America’s Test Kitchen’s Julia Collin Davison thinks a good, sharp knife, though not inexpensive, will give you chef’s results when you’re slicing the perfect grilled steak against the grain. The kitchen’s perennial winner is the Victorinox 12-inch Slicing Knife ($55).
Every year around this time, publishers release new barbecue and grilling books in anticipation of the summer season and holidays such as Father’s Day and the Fourth of July.
Of the 2016 batch, three stand out as both innovative and practical, offering tips, techniques and well-tested recipes for home cooks. Recently, we were able to catch up with the three people behind those books.
Weber’s master griller Jamie Purviance, PBS and Barbecue University star Steven Raichlen, and Julia Collin Davison of America’s Test Kitchen each had thoughts about the state-of-the-art of cooking with smoke and fire, and passed along some recipes, too.
Purviance’s new book, “Weber’s New American Barbecue” (Weber, $24.95), takes on some of the latest regional and restaurant trends, with essays and a lot of good information on grilling and smoking.
“I traveled all over the country and found good examples of people who are familiar with traditional barbecue but are doing it in their own way,” Purviance said.“Then I took inspiration from all that and developed the recipes so that each one has a modern twist.
“One of three things that’s interesting to me is that a lot of chefs who were trained in classical fine dining cuisine are drawing barbecue into their restaurants. They’re featuring a lot of smoked items, from smoked salmon roe to smoked cheese and vegetables. And backyard barbecue people are picking up on that to some degree.”
In the end, though, Purviance said barbecue should be fun, and one of his favorite recipes in the book is a Reverse-Sear Steak that uses a technique that’s downright counter-intuitive.
“It’s basically a two-stage process, where you slow-roast the steaks over indirect heat for about half an hour, and then you take them off and sear them over high heat. The payoff is that you get juicier, more tender meat all the way through.”
Steven Raichlen’s new book,“Project Smoke” (Workman, $22.95), is a spin-off of his PBS show of the same name, with recipes that range from traditional ribs to smoked cocktails and even desserts such as smoked ice cream.
“I’ve touched on smoking in all of my other barbecue books, but I’ve never really focused on it this way,” Raichlen said. “The thought popped into my head that all barbecue is smoked but not all smoking is barbecue. So we have smoked salmon and bacon and jerky, and those are not barbecue. More than 50 percent of this book is not about barbecue.
“Most barbecue books tend to focus on the low-and-slow, and that’s great for a lot of things. But cold smoking, warm smoking, hot smoking, what I call smoke roasting, and reverse-searing, are all on the continuum of smoke. Smoke is the umami of barbecue.”
In terms of smoke techniques, Raichlen’s recipe for Smoked Planked Trout is a switch on what has become a popular way to infuse wood flavor into food on the grill.
“That’s a recipe that’s even great on a gas grill,” Raichlen said. “Instead of soaking the plank, you char it on one side and then you put the fish on it, so it’s a way to get great smoky flavor even if you’re stuck with a gas grill.”
Julia Collin Davison’s new book, “Master of the Grill” (America’s Test Kitchen, 29.95) is a collaborative effort that ranges over recipes, gadgets, gear and ingredients.
“This book represents a culmination of Test Kitchen recipes we’ve done for the past 15-20 years, so it’s the best of all our grilling recipes,” Collin Davison said. “And I think how the book is organized is cool. You start with the basics, so if you’re new to grilling, there you are. Then you go to harder stuff, and by the last recipes, you’re really ready to tackle barbecue, which is a whole different beast.
“The other thing is that every page has a little something else, like a tip or a trick. So it’s not just recipes. There’s a lot of other information that keeps it fresh, and interesting and useful.”
Among Collin Davison’s favorite recipes, Barbecued Chicken Kebabs are made with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, flavored with bacon and lacquered with a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce.
“It is not fancy, but it blows people’s minds,” she said. “It takes the idea of barbecued chicken, gets rid of the stuff that doesn’t work, like the bones and flabby skin, and adds a lot of flavor. You make a paste with bacon, and combined with the sauce, you get these juicy, tender, smoky skewers. I do it for dinner all the time. It’s just the best.”
These recipes from three of our favorite 2016 barbecue and grilling books capture techniques from the current state of the art of cooking with smoke and fire.
Reverse-Sear New York Steaks With Red Wine Butter
As an alternative to the traditional sear-n-slide method of grilling thick steaks, in which you sear them over direct heat and finish them over indirect heat, the reverse-sear method has recently captured the hopes and dreams of deeply devoted barbecue enthusiasts. The benefit is that the interior of the meat achieves an even pink color from top to bottom, and almost no precious juices are lost.
4 well-marbled New York strip steaks, each about 8 ounces and 1¼ to 1½ inches thick
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground fennel
1½ cups dry red wine, such as cabernet
½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 medium shallot
minced Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) salted butter, cut into cubes, cold
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Brush the steaks on both sides with the oil. Combine the salt and fennel, and then rub evenly onto both sides of each steak. Let the steaks stand at room temperature for 1 hour before grilling.
Soak the wood chips in water for at least 30 minutes.
In a small, heavy saucepan combine the wine, vinegar, and shallot. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat on the stove and simmer until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Remove from the heat and let stand at room temperature until 5 minutes before serving. This may be done up to 2 hours in advance.
