Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Jackie Burrell McClatchy Newspapers
There's a certain wizardry about grilling. The magic of a low, slow fire -- and a heady touch of smoke -- transforms a simple rib-eye or portobello mushroom into mouthwatering fare.
The magic of a low, slow fire – and a touch of smoke – transforms a simple rib eye or skirt steak into mouth-watering fare.
Photos by McClatchy Newspapers
Use an herb bundle to baste steaks or chicken on the grill.
It's such a straightforward trick, yet there are so many tools and gadgets out there that what was once a simple act of barbecuing has become a tad intimidating. These days not only are there are smokers, gas grills and Weber kettles, but also wood planks, chips. charcoal chimneys, grill racks, salt plates, slider molds, asparagus grabbers and, of course, jalapeno racks to keep your peppers erect.
So there you are at the supermarket, hefting a baggie of apple wood chips and wondering, can you put wood chips in a gas grill? And how important are erect jalapenos, anyway?
You'd ask your neighbor, the barbecue king with his own professional-grade smoker, but that would be like asking Tim Lincecum for T-ball tips.
Fortunately, we've got someone better -- because Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe is all about demystifying the art of the 'cue. The Florida-based barbecue guru and serial cook-off champion has a new book out. And "Slow Fire: The Beginner's Guide to Barbecue" (Chronicle Books, $22.95, 176 pages) answers nearly all those questions (though you're on your own for proper pepper posture).
The new book is a deliberate departure from the classic barbecue how-to's, which are typically penned by heroes of the pitmaster circuit with "brash personalities, huge egos and a room full of trophies," Lampe says. "By the time you get through the ridiculous pieces of equipment that cost more than your car, it's intimidating."
The bottom line, he says, is that newbies shouldn't run out and spend a lot of money on equipment they may end up using once. Use what you have, he suggests, experiment and then see if it's a cooking technique you want to pursue with something more suitable -- and more easily temperature-controlled -- than the ubiquitous backyard gas grill, such as an old-school kettle barbecue, a smoker or even a stovetop smoker.
We tend to describe any kind of grilling as "barbecue, " but real barbecue is cooked low and slow -- with indirect heat and a bit of culinary restraint. "It's not 'if a little smoke is good, a whole lot should be better,"' Lampe says. "You can easily oversmoke food."
Indirect heat means putting the fire on one side of the grill and placing the meat on the other, with a drip pan underneath. Temperature is key, 230 to 250 degrees is ideal -- and the thermometer on the top of your shiny barbecue lid is useless. It reads the heat at the top of the lid, not an inch or two above the grate, where you're cooking dinner.
"If you have it 240 on top, but the heat has risen, you might be trying to cook that meat at 160 degrees," Lampe says. "You can cook on just about anything but you gotta learn the tricks."
Some grills have a built-in drawer to hold wood chips, but the tried-and-true foil pouch works just as well, Lampe says.
That's something about which Denis Kelly, the James Beard award-winning cookbook author and a St. Mary's College professor in the integral studies program, fully agrees. Kelly has written three meat-related books for Williams-Sonoma, including "Williams-Sonoma Grilling," and several cookbooks co-authored with Berkeley sausage king Bruce Aidells.
Kelly puts a handful of wood chips in the center of a 10-inch square sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, folds the foil around it and crimps the edges tightly. He then pokes holes in it with a skewer -- Lampe's a fork man -- and drops it into the barbecue. You can soak the wood chips for an hour first, which slows the burning time, but just be aware that all that "smoke" pouring out is going to be steam for a while.
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