Grilling Up Good Food
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Summer is a great time for cooking outdoors. In our monthly food segment, we'll explore all aspects of barbequing, from charcoal and gas, to peaches and pork.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. On any given day, at any given time, in any given neighborhood in San Diego it's not unusual to catch a whiff of someone else's barbeque. And quite often, it only takes that one sniff to set your appetite into high gear. As we enter the height of grilling season, we thought it a good idea to dedicate our monthly food hour to the art of barbeque. Now, there's nothing wrong with cooking up steaks and burgers the same old way but, it is very possible, even likely, that you'll get some tips during the next hour, that may inspire you to try something new. And that's because we have two of the best barbeque experts around to answer your questions. I'd like to introduce my guests. Phil Pace is owner of Phil's BBQ in Point Loma. Phil has been serving up barbeque to San Diegans for eleven years. Phil, welcome.
PHIL PACE (Owner, Phil's BBQ): Good morning, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: And Steven Raichlen, author of "The Barbecue Bible." He is host of Primal Grill, seen on KPBS TV every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Steven, welcome to These Days.
STEVEN RAICHLEN (Author): Hello, good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I want everyone to know that they can join the conversation, too, at 1-888-895-5727. If you have a question about something that's just not right about your barbeque skills or you have a recipe to share, give us that call. 1-888-895-KPBS. I want to start out by getting our terms straight. Okay, Phil, what's the difference between grilling and barbequing?
PACE: Well, there's so many people out there that they think that barbequing and grilling and – everything has to be smoked. But in our case, we do kind of a baked and then we also do a – also grill it and we caramelize the sauce on the hot grill. To me, that's barbequing.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. All right. And what's your definition, Steven?
RAICHLEN: Well, I'm a little bit more traditional, I guess. For me, grilling is a quick, high heat cooking method you do directly over the fire. Incidentally, it's about what 98% of the world means when it talks about outdoor or live fire cooking. True barbeque is a low, smoky cooking technique used for big, tough or fatty pieces of meat. For example, if you had a brisket, a rack of spare ribs, a pork shoulder, true barbeque is the way you'd cook them. Cooking temperature about 250 degrees, always in the presence of wood smoke, cooking time could be as long as 16 hours.
CAVANAUGH: We kind of, Steven, we kind of interchange those terms, though, don't we?
RAICHLEN: Well, it depends where you live. I'm on the east coast, you guys are on the west coast, and we use the terms interchangeably. However, if you come from Kansas City or Texas or the American south, you have a very specific meaning when you speak of barbeque. Now, part of the confusion actually comes from the etymological of our word barbeque. It was a Taino Indian word. It was used in the 16th century in the Caribbean to describe what we would call a barbeque grill except that it was made out of wood instead of out of metal, and it was positioned over a smoky fire. So from the Taino Indian word 'barbacoa,' we get our word barbeque. And it's logical that there's some confusion.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I knew we were speaking to the right people today about this subject. We want to encourage your calls at 1-888-895-5727. If you have any questions about the etymology or anything else about grilling or barbequing, give us a call, 1-888-895-KPBS. Phil, what about your prep? Your grill prep? Do you grease your grill? You talked about carmelizing things on the grill. What do you do to get it ready?
PACE: Well, basically we cook with a mesquite and it's raw wood, so you get a lot of moisture when you use wood and that's what gives it a lot of flavor in the terms of, like he said, from long cooking and smoking.
PACE: It helps it – it helps give it a different flavor than you would get just from normal smoking which I don't really call as barbeque.
PACE: I can argue the difference.
CAVANAUGH: All right.
PACE: So -- But, you know, we just prepare a very, very, very good barbeque that people can eat, you know, every day of the week. I sometimes have a problem eating smoked foods every day of the week.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
CAVANAUGH: Why is that?
PACE: Because it's very rich and smoky and a lot of it, most of the time, it's not that I don't enjoy it. I enjoy a lot of it, especially from Kansas City, some of the dry rubs, but I just – the flavor of just that smoke and the richness you get from it is – it's kind of difficult to palate, you know…
PACE: …a couple times a week. So we have people that eat in the restaurant two or three times a week and they love it, and people just say – they don't argue the fact that it's barbeque or it's not, or it's smoked or, you know, if it isn't smoked. They just argue the fact that it's good food.
CAVANAUGH: Right. And do you use only wood for your fire?
PACE: Yeah, we use a raw mesquite.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. And, Steven, what about grill prep? What are the ways people prepare their grills? And what is the proper way to do it?
RAICHLEN: Well, I guess if you're talking about direct grilling, I have a little mantra you've probably heard me say on the show and it goes, 'keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated.' This refers to the way you prepare the grill grate for direct grilling. And what you want to do is start with a hot grill grate. The way you check the temperature is you hold your hand about three inches above the grate and start counting: one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, ouch! That's a hot grill.
