Ahh, the fragrant aroma of barbecue
If your neighborhood is anything like mine, the delicious aroma of grilling meat has been wafting through the air this past week.
True Oregonians have a reflex action of firing up the grill when temperatures approach 70 F. We can't help it — we crave sunshine and all the outdoor activities it brings. Cooking and eating outdoors are two activities we crave all winter long.
And I considered it a good omen that we would have plenty of opportunity to grill outdoors when Steven Raichlen's latest book "Project Fire" landed on my desk. Raichlen is the author of "The Barbecue Bible," a must for anyone who fancies themselves an outdoor cooking aficionado. This latest book includes cutting-edge techniques and sizzling recipes.
I can hear you now: "What more does Raichlen have to tell us about grilling?" After 30 books, seven TV series, two decades of Barbecue University classes and countless articles and radio and TV interviews you might think he has said it all. But it turns out he has a lot to say.
He covers new grills, from Kamados to pellet grills and plancha grills to hybrid wood burners. You'll learn about new tools like remote digital thermometers and high-tech rotisseries.
He covers revolutionary new techniques such as salt slab grilling to smoke-roasting, from ember-grilling to fire-heated iron. And of course, new foods, from alternative steaks to eco-friendly seafood, and new twists on popular classics, such as breakfast on the grill and wood-fired desserts.
"You have some killer grill sessions to look forward to," Raichlen writes in the introduction.
Raichlen says the question he is asked most often is "What grill should I buy?" to which he replies there is no single best answer.
In the book he walks readers through the benefits of charcoal grills, breaking them down into kettle grills, front-loading charcoal grills, hibachis, table grills and Kamado-style ceramic grills. Then he addresses gas grills, infrared grills, wood-burning grills, multi-fuel grills and specialty grills, like drum grills, smoker grills, phancha or pedestal grills, rotisserie grills and electric grills — all that in the first eight pages!
He then addresses fuels. Charcoal is no longer briquettes — you've got options in specialty charcoals like binchotan, a clean, hard, slow-lighting, super-hot charcoal traditionally made from the oak in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan; quebracho, a hard, clean- and hot-burning lump charcoal from South America; and coconut charcoal, made of pulverized coconut shells, wood and starch binders, which is then extruded into rods, cubes or miniature logs. Coconut charcoal burns hot and clean, producing little ash.
Then you have your propane, natural gas and wood, which can lead you into exotics like guava and palochina wood fires, pimento (allspice wood) from Jamaica or grapevine roots and trimmings. Cooking over grapevine fires might spark a whole new side business to the wine industry.
The tools section is broken down into essentials for every griller and goes into specifics for charcoal and gas grillers, and, of course, tools for specialty grilling. Think pizza stones and raised rail grill grates made of interlocking aluminum grill grate panels. I love using those — they make the food cook evenly and quickly and leave beautiful grill marks.
Raichlen explains in detail direct and indirect grilling, smoking, spit-roasting or rotisserie grilling, "caveman grilling" or grilling in the embers, and specialty grilling techniques like campfire grilling, plancha grilling, pan grilling, salt-slab grilling, plank grilling, leaf grilling — three of my favorite methods.
One technique I plan to try this season is grilling in hay, straw, pine needles or spruce needles. I think I can use rosemary to grill in this method.
Raichlen shares tips on how to cook the whole meal on the grill, start to finish. He emphasizes that timing is everything and encourages people to build your menu on a mix of dishes you can grill live and that you can grill ahead, so you have time with guests as well as to show off your skills.
He also offers tips on annual maintenance of your grill, something often forgotten by the casual griller
And the recipes!
He has always offered unique and tantalizing recipes, but these I think are some of the best. You've got breakfast choices, starters, breads and pizzas, salads on the grill and recipes for grilling beef, pork, lamb, ground meat, poultry, seafood, veggies and tofu, desserts and even drinks.
Following Raichlen's techniques is sure to up your grilling quality. This is a keeper cookbook — I recommend getting it now so you can send tantalizing aromas drifting throughout your neighborhood.
To give you a sneak peek at the recipes in "Project Fire" I've included two recipes from the starters section.
You can find "Project Fire" at booksellers everywhere. It retails for $22.95. You can learn more about it and Raichlen online at BarbecueBible.com.
Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!
Goat Cheese, Thyme and Honey Tartines
Tartine (pronounced tar-TEEN) is French for an open-faced sandwich. Italians call it bruschetta and it is served to remind us that the grill was the first toaster. And that grilled bread — especially grilled over wood or wood-enhanced fire — has a superior texture and taste to what pops out of your toaster.
Tangy goat cheese and fragrant fresh thyme are timeless French flavors, here showcased on a slice of grilled baguette. Use dental floss to cut the cheese neatly into slices.
Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
1 French baguette cut in half lengthwise through the side, each half cut into 5-inch long sections
1 log (8 ounces) of your favorite soft goat cheese, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
4 sprigs fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
Best quality extra virgin olive oil
Honey (warm the jar in a bowl of hot water so it drizzles easily)
Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to medium-high. Be sure to have a fire-free safety zone in case the bread starts to burn.
Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well. Arrange the bread slices on the grate running on the diagonal to the bars of the grate. Grill until darkly browned, 1 to 2 minutes per side, turning with tongs.
Transfer the toasted bread slices to a wire rack or clean dish towel (this keeps the bottoms from getting soggy). Shingle the goat cheese slices on top and sprinkle with thyme leaves or tiny sprigs and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and honey and serve while the toasts are still warm.
Bacon Grilled Onion Rings
Makes 4 servings
2 large sweet onions such as Vidalias or Walla Wallas
½ cup of your favorite hot sauce such as sriracha or Frank's RedHot
1½ pounds thinly sliced bacon
Vegetable oil for oiling the grill grate
Set up your grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium-high.
Trim the ends off the onions and peel off the thin papery skins. Slice each onion crosswise into ½-inch thick slices. Carefully pop the centers out of each slice, keeping the two outermost layers together. (Two layers make a sturdier foundation for the bacon.) Set aside the largest onion rings. You should have 8. Save the remaining onion pieces for another use.
Pour the hot sauce into a mixing bowl or shallow dish. Brush each onion ring with sauce.
Spiral each onion ring with bacon, slightly overlapping each strip, until the ring is covered. You'll need 2 to 3 strips of bacon for each onion ring. Use toothpicks to secure the ends of the bacon.
Brush or scrape the grill grate clean and oil it well.
Arrange the onion rings on the grill grate, away from the fire, and close the lid. Cook until the bacon is golden brown and sizzling, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain the onion rings on a wire rack spread with paper towels.
Recipes courtesy of "Project Fire," 2018