Chefs, Pitmasters, and Personalities

Why I Grill

Steven Raichlen of Project Fire

“The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness that the discovery of a new star,” wrote the father of French gastronomy, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in 1875.

I first read those words the year I graduated from college. I was living in Paris studying medieval cooking and modern French cuisine. Those words changed my life.

I’ve spent much of my adult life in the pursuit of discovering new dishes, traveling the world’s barbecue trail to introduce my readers and viewers to such live fire masterpieces as babi guling, anticuchos, dibi, and tira de asado. (The first is Balinese roast pig; the second, Peruvian chili-marinated beef heart kebabs. Dibi is Senegalese mustard-grilled chicken, while tira de asado is cross-cut beef ribs—the one rib you can cook in minutes, not the usual six to eight hours.)

So, in a sense, my first reason for grilling has been for discovery: to learn about the planet we live on and how food—and especially barbecue—informs our lives.

In the process, I’ve discovered a myriad of ingenious grilling techniques—from reverse-searing to rotisserie-smoking to “cavemanning” (grilling in the embers)—which brings me to the second reason why I grill: live fire makes just about every food taste better. Whether you’re direct grilling a steak or spit-roasting a chicken or slow-smoking spareribs or brisket, they’ll definitely taste better than if you cooked them indoors.

But un-imparted knowledge and great-tasting food you eat by yourself are poor companions if you don’t share them with others.

Which brings me to the third reason I grill: for a sense of community. For barbecue is, above all a communal activity: I grill to share with others.

And that reason for grilling—and community—have been sorely tested during these terrible 15 months of Covid 19.

Like most of us, I cooked—make that grilled—even more than usual (and that’s saying a lot) during this year of social distancing. First, just for my wife, during those first surreal months of lockdown. Then for my family and neighbors—of course at a proper social distance.

And now, fully vaccinated, and as life slowly returns to normal, again I have started to grill for a larger community. On my Project Fire TV show (which we taped, fully masked, on a locked set at a secluded retreat center in Baltimore). At my Barbecue University cooking school, which resumes at a new location—Montage Palmetto Bluff in South Carolina—in June.

More than ever, this lonely year of Covid 19 has taught me about the most important reason why we grill. It’s to bring people together.

There’s another reason why I grill, and if it’s more prosaic: We need it more than ever after a year like this. Grilling is fun. Unleashing your inner pyromaniac is fun. Building a fire is fun. Waltzing the food from hot spots to cool spots is fun. Grilling is an interactive sport. Every grill session is different, and that alone makes it fun.

It’s fun and uncanny how grilling brings people together. No one gathers around the stove to watch a pot of stew simmer. Light your grill, people congregate, and you, the grill master, become master of ceremonies.

So as we move toward celebrating Back to Barbecue Day, let’s remember the best reasons for grilling: the comfort and joy, the sense of community it brings all of us.

Here is a recipe I developed for #WhyIGrill. Pamplona of Pork!

Pamplona is the name Argentineans and Uruguayans give to a cylindrical roast stuffed with bell peppers, ham, and cheese. This version starts with what may be the best luxury cut for the money: pork tenderloin. I stuff it with fire-roasted bell peppers, smoked ham, and creamy Boursin cheese. Then I smoke-roast it with hickory chunks to add an irresistible smoke flavor. Did I mention bacon? Lots of bacon? The latter looks great, adds flavor, and helps keep the lean pork moist during smoking.

Pamplona of Pork

Pork Tenderloin Pamplona

Get the Recipe »

Steven Raichlen

Miami, Florida
April 18, 2021