The Aromas of Backyard Barbecues

BY
12 Jun 2008
Cooking
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imageIn 1924 President Calvin Coolidge recommended the celebration of Father’s Day, but it wasn’t until 1972, during the Nixon administration, that it was signed into law as an official national holiday. The third Sunday in June is perfect grilling weather, and aromas of backyard barbecues waft over fences and through open windows as we celebrate Dad’s special day.

When I want to know about grilling, I consult Steven Raichlen, author of “The Barbecue! Bible” and “How to Grill” (Workman Publishing) and host of Primal Grill on PBS.

“My dad was a businessman, and from him I inherited my business sense, or what little I have,” he told me. “He never lets anyone pick up a check and is a good tipper. Like my father-in-law used to say, for 10 bucks you can be a sport. I’ve tried to do this in my life, too.”

But it was his mom, Raichlen claims, not his dad, who was in charge of the grill when he was growing up. “Her approach to grilling was robust if not terrifying,” he told me. “She’d light the grill in a Vesuvian whomp with gasoline – do not try this at home – and char slabs of steak until coal black on the outside and just shy of still mooing inside. She called this Pittsburgh rare.”

According to Raichlen’s rule: “If something tastes good baked, fried, sautéed, steamed or even raw, it probably tastes even better grilled,” and to prove it he traveled to 25 countries on five continents researching “The Barbecue! Bible,” taking four years to write it. And with four million copies in print in 14 languages, this award-winning encyclopedic study of global grilling has now spawned the 10th Anniversary edition, bigger, bolder and better than ever.

Interestingly Raichlen wrote “Healthy Jewish Cooking” (Viking) during the same period.

“I was a restaurant critic for a major city magazine in the ’80’s, eating out constantly, and developed a cholesterol problem,” recalled Raichlen, so he began reducing the fat in his favorite recipes.

“The leap from healthy Jewish cooking to grilling may seem a stretch,” he said, “but there was a lot of overlap between the two books. The Middle East is one of the real hotbeds of grilling expertise. Barbecue is not part of the Ashkenazi tradition. I don’t ever remember watching my grandfather grill, for example. But in Israel grilling is a national pastime, an art, dare I say even a fetish.”

And what’s on the grill for Father’s Day? How about brisket!

“For holidays we are probably the only Jewish family in Miami to barbecue its brisket instead of braising it in the oven with dried fruits,” he said. Grill the beef slowly over low, indirect heat, and you will “transform one of the toughest, most ornery parts of the steer into tender, meaty perfection,” writes Raichlen. Serve it with a half-and-half mixture of his sweet Basic Barbecue Sauce and tart North Carolina version. But be careful.

Barbecue sauce is a “much-abused condiment,” according to David Rosengarten, editor of the “Rosengarten Report” (www.rosengartenreport.com), the information-packed subscription newsletter that rates the best in food and wine. Many cooks use barbecue sauce as a marinade and brush it on during cooking, but because of its sugar content, this usually spells burnt meat.

“Barbecue sauce is sauce – meaning a tasty, runny liquid placed on meat after it’s cooked,” Rosengarten writes. Use it as they do in Texas, at the table.

Coincidentally, although I didn’t know him then, Rosengarten grew up in my hometown, Belle Harbor, New York. From my house one could look across Jamaica Bay and see the New York skyline; from his, the Atlantic Ocean. So it was doubly exciting for me to talk to the former host/chef of the Food Network’s “Taste” and reminisce about Far Rockaway High School, Cairo’s pizza and his father, who was his inspiration.

“At least twice a week,” Rosengarten recalled, “my dad, no matter what season, would call my mom as he was leaving the office so that she could estimate when to put the charcoal on the grill on the terrace facing the beach. He’d walk in, drop off his copy of the Post, and pick up a platter of steak or lamb chops.”

Rosengarten credits his father with nurturing his love of fine food and obsession to get it right. “He and I would sit down at the kitchen table and discuss the menu, make a list, go shopping, and then have ourselves a grand old time cooking.” He recalled. “While other kids were helping their dads fix the car, I was helping my dad fix dinner. He was crazier about food than any person I’ve ever met in my life, including me.”

In 2004 Rosengarten won a James Beard award for his cookbook “It’s All American Food” (with an emphasis on the “All”), a collection of over 400 ethnic, regional and classic dishes that make up our national cuisine. And what better way to honor Dad than with the simple, down-home foods we all love.

