Summing It Up
• Smoking, barbecuing and grilling add a depth of flavor unattainable by any other cooking method.
Chefs are playing with heat to create smoky, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone- fare.
Outdoor cooking as an art form depends largely on controlling the fire, getting the seasonings just right, and mastering a few key techniques that will bring out the smoky juiciness of beef, the succulence of seafood, and the natural sweetness of vegetables.
“Smoking, barbecuing and grilling add a depth of flavor unattainable by any other cooking method,” says James Kremer, Executive Chef at the Montgo-mery Country Club, Ala. “These methods of preparation allow you to impart flavors of the grill without overpowering the natural elements of the product.”
The Thrill of the Grill
There are few things more satisfying to a hungry golfer than a two-fisted, hot-off-the-grill, tender, juicy ham-burger with a smoky aroma that can be smelled from the back nine.
“When we host a golf outing, we offer golfers burgers, shrimp and scallops skewers, and grilled vegetables as they come in from the links,” says Kremer. “The grill—and the food that comes off it—add a whole different level of ambiance to the event. It adds a four-dimensional quality that members really appreciate.”
Kremer—who proudly touts his willingness to cook everything from barbecue to wild game meats—likes to make the membership part of the cooking process.
“When we host an outdoor barbecue, we’ll put out a few different rubs and marinades for the members to choose from,” Kremer explains. “They pick their meat, their rub and their marinade. Then we grill it off for them in the outdoor live-action stations, over direct heat.”
When grilling, chefs have the option to use either direct or indirect heat. Knowing the difference is one of the most important parts of grilling. Direct grilling is a high-heat method used to cook tender, small or thin pieces of food quickly. It’s good for thin cuts (that is, less than two inches thick) of meat or vegetables and perfect for the burgers that Montgo-mery CC’s Kremer likes to serve up.
Indirect grilling is designed to cook larger, tougher, or fattier foods that would burn if direct-grilled. As the name suggests, the food is cooked next to, not directly over, the fire. The lid is closed to hold in the heat, turning the grill into a sort of outdoor convection oven.
Indirect grilling allows cooks to work over a more moderate temperature (275° to 350°F), and makes it easy to introduce the flavor of wood smoke. Typical foods that can be indirect grilled include pork shoulders, whole turkeys and chickens, beef and pork ribs, and cabbages, as well as tough foods, like brisket (see recipe, pg. 52), that require long, slow cooking at a low or moderate heat.
When grilling game meats, Kremer has a bevy of marinades and rubs to choose from. Two of his most unique are his Porter Marinade (dark flavorful porter beer, veal stock, shallot, kosher salt, garlic, mustard seed, red pepper flakes, a bay leaf, Worcester sauce, ground black pepper, and coriander seed) and his Huckleberry Rub (dried and ground huckleberries, dried and ground cherries, kosher salt, ground black pepper, light brown sugar, cayenne pepper, garlic, ground ginger and smoked paprika).
“The rub is best with wild game like boar, or even just beef,” he says. “Rub it on at least one hour ahead, then again right before you smoke or grill. It can also double as a condiment.”
Flavor-related techniques like Kremer’s rubs and marinades help bring distinction to each dish. “My goal is always to surprise and impress my members,” he says. “Grilling is a great way to add a lot of flavor without taking away natural elements. Similarly, rubs and marinades are meant to highlight flavor, not mask taste.”
Where There’s Smoke…
Smoking is a particular kind of indirect grilling—generally done at a low temperature (225° to 275°F) for an extended time in the presence of abundant wood smoke. Smoking is typically done in an offset barrel smoker (a device with a separate fire box and smoke chamber), or an upright water smoker. You can also smoke in a charcoal kettle or front-loading grill, and in some gas grills.
The key concepts are low, slow, and smoky.
“You have to be careful when smoking. The process can pass along a lot of flavor quickly if you’re not careful,” warns Ron Cooke, Executive Chef, Austin (Texas) Country Club. “You want to have a moderate amount of smoke so that you impart a moderate amount of flavor.”
