Charcoal Chat with Steven Raichlen, the "Gladiator of Grilling":
Q: Do you consider yourself an expert in the art of barbecue? How did you initially become interested in this style of cooking?
A: I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but Oprah has called me the "Gladiator of Grilling" and USA Today wrote "where there’s smoke there is Steven Raichlen." I have been studying barbecuing and grilling almost nonstop since 1994, and the way I have gone about learning is by traveling and cooking with pit masters and barbecue experts around the world. The first book I wrote, The Barbecue Bible, is the story of my three years on the world’s barbecue trail. I visited 25 countries on five continents. Basically, I was just ferreting out great grilling and barbecuing and watching people do it. The newest book, BBQ USA, is the bookend to The Barbecue Bible and for that I did the same thing – traveled all over the United States studying and training with pit masters.
In the interim, I wrote a book called How to Grill. This book explains the step-by-step basic techniques of barbecuing and grilling – everything from hot dogs to whole hogs, from asparagus to pizza. We locked ourselves in a studio for six weeks while we grilled and barbecued everything we could think of. We then broke the process up into the five or six essential steps, all of which were photographed.
That led to this public television show, Barbecue University With Steven Raichlen based on the book, How to Grill.
Q: Tell us a few things that every backyard griller should know/understand before they even light the grill? What are the most common beginner mistakes?
The first one is to be organized, because this is a culinary art that takes place outdoors. You need to have all your supplies ready before you start. Another basic decision you need to make is whether you want to work on gas or charcoal. Each cooks a different way. If you are more process oriented and like the journey as well as the destination, then charcoal’s the way to go because it gives you that primal thrill of setting stuff on fire. If you are more outcome and destination oriented and you want to get a great meal on the table, gas is more predictable. It’s a little easier to work with and control.
Another really important bit of knowledge for people to know is the difference between direct grilling and indirect grilling. The direct method means to cook food directly over fire. Whenever you want to grill or smoke something that’s big or tough and takes a long time to cook (ribs, briscuit, pork shoulder, whole chicken, turkey, whole hog), you would use what is called the indirect method. In this method, you build the fire in one half or one quarter of an inch at opposite sides of the grill. Then you cook the food either between the fires, next to the fire or at the opposite end of the grill. The food is cooked next to the fire and not over it, always with the lid down. It’s a sealed environment. This enables you to cook at a much lower temperature, often with a lot of wood smoke.
I have three rules of great grilling and those are: keep it hot, keep it clean, and keep it lubricated. When you are cooking a steak, chicken breast or a thin piece of food, cook it over a very hot fire, clean the grill grate and finally oil the grill grate.
Q: Are there any other shows like yours on TV today? How does your program standout from the competition?
To the best of my knowledge, there are no other shows that are like Barbecue University. A couple of things distinguish my show from others, but I think the most important is the word “university”. When we set out to plan this show, we wanted it to be a teaching vehicle. The first thing I tried to do over the 13 weeks was teach the five basic grilling techniques and barbecuing methods: direct, indirect, grilling on the embers, rotisserie grilling, and smoking. The second thing I wanted to accomplish was to cover all the major food groups you could grill: pork, beef, chicken, fish, vegetables, and even fruit and deserts. The third thing I wanted to accomplish was to make this show more of a "lifestyle show."