Take French fries. Why don’t they taste at home like they do in restaurants, Rosengarten wondered. “Home fries are slick. I wanted to duplicate those ‘nubbly,’ little microscopic pockets that give texture and crunch to restaurant fries. I’d always done the two fryings. I thought, what if I boiled them first to soften them. It worked. Sure, you can drizzle an exotic oil on them. I’m not interested. I wanted to make a better French fry, and these are the best home French fries I’ve ever had.”

Rosengarten’s zippy Mustard Slaw rounds out the meal. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads!

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “COOKING JEWISH: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman) and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.

Texas-Style Barbecued Brisket

10 to 12 servings

In Texas beef is king—especially beef brisket, which comes moist and smoky and tender enough to cut with a fork. (Not that any self-respecting Texas barbecue buff would use a fork.) Barbecued brisket is simultaneously one of the easiest and most challenging recipes in the world of barbecue. Easy because it requires only one main ingredient: brisket (even the rub is optional). Challenging because pit masters spend years learning the right combination of smoke (lots), heat (low), and time (measured in half days rather than hours) to transform one of the toughest, most ornery parts of the steer into tender, meaty perfection.

Over the years, I’ve found that two things help above all: choosing the right cut of -brisket—namely, untrimmed, with a thick sheath of fat—and then cooking the brisket in a shallow pan. The pan keeps the juices from dripping onto the fire and the meat from drying out, while allowing for the maximum smoke penetration from the top. A whole brisket (the sort cooked by a restaurant) weighs eighteen to twenty pounds. Here I call for a partially trimmed brisket—a cut weighing five to six pounds. Do not attempt to make this with a two-pound trimmed, fatless brisket; it will turn out much too dry.
To achieve the requisite smoke flavor, you need to smoke the brisket in a charcoal grill—or in a smoker. A gas grill will not produce enough smoke.

Advance Preparation

4 to 8 hours for curing the meat (optional); also, allow yourself about 6 hours cooking time

Special Equipment

6 cups hickory or mesquite chips or chunks, soaked for 1 hour in cold water to cover and drained

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the brisket under cold running water and blot it dry with paper towels
  2. Combine the salt, chili powder, sugar, pepper, and cumin in a bowl and toss with your fingers to mix. Rub the spice mixture on the brisket on all sides. If you have time, wrap the brisket in plastic and let it cure, in the refrigerator, for 4 to 8 hours (or even overnight), but don’t worry if you don’t have time for this—it will be plenty flavorful, even if you cook it right away.
  3. Set up a charcoal grill for indirect grilling and preheat it to low. No drip pan is necessary for this recipe
  4. When ready to cook, toss 1½ cups of the wood chips on the coals (¾ cup per side). Place the brisket, fat side up, in an aluminum foil pan (or make a pan with a double sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil). Place the pan in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat.
  5. Cover the grill
  6. Smoke cook the brisket until tender enough to shred with your fingers; 6 hours will likely do it, but it may take as long as 8 (the cooking time will depend on the size of the brisket and heat of the grill).
  7. Baste the brisket from time to time with the fat and juices that accumulate in the pan. You’ll need to add 10 to 12 fresh coals to each side every hour and toss more wood chips on the fresh coals; add about ¾ cup chips per side every time you replenish the coals during the first 3 hours.
  8. Remove the brisket pan from the grill and let rest for 15 minutes.
  9. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and thinly slice it across the grain, using a sharp knife, electric knife, or cleaver.
  10. Transfer the sliced meat to a platter, pour the pan juices on top, and serve at once.

Source: “The Barbecue! Bible 10th Anniversary Edition” (Workman) by Steven Raichlen


Basic Barbecue Sauce

Makes 2½ to 3 cups

A good barbecue sauce is a study in contrasts: sweet versus sour, fruity versus smoky, spicy versus mellow. Here’s a great all-purpose sauce that’s loaded with flavor but not too sweet. It goes well with all manner of poultry or beef. The minced vegetables give you a coarse–textured sauce, which I happen to like. If you prefer a smooth sauce, puree it in a blender.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper and cook until softened but not brown, about 4 minutes.
    Stir in the ketchup, tomato sauce, cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, pineapple juice (if using), hot sauce, liquid smoke, molasses, brown sugar, prepared and dry mustards, black pepper, and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent scorching. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little more water.
  3. Remove the barbecue sauce from the heat and taste for seasoning, adding salt to taste and more cider vinegar, hot sauce, and/or brown sugar as necessary; the sauce should be highly seasoned.
  4. Transfer the barbecue sauce to a serving bowl and serve warm or at room temperature. The sauce will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for several weeks.

