Newsletter Archive

Tailgating Season

Programming note: Sorry, we’re not yet ready to discuss smoking yet, but we will devote a whole issue to it in the future. This issue, tailgating!

It’s hard to believe it’s October already. When I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, October was the time to pack up the grill for the winter. We’d scrape out the ashes caked on the bottom and move the grill into the garage. (Or maybe we left it outdoors to rust during the winter, so we’d have a reason to buy a new grill come springtime.)

My, how times have changed! Few people I know, even if they live in Boston or Buffalo, much less Baltimore, would forgo grilling for a whole winter. No, October marks the start of tailgate picnic season. Then comes Thanksgiving (which just wouldn’t be complete without smoke-roasted turkey), then New Year’s, which gives you a perfect excuse to grill a prime rib. More and more people are grilling all year long–heck, most of us never stopped.

But back to October: when it comes to tailgating, you can’t beat the standbys–hot dogs, hamburgers, and bratwurst. Naturally, I have some strong opinions about each.

Happy grilling and warm wishes to all.
Steven Raichlen


Hot dog!
When I grill hot dogs, I like to slit them down the center (fat knockwurst also work well for this) and stuff them with sliced or chopped jalapeno peppers and cheese. (For a specific recipe, see the “Hot Dog” recipe on page 151 of How to Grill.) Other good fillings include minced onions and olives, pesto, or tapanade. One pit master I know likes to wrap his hot dogs in bacon prior to grilling. (Pass the Lipitor, please.) Another likes to split them lengthwise and grill them under a weight. This maximizes the surface area of the weiner exposed to the fire. What’s your favorite way to grill a hot dog? Let us know on the BBQ Board and we may publish the result in the next newsletter.

Cheeseburger in paradise!
Everyone loves cheeseburgers, and I have a new twist on an old favorite: grate the cheese (aged cheddar, pepper jack, or Roquefort work well) and mix it in with the ground beef before you make your patties. The melting cheese keeps the meat moist, even when you cook the burger through (which you should do in this age of ubiquitous bacterial peril). You’ll also get a great cheese flavor throughout the burger—think cheeseburger in surround sound.

A new way with bratwurst!
A great deal of ink (and possibly blood) has been spilled on the best way to grill bratwurst. Some folks parboil them in beer first; others use direct grilling, which may or may not result in some serious fat fires. If you do decide to direct grill, work over a moderate heat. The idea is to slowly roast the sausage, not cause it to explode. I’ve taken to smoke-roasting the brats, which gives you the predictability of indirect grilling (no flare-ups), plus a terrific smoke flavor. Here’s a simple recipe, along with a mustard that will definitely make you smoke. By the way, a tip ‘o hat to our friends at Johnsonville Sausage in Johnsonville, Wisconsin, (they make the world’s best bratwurst).

Smoked Bratwurst

Serves 4 to 8:

8 bratwurst

for the Fire Eater Mustard:
1 cup Dijon-style mustard
1/4 cup scotch bonnet chili based hot sauce, like Matouk’s from Trinidad

8 hard rolls or hoagie rolls
2 tablespoons melted butter

1-1/2 cups hickory chips, soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained (see Note below)

1. Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. This works best in a charcoal grill.

2. Arrange the bratwurst on the grate over the drip pan. Toss the wood chips on the coals, half on each mound of coals. Cover the grill and adjust the vent holes to obtain a temperature of about 350 degrees. Smoke-roast the sausages until golden brown and cooked through, 30 to 40 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make the Fire Eater Mustard. Place the mustard in a bowl and whisk in as much scotch bonnet chili sauce as you can stand. (You may want to start slow and work up to the 1/4 cup mentioned in the recipe.)

4. Brush the buns with melted butter and lightly toast on the grill, placing them over the piles of embers. Place a smoked brat on each and slather with Fire Eater Mustard. You’ve never had bratwurst like this!

NOTE: Even if you’re a diehard gas griller, I recommend investing in an inexpensive, charcoal-burning kettle grill. It’s very difficult to get a great smoke flavor from a gas grill.

GRILL GEAR: Skewers and Roasters
Gary Ernsdorf, of Seattle, Washington wrote to tell me he’s been searching high and low for some of the skewers that I recommend in the ground lamb kabob recipe in How To Grill. These wide flat metal skewers (they look like steel ribbons) are used by pit masters of the Near East and Central Asia for grilling skinless sausages and ground meat kebabs known variously as kofta (in Turkey), lula (in Azerbaijan) and seekh kebab (in India). The flat shape keeps the meat from falling off the skewer. I get mine from the Yekta Supermarket, 1488A Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852, tel. 301-984-1190. (There’s a $50 minimum for mail order. Pick up some pomegranate syrup, rosewater, and other exotic Near East flavorings for grilling while you’re at it.)

