan Grilled Tomato Bread

(a.k.a., pa amb tomaquet, The Barbecue Bible)

It may seem odd to have picked this simple Spanish appetizer from the hundreds of recipes in The Barbecue Bible. It contains only 6 ingredients (2 of them salt and pepper) and it involves little more than toasting bread slices on the grill, then rubbing them with cut garlic and fresh tomato. But the combination is so much more than the sum of its parts (and isn’ t that the goal of any recipe?): the crisp hot bread, the cool moist tomato, the fragrant olive oil, the sting of the pepper. Best of all, it’s interactive—your guests put it together—so it’s the perfect dish to serve as people gather around your grill. And that’s the magic of grilling: people will always gather around your grill.

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2. Shrimp Grilled on Sugar Cane with Dark Rum Glaze

(from How to Grill)

As most of you know, I love big flavors, and I try to pack as much flavor into my recipes as possible. So the idea of grilling shrimp on strips of sugarcane instead of the usual bamboo skewers appeals to me both for the novelty of the preparation and for the burst of sweetness you get when you take a bite. The inspiration for this dish comes from Vietnamese chao tom—shrimp mousse grilled on sugarcane—but here, the flavorings are pure Caribbean: rum, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Think of it as shrimp grilled on an edible skewer and don’t think of letting grill season go by without it.

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3. Smoked Gazpacho

(from Project Smoke)

Smoked Gazpacho

I’ve always loved the of this dish. After all, what could be less likely fare for the grill or smoker than soup? Especially when that soup is that quintessential summertime refresher: gazpacho. Born in Spain, this explosively flavorful soup combines ripe tomatoes, fragrant bell peppers, crisp cucumber, and pungent garlic, sharpened with vinegar and soothed with olive oil, then churned to a creamy puree in a blender.

But great as gazpacho is, it’s about to get better and the secret is, you guessed it: a blast of wood smoke. You can add it by grilling the vegetables over a wood fire. Or by smoking them in a smoker. The key is to work quickly so you smoke the outside while leaving the veggies cool and raw in the center. Added advantage, you can smoke the gazpacho at a previous grill session: it’s always nice to have a dish you can prepare ahead.

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4. Indian Grilled Paneer and Vegetable Kebabs

(from Planet Barbecue)

I discovered this dish at a grill parlor in New Delhi while researching my book, Planet Barbecue. Given the alarming number of vegetarians in my family (daughter, two cousins, and often my wife) not to mention America at large, it’s useful to have a few great meatless grilled dishes in your repertory. You’ll need to know about one special ingredient—paneer—a mild, softly crisp Indian cheese that won’t melt—even when exposed to the high heat of the grill or tandoor. You can find it at Whole Foods, or substitute another great grilling cheese, like Greek / Cypriot haloumi or Bonfire Grilling Cheese. To this add peppery poblanos, moist tomatoes, and aromatic onion, and you have a shish kebab that even diehard carnivores will enjoy.

Note: I like to use a flat skewer for the kebabs to keep the ingredients from slipping or spinning.

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5. Beer Can Chicken

(from Beer Can Chicken)

Basic Beer-Can Chicken

Just to set the record straight, I did not invent beer can chicken. But I did bring it from the backwaters of Texas or Louisiana (both states claim its parentage) to the American barbecue mainstream. The year was 1999, and after writing about it in the New York Times and demonstrating it on the Today Show, beer can chicken went viral. But there was more than the mere shock value of roasting a chicken upright on an open can of beer. The skin seemed to come out crisper, the meat, moister than other ways of grilling a chicken, and it’s virtually impossible to overcook a beer can chicken. The preparation has come under attack recently, but I still maintain that it’s one of the best ways to smoke-roast a chicken. And certainly the most fun!

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6. First Timer’s Ribs

(from Best Ribs Ever)

First Timer's Ribs

Ribs are the very embodiment of American barbecue, and mastering them is the dream of every neophyte of live fire cooking. So I worked hard and long to develop a recipe that’s virtually failproof, and it’s guaranteed to boost your barbecue street cred. It starts with baby back ribs, which are a lot tenderer and quicker to cook than spareribs. You apply a quick homemade barbecue rub. The secret lies in smoke-roasting the ribs at a higher temperature than the low and slow method used by most pit masters. This leaves a little chew to the meat (hey, that’s why God gave you teeth), while perfuming it with wood smoke flavor. And you glaze it with a lemon brown sugar barbecue sauce, which you sizzle into the meat by direct grilling the ribs right before serving.

Don’t be intimidated by the length of the recipe: I walk you through it step by step so that even a first timer can nail it. And don’t forget to use a rib rack link so you can cook four baby backs at a time. Note: there’s another reason this recipe means so much to me: the photos of the rib eaters that grace the pages of the book. If you look closely, you’ll see my late publisher, Peter Workman, my former editor, Suzanne Rafer, the book designer, Lisa Hollander, and many other Workman Publishing staffers. It takes a village to write a book, and it makes me proud to see the people who worked so hard on this one getting to feast on ribs in the book.