Source: “The Barbecue! Bible 10th Anniversary Edition” (Workman) by Steven Raichlen


North Carolina Vinegar Sauce

Makes about 2½ cups

North Carolina occupies a unique position in the realm of American barbecue. Unlike the rest of the country, which enjoys tomato-based sauces, the preferred condiment here is a piquant mixture of vinegar and hot pepper flakes, with just a little sugar to take off the sharp edge. The jalapeño peppers aren’t strictly traditional, but I like their added bite.

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Combine the cider vinegar, sugar, hot pepper flakes, onion, jalapeño, salt, and black pepper in a medium-size nonreactive bowl and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve.
  2. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or sugar as necessary.

Use the sauce the day it is made; it does not store well.

Source: “The Barbecue! Bible 10th Anniversary Edition” (Workman) by Steven Raichlen


Perfect Restaurant-Style French Fries

4 servings

Ingredients:

Instructions:

  1. Peel potatoes and trim each one into the shape of a rectangle.
  2. Cut potatoes lengthwise into broad slices about 3/8 inch thick. Then cut each slice into strips about 3/8 inch wide. (It is important for the size of the potatoes to be correct for the cooking process to work perfectly. A French fry cutter that yields 3/8 inch fries is a good investment.)
  3. Hold cut potatoes in a bowl of cold water until ready to use.
  4. Place 3 quarts water, table salt and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
  5. Add cut potatoes to the boiling water, let the water return to a boil, then immediately reduce heat so water comes to a gentle boil. Cook potatoes for 7 minutes, or until quite soft but still holding together. You don’t want to make mashed potatoes, so check potatoes during the last few minutes of the boiling period. Remove them with a wide, slotted utensil (what chefs call a spider would be ideal), and place them on paper towels in a single layer. Bring to room temperature (about 10 minutes).
  6. When ready to do the first fry, heat vegetable oil in a deep, heavy, straight-sided pot to 250°.
  7. Using your hands, carefully place a small batch of potatoes on a spider (or another wide, slotted utensil), making sure not to break them. Slowly lower the spider into the oil, drop the potatoes into the oil, and cook them for 2 minutes.
  8. After removing them from the oil with the spider, place them on paper towels in a single layer. This step essentially blanches the potatoes, so there should be very little color. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes, in small batches, until all of them have had a first fry.
  9. When ready to serve, heat the oil to 350°F.
  10. Using your hands, slowly remove a small batch of fries from paper towels without breaking them and place them on the spider.
  11. Slowly lower the spider into the oil, drop the fries into the oil, and cook, stirring occasionally to ensure even browning. You want the French fries to have a deep golden brown color and for the surface to be a little crinkly; this should take about 3 minutes.
  12. Remove them from the oil with the spider and place them in a single layer on a baking pan lined with paper towels.
  13. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt.
  14. Repeat with the remaining fries.
  15. Serve immediately for maximum crispness, but if you’re holding the first batch or two, hold the completed fries in a 300°F oven.

Source: “It’s All American Food” (Little, Brown) by David Rosengarten


Mustard Slaw

12 to 16 servings

Ingredients:

Note: For those who prefer a less spicy dressing, start with 1 teaspoon or even ½ teaspoon black pepper and either eliminating the hot sauce or adding it a drop at a time, to taste.

Instructions:

  1. Core cabbage. Cut into broad, round slices about 1/3 inch thick, then chop crosswise so that you end up with a pile of chopped cabbage, each piece roughly the size of a corn niblet.
  2. Place chopped cabbage in a large bowl and add green pepper, onions, carrots, celery seeds, salt, and pepper. Toss everything with the lemon juice and reserve.
  3. Add mustard to another bowl and blend in sugar and vinegar. Add mustard mixture to cabbage mixture and blend well. Add hot sauce to taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately, or hold in the refrigerator for as long as a week.

Source: “It’s All American Food” (Little, Brown) by David Rosengarten

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.