If you are one of the last people on your block to try Beer-Can Chicken, maybe this neat gadget will convince you. “Captain” Steve Heidi, inventor of one of the most ingenious beer can chicken machines on the market, has started packaging his device with a copy of Beer-Can Chicken and an injector spice pack. Check out his web site:


A big thanks to everyone who’s been posting on the BBQ Board. We’ve had some really good questions.

From John Mansell in Hermiston, Oregon:
In your book How To Grill, you recommend salting (beef) meat prior to putting it on the grill. I have an old James Beard barbecue cookbook, and he cautions not to apply salt to beef until the meat is about finished cooking or apply after it is removed from the grill. He says salt “dehydrates” or dries the meat out during the cooking process. Do you think Mr. Beard’s contentious theory is correct?

SR: The theory behind this theory is that the salt draws out the liquid in the beef. This is true-especially over an extended period. Dehydrating inhibits bacterial action-indeed, salting was one of the first was early man preserved his food. We’re talking hours or days here, however, and when you salt a steak just prior to grilling, as I recommend in my books, no (or at least a miniscule) amount of dehydration takes place. On the contrary, I find that the salt helps form a flavorful crust on the steak. Sorry Mr. Beard.

From Tamara and Bob Peaston;
We have recently started to experiment with grilling fish . . . you know, trying to eat more healthy, and all of that. One question, would it be better to keep the cover of the gas grill open all of the time while grilling small pieces of fish? We were thinking that with the lid on, the result would be more “baked” rather than grilled. What would you suggest?

SR: You have anticipated Raichlen’s Rule of Palm, which states: “When grilling something thicker than the palm of your hand, close the grill; as thin or thinner than the palm of your hand, leave it open.” The reason is simple: thin cuts of seafood and meat cook so quickly, you want to monitor their progress during grilling. Thicker steaks and chops take longer, so by covering the grill, you cook them from the top as well as the bottom. This speeds up the overall cooking time.

From anonymous readers (Please tell me your name and hometown if you’d like credit for your questions!):
Is there such a thing as a sugar-free bbq sauce?

SR: Yes, there are dozens. Many of the traditional vinegar sauces of North Carolina contain no sugar. Ditto for the white barbecue of northern Alabama; the mojo of Miami’s Cuban-Americans, and the chimichurri (the garlic parsley sauce of Argentina). All four of these recipes can be found in my new book, BBQ USA.

I don’t drink alcohol. What can I use for substitutions in the recipes?

SR: Depends on the recipe. Grape juice, apple cider, and chicken broth all come to mind. Coca Cola, root beer, and iced tea all make a mean “beer can” chicken.

From Kathryn Lehrer:
I tried your Lean and Mean Texas Barbecued Brisket recipe mop sauce (not the
rub–I used my own) and cooking directions and I loved it! I was wondering if I could adjust the mop sauce to include barbecue sauce. I want to do it like this:

1 cup vinegar
1 cup beer
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper

I would appreciate it if you could give me your opinion.

SR: Rock on, Kathryn! It’s delicious!

Finally, I’d like to end with a testimonial from Greg Sands from Tennessee:

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I purchased your book How to Grill after seeing you featured on Barbecue Boot Camp on Food Network. Since I live in Tennessee, pulled pork barbecue is thought of as almost being one of the four major food groups. Anyway, I saw your recipe and technique for making authentic North Carolina pulled pork barbecue and I decided to try it. It was an instant hit with comments like “to die for” and “makes you want to slap your Momma.” In fact, I have already been asked to do more pulled pork barbecue for a large party and even had a proposal of marriage! Thanks again!

I also have attempted the beef brisket, sweet and smoky baked beans, and one of the whole barbecued chicken recipes. Wow! I hit it out of the park every time. It’s amazing how your book breaks everything down and makes grilling so simple. I am gaining the reputation of an expert grill man and I owe it all to you and your book.

Thank you, Greg. Just let us know if your barbecue leads to marriage!

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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Up in Smoke: First Issue

Greetings fellow barbecue fanatics! Welcome to the first edition of Up in Smoke. The object of this newsletter is to share grilling stories, recipes, tips, and adventures. To tell you what I’ve been up to and hear what’s been turning you on on the grill. I’ll try to answer some of your more frequently asked questions and bring you up to date on the latest techniques, grills, and gear.

After an unbelievably hectic June and half of July (I was on the Barbecue Bus Tour for 5 continuous weeks!), I’m finally back home in Martha’s Vineyard. For a week, at least, which lately is a long time for me to be in one place during barbecue season. So my wife, Barbara, and I have been grilling lots of summery New England foods-especially lobster, swordfish, and corn.

