BBQ and Grilling

From the LA Times

la-dd-going-down-that-road-feeling-fed-a-barbe-001Barbecue – and by that I mean real barbecue, meat cooked long and slow near (not over) a smoldering fire, until it is tender enough to fall to pieces but still moist enough to be delicious – is a discursive art. It takes as much time as it takes, and things will happen, some of them planned, and there will be ample opportunity in between for conversation, music and philosophy.

The current rage for commodifying barbecue – turning it into a series of 10-best lists and must-visit places – is useful for the consumer, but only in the short term. To really understand barbecue, you have to surrender yourself to its languorous current.

Or, you can pick up a copy of Robb Walsh and Rufus Lovett’s new book "Barbecue Crossroads: Notes and Recipes from a Southern Odyssey” which does much the same thing but in a handy armchair format.

Walsh is a well-known Houston-based writer on Southern food, the author of 10 previous books and the restaurant critic for Houstonia magazine. Lovett is a truly marvelous photographer whose work has appeared in everything from Texas Monthly to Gourmet.

Together they embarked on a journey many of us have talked about over a pile of ribs and second frosty mug of beer, but few of us have ever actually undertaken – a barbecue tour of the South and mid-South. They loaded up a Honda Element with notebooks and photo equipment and took off for anywhere barbecue was served between West Texas and North Carolina.


santamariasign.jpgGrowing up on the central coast of California was paradisaical in many ways. The natural beauty. The rural feeling. My relatives close by. Farm fresh fruits and vegetables always at hand. Food and family often intermixed. My great-great-aunt Ona Chandler married into the Dana family — a Spanish land grant family dating back to before California was a state when it still belonged to Mexico. Spanish land grants weren’t actually Spanish, they were Mexican. Huge tracts of land that the Mexican government gave away to white men if they married the daughters of Mexican soldiers who were stationed in ‘Alta California’ — the name it had at the time.

The goal was to populate the region but it backfired when the white man took the land away from Mexico eventually making it the State of California. The Dana family operated a rancho near the small town of Nipomo — a cow town, full of farmers and ranchers. Cattle was raised in the surrounding hills, and still is. And naturally where there’s beef there’s barbecue. Not just in Nipomo but also in the surrounding area: Santa Maria, Arroyo Grande, and San Luis Obispo. It’s called Santa Maria-style barbecue and the cut used is tri-tip.

Santa Maria-style barbecue is a method of outdoor cooking that dates back to the early ranchos and land grants. It is still extremely popular and these days men spend weekends grilling away in grocery store parking lots on mobile barbecue pits; the smell of the oak wood fire, and grilling meat wafting in the air.

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wickedgoodbbqI love barbecue. I know I am not alone. I wish my husband was a grill master, but alas that is not where his talents or inclinations lie. Our recently purchased smoker has only been used two or three times with a modicum of success. He was merely teasing me. He has no culinary aspirations and was drawn in because it's a gadget. He can't resist gadgets. I think he thought it would be easier to operate and, on a basic level, smoking food is fairly simple. However, to get great flavors one has to put in the time and a bit of effort and that's something he just didn't count on. Plus the recipes that came with our unit were pretty uninspiring and not as detailed as was necessary for people new to the ways of smoking food. So, his excitement quickly waned.

So when I came across the book Wicked Good Barbecue, written by two chefs from Boston - Andy Husbands and Chris Hart - who've won hundreds of barbecue ribbons across the country as well as the Jack Daniel's World Championship, I thought that maybe there was hope for us. (I'm from MA and love that the book is written by two New England dudes.) That using these recipes we could turn our backyard into a heaven of smoky, meaty goodness. Alas, that is not meant to be. This book is serious. This book is meant for those with a fire in their belly to create great dishes that will impress their friends and smells that will torture their neighbors. If your man thinks he's the best griller in the world, this book will help him prove it. Or at the very least, help him step up his game.

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seriousbbq2.jpgI have to confess – my relationship to the barbecue is voyeur at best.  Occasionally, I’m assigned “Bri-ing me a-nother platter,” which is ordered up as a faint cry from the deck where hopefully someone else is keeping “the barbecuer” company as I sort of regard “the grill” as a place of sparks and smoke and other unseemly stuff.  Or else, I just like to be the star in the room and the star on the deck is the barbecue and “the barbecuer”, a vocation I’ve never crossed gender lines for (although I’ve considered it.)  I’ve considered that barbecuing could be up there with say, “Army Sharp Shooter.”  But since I have (earned) an “Army Sharp Shooter Certificate” from an intensely lonely three months at a summer camp I hated where I spent my time largely at the firing range...I’ve never quite felt the need to add Ace Barbecuer. 

But I, also, have a serious addiction to cookbook reading, passed down from my mother.  So when a copy of "Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste, and Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking" by Adam Perry Lang arrived in the mail with a quote from Mario Batali on the cover where he declares “Adam Perry Lang is my hero and my go-to brother for meat and fire.” I couldn’t resist reading it. And encouraging “the barbecuer” to do the same.

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charred scruffed
We couldn't start barbecue season without including a recipe from our favorite grill master Adam Perry Lang. Following is an excerpt and recipe from his latest book. If you're serious about grilling or, in this case, smoking, you better get one or all of his books stat. - The Editors.

I have always love barbecue. While I can't claim that my grandpa was a great pit master, I can say that in my case encountering the deep savory smokiness of barbecued meat was love at first whiff. I came to understand that wood fire, seasoning, and smoke combine in a form of culinary alchemy that - in all its strongly defended regional variations - makes up the great tradition of American barbecue. What I have tried to do in my cooking, and in Charred & Scruffed, is to apply the lessons of classic cuisine to the folkways of barbecue.

Along the way, I read a lot of barbecue cookbooks, but after the first half dozen or so, what was striking to me was how similar they are. You're sure to find falling-off-the-bone ribs, mahogany-hued briskets, manly (i.e. really huge) cuts of steak, and succulent smoked pork shoulders that taste like the distilled essence of Old Dixie. But upon closer reading, and tasting, you may also find that the meat, which is often the most expensive ingredient in the recipe, is relegated to second fiddle for bastes, sauces, spice rubs, and, for good measure, some hot sauce and vinegar at the end.

My aim is to construct a more powerful taste narrative. I always strive to have different layers of flavor and texture come through, one after the other, so that each bite is a story with a beginning , middle, and end. ANd, when the story is told, what should stay with you is the quality of the prime ingredient…the meat. Remember this: meat the the master. Sauce, seasoning, and smoke are its faithful servants.

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