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The Rite of Spring

When the composer, Igor Stravinsky, unveiled the Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913, it sparked a revolution. As this very cold long winter comes to an end (it’s even been colder than normal down here in Miami), I’ve been thinking about the barbecue rites of spring.

The first, for those of our Frost Belt brethren who put their grills in hibernation over the winter, is to haul your grill out of of the garage and get it ready for a new season. (That’s assuming you’re not one of the growing legions of “Winter Warriors,” who grill all year long.)

If you have a charcoal grill, first scrape any caked-on debris out of the firebox with a small garden shovel. (You should have done this at the end of the summer, but do it now if you didn’t.) Oil the vent covers so they open and close freely. If the grate is rusted, build a hot fire under it, then scrape it well with a wire grill brush. (This is a lot easier and faster than trying to remove the rust from a cold grate with steel wool.) Dip a tightly folded paper towel in oil and rub it across the bars of the hot grate to season it. Repeat as needed. That’s all there is to it.

For a gas grill, first, remove any spider webs or other unexpected creatures or debris from the burners and manifolds. Check the tiny holes in the gas tubes-if any are blocked, open with a straight pin. Hook up the gas tank and make sure there are no leaks. To do so, make a half and half mixture of dish soap and water. Brush it on the hoses and connections: giant bubbles will form if there are any gas leaks. Check the igniters-if they fail to spark, replace the batteries. Then clean and oil the grates as described above.


“I am about to purchase a new grill and I want to get exactly what you use on your BBQ University TV show,” writes Aaron. “What brands do you recommend?

Good question, Aaron. I have a policy of not recommending specific grill models, but I can tell you about some of the grills we use BBQ U. The gas grill on the show is a 6 burner Weber Summit; the charcoal grill is a Weber Performer. The giant charcoal grill I use for cooking whole salmons and small whole hogs is the Weber Ranch grill (it looks like a kettle grill on steroids). The smoker is a Brinkmann; the ceramic Kamado-style cooker is a Big Green Egg; the hibachi is a Lodge.

Of course, at the actual BBQ University school at the Greenbrier, we have more than 30 different grills, ranging from a Tuscan grill in a fireplace to a super hot-burning infrared TEC grill to a trailer towed smoker large enough to accommodate several whole hogs.

But more important than what I actually use in a particular show is what I look for when buying a grill. First ask yourself three questions:

  • What are your usage patterns?
  • Are you a charcoal or gas grill person?
  • What’s your budget?

If you’re just grilling for yourself and your spouse one or two nights a week, an inexpensive 2 or 3 gas grill will do fine. If you’re out there several nights a week and every weekend and you do a lot of entertaining, you’ll want to go with a large grill-at least 3, preferably 4 to 6 burners.

If you love wood smoke and true barbecue, a charcoal grill is a must (even if you already own a gas grill). Ditto if you’re into the sheer sport of grilling-building and messing with fire and waltzing food from hot spots to cold spots. In fact, if you’re at all serious about live fire cooking, I suggest you own both a gas and charcoal grill.

Finally, re budget. You can buy a decent charcoal grill for around $100. (Buy a grill that’s at least 22 inches in diameter with a lid high enough to accommodate a beer can chicken.) There are two strategies for buying gas grills—the first is to buy an inexpensive grill (under $200) and plan to replace it once every couple years. The second is to invest in a mid to upper range gas grill ($400 to $500 for a mid-range; $800 to $3000 for a stainless steel gas “super” grill) and plan to own it for the next decade. By the way, I personally own both sorts of grills and follow both of strategies.

Some other things to look for:

  • Sturdy construction and stable legs
  • A good warrantee (Remember, this is outdoor cookware. You want to make sure it lasts.)
  • Side tables (You can never have enough work space)
  • Hinged grates for charcoal grill grates (for adding coals for indirect grilling)
  • Built in thermometer
  • Built in gas gauge for a gas grill
  • Easy to use and clean drip pan for a gas grill
  • A rotisserie with a dedicated burner

By the way, my favorite material for grill grates is cast iron.