Using wood collected on the club’s property, Cooke makes a Smoked Chicken Chile Relleno that succinctly encompasses this philosophy. He forgoes the typical batter-dipped fried version for a poblano prepared purely, as nature intended it.
Then he goes nature one better, stuffing the chile with mesquite-smoked chicken that’s accented with cheddar jack cheese, apricots and raisins. He finishes the dish with a house-made poblano cream sauce.
Cooking with smoke isn’t rocket science, but it’s not exactly a cakewalk, either. First of all, there’s the heat: How do you not only maintain a low temperature, but keep the embers glowing for hours? And then there’s the smoke. Chuck a few dry chips of oak on a bed of hot coals and you’ll get smoke—for 10 or 15 minutes.
“Keeping the he-at steady and shy, while maitaining the right amount
of smoke, takes work,” explains C-ooke. Smoked fo-ods demand har- dwood, like oak, apple, mesquite, pecan and, of course, hickory. Whatever style of wood you select, it’s important to drop it into water for at least 60 minutes prior to introducing the wood to the flame. Wet wood smolders and smokes for hours, instead of igniting and flaming to a crisp. (If you’re using chips, it’s also a good idea to wrap the sopping wood in tin foil that you’ve punctured with holes. This keeps the little chips smoking for longer.)
“We smoke just about everything from fish, pork tenderloin, and bone-in chicken to brisket, ribs and pork butt,” says Cooke. “As an added touch, sometimes we fill pie pans with salt or other seasonings and put them into the smoker for a few minutes. We’ll then use the smoked salt or herbs to further season a dish.”
Barbecue and grilling are two different things. As a verb, ‘barbecue’ refers to many styles of outdoor cookery. But actual barbecue (as a noun) is a very specific style: it’s a slow cooking technique where meat—usually a lot of it—is cooked over coals at a low temperature (somewhere between 212° and 300°F) for a long time. The low temperature makes the meat tender and juicy, and the long hours over burning coals lend a smokiness you can’t get any other way.
“Barbecue is an event,” says Cooke. “It’s bound to attract every member within smelling distance,” which is why it’s almost always cooked in large volume.
But barbecue doesn’t have to be an outdoor event; the term can also apply to a cooking appliance, or a sauce. Principally, it is a process that’s defined by two elements: smoke, and time. To barbecue is to suspend meat over long-smoldering coals that broadcast smoke from hardwoods like hickory, oak, alder or cherry. To barbecue is to—in most cases—invest at least an hour in the final masterpiece, and sometimes 12 hours or more.
While smoke and time are barbecue’s dual backbones, any self-respecting slice of brisket exhibits more than just the byproducts of burnt wood and an afternoon with a patient chef. There are spices and herbs, liquids and sprays, that set each pitmaster apart from the competition.
Leading the culinary team at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., Executive Chef Todd Berry has become known for his inventive regional cuisine and Latin American influences. He oversees seven dining operations as well as all banquet events for the resort, which offers more than 175,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor meeting space.
One of the resort’s restaurants, Deseo, is a specialty restaurant inspired by Nuevo Latino cuisine. Deseo’s menu features a distinctive and skillfully blended combination of flavors to create dishes that are bold and intriguing. Churrasco, the Brazilian way to prepare barbecue, is one of Deseo’s—and Berry’s—trademark cooking methods.
“We serve a churrasco of beef with a crab mojo, camote and herb chimichurri (churrasco with basil chimichurri and spicy crab salad) that is spicy and bold,” says Berry, who incorporates a number of Latin American influences into his marinades and rubs, such as his simple, yet savvy dry rub of salt, sugar and clove.
“We’ll put the rub on a whole cow leg that is marked on the grill and slow-roasted on the churrasco,” he says. “It works well on larger pieces of pork or whole roasted pigs as well.”
Berry’s marinade of choice also has strong roots in Latin American cuisine. More like a brine than a marinade, it consists of water, sugar, salt, orange juice, clove, cinnamon, garlic, epazote (similar to fresh coriander) and pasilla chiles.
“You can do so many different things with a grill and some seasonings. It all boils down to knowing how to balance all the components of the fire,” says Berry. “If you can do that, and do it well, your food will speak for itself.”
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