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7. Big Kahuna Brisket

(from The Brisket Chronicles)

Big Kahuna Brisket

I like to describe brisket as the Mount Everest of barbecue—the ultimate challenge. When you finally master how to smoke this tough ornery cut of meat—comprised of two separate muscles, each loaded with flavorful but tough collagen—you know you’ve joined the elite ranks of pit masters. It’s also a dish near and to my heart because, for decades, three generations of family members have insisted on Raichlen’s smoked brisket for holidays and family gatherings.

The Big Kahuna starts with a full packer brisket (14 pounds of pure proteinaceous pleasure), which you season with a simple “newspaper” rub (you’ll have to read the book for that one.) Yes, it’s temperamental and time-consuming, but if you follow my 11 steps to Brisket Nirvana, including the wrap, the rest, and the carve, your brisket will be competition-worthy—even at home.

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8. Caveman T-bone

(from Project Fire)

Caveman T-Bone with Bell Pepper Hash

He shouldn’t. He wouldn’t. That’s the reaction I got the first time I grilled a $50 T-bone directly on red hot embers, forgoing the usual grill grate most people use when cooking a steak. But once you get over the initial shock, you’ll enjoy some of the best steak on Planet Barbecue—the crust sizzling and crisp, the meat rare and succulent, the ensemble perfumed with an inimitable smoke flavor. (That smoke comes from what I like to call a Maillard reaction on steroids.)

By way of a sauce, I do a pepper pan-fry, cooked in a skillet right on the embers, and you pour the sizzling peppers, garlic, and oil right over the steak, combining the meat, vegetables, and sauce in one extraordinary bite. This is grilling at its most theatrical—and best.

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9. Wood Grilled Swordfish with Fried Caper Butter

(from Planet Barbecue)

Many of my dishes are show-stoppers—designed to shock and awe at Barbecue University and on my TV shows. This is one I prepare at least once a week at home. It contains only 3 ingredients: swordfish, butter, and capers (plus salt and pepper of course), but the result is orchestra-like in flavor. It takes only 10 minutes to make, and you can do it with any steak fish. (Swordfish is my favorite—especially the mild sweet harpooned swordfish we get in Martha’s Vineyard in July and August.) But simple doesn’t mean simple-minded, because the gentle smoke from the wood, sizzling butter, and crisp, tart, salty fried capers make the perfect condiments for grilled fish. Build a wood fire following the instructions in the book or toss a handful of hardwood chunks or chips on your charcoal. On a gas grill, use a smoker box, like my Best of Barbecue Smoking Pucks.

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10. Smoke-Roasted Blueberry Crisp Topped with Smoked Ice Cream

(from BBQ USA and Project Smoke)

From the day I started writing about barbecue, I’ve believed in cooking the whole meal on the grill—even dessert—especially dessert. There’s something about live fire that heightens the flavor and sweetness of any dessert. Which brings me to this crisp—made with fresh blueberries and a streusel topping and smoke-roasted in a cast iron skillet. You can assemble it in 15 minutes, and if it takes 40 to 60 minutes to cook, most of that time is spent sipping a cocktail (see below) while you wait for it to finish. Can’t find fresh blueberries? I’ve made this crisp with a wide range of fruit, from apples to raspberries to mangoes. Once, I even used cactus pears—when we were taping my Primal Grill show in southern Arizona.

Note: Want to take the blueberry crisp totally over the top? Serve it with another Raichlen invention: smoked ice cream. That’s another of those culinary conundrums I so seem to delight in, because how could you possibly grill or smoke a heat-sensitive food like ice cream? (The secret is in Project Fire.) Smoking endows the ice cream with an otherworldly flavor that will make you think of a toasted marshmallow.

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11. Katama Kir

(from The Hermit of Chappaquiddick)

OK, I know this isn’t grilled and I know it comes from a novel I wrote, not a cookbook. But the Katama kir is a longstanding Raichlen cocktail favorite and that fact that it contains only 2 ingredients in no way diminishes its originality and delight. The Hermit of Chappaquiddick is a love story set on the island where I live half the year. The kir (named for a priest and former mayor of Dijon, France, and a hero in the French Resistance during World War II, Canon Felix Kir), is traditionally made with white wine (bourgogne aligoté to be precise), sweetened with a shot of crème de cassis. To make the Katama kir (named for a bay on Chappaquiddick), one of my favorite characters, a psychiatrist and self-help guru named Elliott Fineblatt, mixes champagne with blueberry syrup. You can order the latter on Amazon.

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