Finally, if at all possible, go to a barbecue store and “test drive” a few models before you buy one. Everyone’s taste is different and every grill performs differently. And there are some very expensive but very poorly designed grills out there. So it’s best to try what you’re buying before you plunk down your money.

An Electrifying Experience

“Ohmigosh, do I have a big problem!” writes John Hookey. “I have moved into an apartment complex that is absolutely unyielding in its opposition to both charcoal and gas grills. So I have been forced to switch to an electric grill. Alas, all the grilling literature ignores us poor grillers who are forced, not by choice, but by fiat, to use electric grills. Is there any hope for us? ”

Yes, this is a problem, but it’s not the end of the world. I’ve used the Charbroil electric grill (on the Regis Show no less). There’s even a picture of an electric grill in How to Grill. It’s okay for direct grilling, but it takes some manuevering for indirect.

Bottom line is any recipe in any of my books that’s direct grilled on charcoal or gas can be grilled on an electric grill (with the possible exception of really thick steaks, like a porterhouse). Preheat the grill well and keep it covered to hold in the heat.

If you must indirect grill on an electric grill, place a metal pie pan or cake pan open side up in the center of the grill and place another pie pan open side down on top of it. Place the food to be indirect grilled on top. (The pie pans create an air space that insulates the food from the heat.)

Finally, if you like the smoky flavor of true barbecue, invest in an electric smoker, like a Cookshack or Lure Jensen. I don’t think the condo commandos will bust you for that.

Incidentally, my next book focuses on indoor grills and grilling, so stay tuned!


“I was wondering how to start a charcoal grill,” writes Jesse Towry. “I noticed that on the show that you use a steel cylinder. Can you tell me what it is and where I can find one?”

Sure thing, Jesse. The steel cylinder is a chimney starter and you can find one at any grill shop or hardware store. Buy the largest one you can. It consists of an upright metal cylinder with a wire partition in the center. You put the charcoal in the top and a crumpled piece of newspaper (or better yet, a paraffin fire starter-also available at grill shops and hardware stores-in the bottom. Simply place the chimney starter in the grill (on the lower grate) and light the paper or paraffin starter. In 20 minutes or so, you’ll have perfectly and evenly lit coals. By the way, don’t use a chimney starter to light Match-Light charcoal.

There are at least 3 advantages to using a chimney starter:

1. It’s ecologically correct: You don’t need petroleum-based lighter fluid.
2. It lights the coals quickly, efficiently, evenly and uniformly.
3. It’s easy to dump out the coals into two mounds for indirect grilling or to build a 3 zone fire for direct grilling.

“I’m an avid griller and find your program very informative,” writes Bill Cohen. “The other day I saw your show on rotisserie chicken. I noticed the knot you tied when trussing. Looked very useful. Is it described or illustrated anywhere?

It’s a butcher’s slip knot, Bill, and it’s fully illustrated on page 204 in How to Grill.


Since this is the spring issue of Up in Smoke, let’s focus on the quintessential meat for springtime grilling: lamb. Lamb plays a central role in springtime holidays of three of the world’s great religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). For that matter, on any given day, probably more pit masters are cooking lamb than any other meat. (The barbecued lamb zone begins in West Africa and extends continuously across the Mediterranean to the Middle East, Central Asia, India, China, and as far east as Indonesia.)

There’s a simple reason for the popularity of lamb this time of year: in traditional agricultural societies, lamb born in the winter reached eating size in the spring.

Here are two recipes from my forthcoming book on indoor grilling. In honor of spring, both have been adapted for outdoor gas or charcoal grills.