If you’ve never had lobster on the grill, buy yourself a couple of live lobsters and try it. Nothing brings out the crustacean’s briny sweetness like the high, dry heat of the grill. You can grill a lobster whole in the shell or cut in half. We prefer the latter. Parboil a 1-1/2 pound lobster for 3 minutes, then cut it in half lengthwise with a large knife. We cut off the claws and place them on a hot grill for 3 minutes. Then we grill the lobster bodies cut side down for 3 minutes, then the cut side up for 6 to 8, basting the lobster meat with plenty of herb butter. (Melted salted butter with your favorite fresh herb finely chopped.) If you’ve never had lobster cooked this way, you’re in for a revelation.

The swordfish on Martha’s Vineyard has been magnificent this summer-thick meaty steaks glistening with ocean freshness. We ask our fishmonger to cut steaks 3/4 inch thick. This is the size I prefer-thick enough to keep the fish from drying out, but thin enough to cook quickly. The local swordfish has been so fresh, we season it with nothing more than coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a whisper of extra virgin olive oil. A simple salsa of diced tomatoes, raw corn, olives, and scallions turns grilled fish into a summer feast.

And corn! I advocate grilling it naked (the cobs, not the griller). Brush with olive or melted butter and season with salt and pepper. Or do as the Japanese do: brush with melted butter and soy sauce and sprinkle the corn with sesame seeds and pepper. Mexicans slather it with mayonnaise and grated cheese, while Indians baste it with butter and lime juice and season it with cayenne pepper! In short, everybody loves grilled corn, no matter what the seasonings.

So what are you grilling this summer? Join this discussion at the BBQ Board. And don’t forget to enter the Great American Barbecue Contest. You might just win a gleaming stainless steel Weber® Summit® Silver A gas grill.

Beer-Can Chicken
Well, to judge from your emails and BBQ board postings, a lot of you are having fun with beer can chicken. Trust me, the bird will really fit under the grill lid provided you use a 12 ounce can and at least a 23 inch kettle grill. You should also know we had the process (cooking on aluminum cans) tested in a laboratory, so it is safe. Looking to cook with something other than beer? Cola, ice tea, and even cranberry juice work great.

Just about everyone reports that beer canning produces the most succulent, flavorful, tender chicken imaginable, with smoke-scented, crackling crispy skin. Try my Basic Beer-Can Chicken recipe for your first time out. If you’re a beer can chicken pro, try pushing the envelope with other birds, like quail, game hen, duck, even turkey.

Lemon Ginger Skirt Steak
Skirt steak is one of my favorite cuts of beef for grilling. It’s quick and easy to grill, intensely flavorful, and mercifully inexpensive. This recipe plays the Asian overtones of ginger and soy sauce against the Mediterranean scents of lemon and basil, so everyone comes out a winner.

Tip: Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest (the oil rich yellow peel of the lemon) in thin strips from the rind.

Serves 4.

1-1/2 pounds skirt steaks
freshly ground black pepper and a little kosher salt

for the marinade:

2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
4 strips lemon zest
4 fresh basil leaves, plus sprigs of basil for garnish
2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sherry (cream or dry)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Place the skirt steaks in a non-reactive baking dish and season on both sides with pepper and salt. (Heavy on the pepper, light on the salt, as the soy sauce is salty, too.) Place the ingredients for the marinade in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour the marinade over the skirt steaks and marinate for 4 hours in the refrigerator, turning the steaks twice.

2. Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Brush and oil the grill grate. Drain the skirt steaks well and arrange on the grate. Grill the steaks until cooked to taste, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Serve at once, with lemon wedges for squeezing and basil sprigs for garnish.

GRILL GEAR: Mopping Up
They look really cool, and there’s nothing better for applying a thin sauce or a liquid flavoring agent to ribs or pork butts. Barbecue mops, which look like miniature floor mops, are available at most grill shops, cookware shops, and at an increasing number of supermarkets. (When pro pit bosses grill large quantities of meat, they use full-size floor mops–clean ones.)

For those of you who have enjoyed the grilled cheese recipes in Barbecue Bible and How to Grill (or have been meaning to try this), I just learned a great new trick from an Argentinean grill master to prevent the cheese from sticking to the grate. Dip it in flour first. (Be sure to shake off the excess.) You get gorgeous grilled cheese with a sizzling golden brown crust–without the sticking.

Another trick to prevent sticking in general–rub the hot grill grate with a cut onion.

Let’s hear your home remedies and tricks. Just post them under the Newsletter Feedback thread on the BBQ Board. I’ll review them and report on the best of the best in upcoming issues of Up in Smoke.

I’d like to hear from you for the next newsletter. Tell me what you’re grilling and what some of your favorite recipes are in the books. Is there any dish or technique giving you trouble? Is there something you’d like to see that I haven’t covered to date? Either write to me at, or post to the BBQ Board under Newsletter Feedback.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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