Fill a chimney starter one-third full with charcoal (about 30 briquettes), and ignite. When covered with gray ash, dump the coals on one side of the charcoal grate, put the cooking grate in place, and preheat for 10 minutes. The temperature of the grill should be about 300. Drain and add one handful of the wood chips to the charcoal. Grill the steaks over indirect low heat, with the lid closed, until the interior temperature reaches 110 to 115, 25 to 35 minutes.
While the steaks are cooking over indirect heat, light a full chimney starter filled with briquettes on a heatproof surface away from the grill. When the coals are very hot, transfer the steaks to a plate, remove the cooking grate, and dump the hot coals over the remaining coals. Replace the cooking grate and lid and preheat the grate for 5 minutes. Drain and add the remaining wood chips to the charcoal. Grill the steaks over direct high heat, with the lid closed, until the interior temperature reaches about 130 degrees, about 4 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill, season with pepper, and let rest for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, return the saucepan with the wine mixture over medium-low heat on the stove or over direct heat on the cooking grate; cook until steaming. Remove from the heat and whisk in one cube of the cold butter. Whisk the butter constantly until the mixture is emulsified, and then begin to slowly add the remaining cubes of butter until the mixture is pale and smooth. Swirl in the chives. Serve the red wine butter over the warm steaks.
Per serving: 614 calories (percent of calories from fat, 61), 51 grams protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 37 grams fat (17 grams saturated), 153 milligrams cholesterol, 1,038 milligrams sodium.
From “Weber’s New American Barbecue” by Jamie Purviance (Weber, $24.99).
Smoked Planked Trout
Conventional wisdom calls for soaking the plank in water prior to grilling or smoking on the theory that soaking keeps the plank from burning. You’re going to do just the opposite: char the plank directly over the fire to bring out some of the flavor-producing carbonyls and phenols before adding the fish. The mildly earthy flavor of trout makes it a staple on the world’s smoked fish trail. This method works equally well on a grill or in a smoker.
4 whole trout (12 to 16 ounces each), cleaned Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 sprigs fresh dill
3 lemons, 1 thinly sliced and seeded, 2 cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) cold unsalted butter, thinly sliced
8 strips thin-sliced artisanal bacon
4 cedar, alder, or other untreated wood planks, preferably 14 by 6 inches
Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to high (450°F). Lay the planks on the grill and grill until the underside is charred, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool. If working on an offset barrel smoker, hold the planks with tongs over the fire in the firebox to singe them. Rinse the trout inside and out under cold running water, then blot dry inside and out with paper towels. Make three diagonal slashes in each side of the trout with a single-edge razor blade or sharp paring knife. (This looks cool and helps the fish cook more evenly.) Generously season the trout inside and out with salt and pepper. Place a couple of dill sprigs, lemon slices, and butter slices in the cavity of each trout.
Tie 2 bacon strips to each trout, one on top, one on the bottom, using 4 pieces of butcher’s string to secure them. Arrange the trout on the charred side of the grilling planks (align them on the diagonal) and place a lemon half on each plank.
Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to medium (350°F—or as hot as it will go). Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer. Smoke-roast the trout until the bacon is sizzling and crisp and the trout is cooked through (about 140°F in the center), 15 to 25 minutes at 350°F, 40 to 60 minutes if your smoker runs cooler. Alternatively, direct-grill the trout over a medium flame (this will take about 10 minutes). If the edges of the plank start to burn, spray with a squirt gun. Serve the trout on the plank with the smoked lemon halves for squeezing.
Serves: 4 as a main course
Per serving: 402 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 51 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 20 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 156 milligrams cholesterol, 265 milligrams sodium.
From “Project Smoke” by Steven Raichlen (Workman, $22.95).
Barbecued Chicken Kebabs
Use the large holes of a box grater to grate the onion for the sauce. We prefer flavorful dark thigh meat for these kebabs, but white meat can be used. Whichever you choose, don’t mix white and dark meat on the same skewer, since they cook at different rates. If you have thin pieces of chicken, cut them larger than 1 inch and roll or fold them into approximate 1-inch cubes. Turbinado sugar is commonly sold as Sugar in the Raw. Demerara sugar can be substituted. You will need four 12-inch metal skewers for this recipe.
For the sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
For the chicken
2 tablespoons paprika
4 teaspoons turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 slices bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed, cut into 1-inch chunks
For the sauce: Bring all ingredients to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to about 1 cup, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer 1/2 cup sauce to small bowl and set remaining sauce aside for serving.
For the chicken: Combine paprika, sugar, salt, and smoked paprika in large bowl. Process bacon in food processor until smooth paste forms, 30 to 45 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add bacon paste and chicken to spice mixture and mix with your hands or rubber spatula until ingredients are thoroughly blended and chicken is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Thread chicken tightly onto four 12-inch metal skewers.
For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter three-quarters filled with charcoal briquettes (41/2 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn all burners to medium-high.
Clean and oil cooking grate. Place skewers on hotter part of grill (if using charcoal), and cook (covered if using gas), turning kebabs every 2 to 21/2 minutes, until well browned and slightly charred, 8 to 10 minutes. Brush top surface of skewers with 1/4 cup sauce, flip, and cook until sauce is sizzling and browning in spots, about 1 minute. Brush second side with remaining 1/4 cup sauce, flip, and continue to cook until sizzling and browning in spots, about 1 minute longer.
Transfer skewers to serving platter, tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve, passing reserved sauce separately.
Per serving: 271 calories (percent of calories from fat, 12), 37 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 90 milligrams cholesterol, 828 milligrams sodium.
From “Master of the Grill” from America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, 29.95).