Rosemary Grilled Lamb Chops in the Style of Friuli, Italy

Serves 4

12 lamb rib chops (about 2 pounds)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary, plus 1 long sprig of fresh rosemary to use as a basting brush

Generously season the lamb on both sides with salt and pepper. Drizzle a drop of oil on each chop on both sides and rub it into the meat. (You should use up about 1-1/2 tablespoons in all for the 12 chops.) Sprinkle the chops on both sides with garlic and rosemary, patting them into the meat. Let marinate for 20 minutes while you build your fire.

Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high. Under the best of circumstances you’ll be grilling over oak embers or charcoal (but gas will give you fine results, too).

Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the chops on the grate all going the same way. Grill until cooked to taste, 3 to 5 minutes per side for medium rare. Lightly baste each chop on both sides with the remaining olive oil, using the rosemary sprig as a basting brush. Serve at once. No sauce or garnish are needed.

Rotisserie Leg of Lamb with Lemon Mint Wet Rub

Serves 6

For the garlic-mint wet rub:

3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
2 strips lemon zest (finely chopped)
1 bunch mint, washed, shaken dried and stemmed (about 1 cup leaves)
1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea)
1/2 teaspoon cracked or coarsely ground black peppercorns
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 butterflied leg of lamb, tied into a cylindrical roast or the loin end of a whole leg (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)

You’ll also need: Butcher’s string; a grill with a rotisserie attachment

Make the wet rub. Place the garlic, lemon zest, mint leaves, salt, and pepper in a food processor and process to finely chop. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and process to a smooth paste.

Using the tip of a paring knife, make small holes in the roast on all sides about 1-1/2 inches apart. Using the tip of your index finger, widen the hole. Place a tiny spoonful of mint mixture in each hole, forcing it in with your finger. Spread the remaining mixture over the roast on all sides. Note: you can cook the lamb right away, but it will have even more flavor if you let it marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Set up your grill for rotisserie grilling and preheat to high. Place a drip pan under the spit. Skewer the lamb lengthwise on the turnspit. Place the spit and roast in the rotisserie. Cook until the roast is crusty and darkly brown on all sides and cooked to the degree of doneness you desire, about 1-1/4 hours for medium-rare, 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours for medium. Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. (Don’t let the thermometer touch the skewer.) Medium-rare lamb will have an internal temperature of 145 degrees; medium, about 160 degrees.

Transfer the roast to a platter or cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes, removing the spit. Cut off and discard the string. Thinly slice the roast crosswise for serving.

Basic Barbecue Rub

“Could you please post the basic barbecue rub recipe on the web site again?” writes Robert Browning.

My pleasure, Robert. Here’s the Basic Barbecue Rub from my Sauces book. If you want to invent your own, combine equal parts kosher salt, sweet paprika, and brown sugar. Add as much pepper as you can bear up to an equal part. Then customize the rub by adding any of the following ingredients to taste:

Garlic powder
Onion powder
Celery seed


“Your books and web site have helped me tremendously,” writes Joe Knittel. “I have wrecked a lot of food in the past. My question is what is a non-reactive bowl or saucepan and why should I use one?

A non-reactive bowl or saucepan is one made from stainless steel, anodized aluminum, glass, or porcelain. These materials remain inert when exposed to acids, like lemon juice, wine, or yogurt.

In contrast to these materials, cast iron and aluminum tend to react when exposed to acidic foods and should be avoided for many recipes.

· “I’ve only been barbecuing for a few years now and I have found your books and TV programs very helpful,” writes John Heishman. “My neighbor, who’s from Alabama, and I have talked about competing in barbecue cook-offs. Do you have any suggestions on how we could get started?”

The best way to enter the wacky and exhilarating world of competition barbecue is to find some local contests in your area. Contact the organizers of the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest (www.memphisinmay.org) or the Kansas City BBQ Society (http://www.rbjb.com/rbjb/kcbs.htm). Ask them for a list of sanctioned regional contests. The National BBQ News is another good source. You can contact them via: www.barbecuenews.com. Let us know how it works out. We’re rooting for you!

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

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