Steven Raichlen lights the home fires

Steven Raichlen, whose 'Primal Grill' series returns to MPT Memorial Day weekend, offers tips for holiday grilling from around the world

May 26, 2010|By Rob Kasper, The Baltimore Sun

Steven Raichlen, local boy turned world barbecue expert, was in Owings Mills on Friday afternoon talking, teaching and eating barbecue.

Biting into a smoked pork rib, Raichlen lauded its texture.

"It still has some chew to it," he said. Praise from the barbecue master brought a smile to the face of Chris Bernat, general manager of Famous Dave's, the Owings Mills restaurant that cooked the pork.

Raichlen, who splits time between homes in Florida and Massachusetts, was at the Maryland Public Television in Owings Mills to promote his TV series "Primal Grill with Steven Raichlen."

The new season is inspired by Raichlen's new book "Planet Barbecue!" — a 600-plus-page compendium of his visits with grillmasters around the world. The first of the 13 episodes of "Primal Grill," shot in high-definition, will air Saturday on MPT.

Speaking to a lunchtime barbecue gathering of MPT supporters, Raichlen passed along tips for backyard grillers.

"Remember, you control the fire; don't let the fire control you," he said.

Raichlen went on to recommend building what he called "a three-stage fire" in the grill. One part of the grill has a very hot fire underneath it, he explained, while another part has a medium fire. And a third part has no fire underneath it. When food starts to burn you can scoot it to the no-fire zone, Raichlen said.

Daniel Broh-Kahn of Phoenix listened closely to Raichlen's advice. He held a copy of Raichlen's new grilling book and was making plans to try out some of the recipes. "I have been grilling for 30 years", said Broh-Kahn, 48. "Memorial Day is always the best grilling time."

After hearing Raichlen describe grilling techniques used in the far corners of the globe, Carolyn Rimes of Columbia said she planned to upgrade her backyard barbecue menu from hot dogs and hamburgers. 'It never occurred to me you could do all this," she said.

And Jason Reese of Halethorpe, who was the recipient of a new grill signed by Raichlen — a gift from his mother, Deborah, who won the grill in an MPT auction — said he too was going to fire up his present this weekend.

Reese will be in good company. Memorial Day weekend is traditionally the beginning of the outdoor cooking season, and this year indications are that grilling is on the rise. Some 27 percent of the grill owners in the United States are cooking outside more often now than they did a year ago, according to Weber GrillWatch, an annual industry online survey of 1,041 grill owners. During the grill season, the average outdoor cook fires up the cooker a little over 4 1/2 hours a week, the survey said.

Raichlen who has written 8 books on barbecue, said that when he is working on a book, he can spend 12 hours straight on his grill. But, he said, "in rare weeks when I am not working, I am not on the grill much more than that four or five hours a week."

In the course of researching the latest book, Raichlen traveled to six continents and 53 countries gathering recipes.

"Pretty amazing, isn't it?" said Raichlen, 57, who grew up in Pikesville and attended what was then called Milford Mill High School. "Baku, Azerbaijan, is a long way from Ronis Road," he said, referring to the spot where grill master Mehman Huseynov showed him how to grill ice cream, and the Pikesville street where he spent his youth.

In this book, Raichlen takes a look at how the entire world embraces the art of cooking with a live fire. So he writes about Australian lamb chops cooked on a shovel (yes, a shovel) held in the embers of fire. He writes about the Cambodian practice of coating grilled corn on the cob with coconut milk. He writes about mussels grilled on pine needles in western France, and about the Balkan practice of stuffing cheese in prunes and grilling them with bacon.

One of the techniques that opened his eyes, Raichlen said, was the practice of coating meat or chicken with a thick crust of salt, cooking it, then knocking off the salt crust at the serving table. In Spain, he ate grilled steaks that had been sprinkled with a quarter-inch of coarse salt. In Uruguay, he ate a whole 6-pound chicken that had been coated with a salt slurry made with 9 pounds (yes, 9 pounds) of coarse salt. And in Colombia he feasted on a beef tenderloin, lomo al trapo, that was coated in 2 pounds of salt, wrapped in a wet cotton cloth and cooked in the embers of a fire.

"The salt does three things. It adds flavor, it seals in moisture and it creates a crusting that you just don't get when you are bashful with the salt," Raichlen said. Moreover, he said, "cracking open the smoky salt crust with the macho thump of the back of the knife, or a cleaver, never fails to impress." Finally, he said, the dishes do not taste salty.

Cooking lamb chops on a shovel could, Raichlen acknowledged, be a step up for cooks who are used to grilling burgers in the backyard. Hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks are the still the most popular grilled foods, according to the GrillWatch survey.

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