RAICHLEN: That's perfect for steak. Five, six-Mississippi, ouch! That's a medium fire. That's good for chicken pieces. And twelve, thirteen-Mississippi, ouch! That's a low fire. That is good for a whole Spatchcock chicken or a tri-tip, something you want to cook at a slightly lower temperature. Now keep it clean. Guys out there, I got to tell you that that burnt-on salmon from last week and the half squirrel is not going to add extra flavor to your barbeque.
CAVANAUGH: It doesn't?
RAICHLEN: Just simply disgusting as your spouse probably told you. So always, when a grill grate is hot, I hit it with a stiff wire brush to clean off any debris. Much easier to clean a hot grill, a grill grate when it's hot, than when it's cold. And, finally, for lubricated, a folded paper towel dipped in oil, drawn across the bars of the grate. You can also oil a grill grate with a half onion dipped in oil or even a nice chunk of steak or brisket fat drawn across the bars of the grate. Oiling prevents sticking. It also helps give you killer grill marks.
CAVANAUGH: And so that blackened grill doesn't age the flavor of whatever you're cooking?
RAICHLEN: Well, there's a difference between seasoned and dirty.
RAICHLEN: And a seasoned grill very important. A, helps prevent sticking. B, just food cooks better on a seasoned grill. But if you can actually see feed – food debris from your previous cookout, then it's not clean enough.
CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls about barbequing and grilling, 1-888-895-5727, and we do have a caller. David is on the line in Normal Heights. Good morning, David, welcome to These Days.
DAVID (Caller, Normal Heights): Good morning. Hey, want to thank Phil. I'm a Benchley/Weinberger parent and you're very supportive. And, Steve, I love your book.
RAICHLEN: Well, thank you.
PACE: Thank you.
DAVID: Hey, my question is, I want to try doing a chicken on my rotisserie on indirect heat and I never quite am sure when it is done.
RAICHLEN: Well, for me, there are about three tell-tale signs. And number one is, it should be a gorgeous golden brown on the outside. The skin should be very crusty. And I'm glad you said chicken because that's one of the perfect foods for the rotisserie. Number two, if you were to wiggle the drumstick or thigh, it would move about very easily in the joint. But number three, and the single most important thing you can do, you want to test the internal temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer. Insert the probe in the deepest part of the chicken away from the bone, that is, not touching the bone. You're looking for at least 165 degrees.
CAVANAUGH: And is that – you're talking about rotisserie over some sort of heat source like a grill, is that correct?
RAICHLEN: Well, I don't know what sort of grill your caller has but if he's working on a gas grill, often the rotisserie burner is mounted behind the – where the spit would turn on the back of the grill. If he's working on a charcoal kettle grill, what I do is set the grill up for indirect grilling, that is, a mound of coals in the front, mound of coals in the back, and the chicken passes over the drip pan, which is in the center. When you're cooking a fatty food like chicken, you don't want to position it directly over the fire or you will get dripping fat…
RAICHLEN: …and flare-ups.
CAVANAUGH: I want to talk a little bit about the advantages of charcoal and gas and wood sources for grilling and for cooking. I want to start with you, Steven, if I may.
CAVANAUGH: What are the advantages of charcoal grilling as opposed to gas? Because I think that's probably the two main sources that people use when they're doing their own grilling of food.
RAICHLEN: Well, you know, gas has one main advantage and that's convenience. It has one main disadvantage, and that is it's very difficult to smoke on a gas grill. It's almost impossible, as a matter of fact. The other sort of slight problem with gas is it's a slightly moist heat so you don't get the same kind of charring that you get with charcoal. Now, advantage of charcoal, first of all, it burns hotter and drier so if you're direct grilling on charcoal, you get a great crust. Second of all, it's super easy to smoke on a charcoal grill. But for me, the ultimate fuel, and it sounds like it's the fuel that Phil uses, is wood, where you actually grill over wood because there the wood provides you not only heat but also flavor.
CAVANAUGH: And I'm wondering, Phil, how difficult would that be for someone to do themselves? I mean, you've got your whole act down there at Phil's BBQ but, I mean, most people just fill up the grill with some charcoal briquettes or – how difficult is – would that be?
PACE: Well, to me, gas and charcoal is controllable. Now if you use a lump wood charcoal, which we use as a sidebar when we're out cooking in someone's backyard…
CAVANAUGH: Okay, yeah.
PACE: …helps us keep the fire going because sometimes you can – wood can get away from you, from one way getting too cold and then one way getting too hot. But with a lump wood charcoal, you've really got to be an avid barbeque guy because the stuff gets really, really hot and once the wood gets going, it gets really, really hot. So you've got to learn how to control your fire. And like Steve was saying, certain parts of the grill get really hot because it's not – it's very uneven heat when you're cooking with lump wood charcoal or with a, you know, a raw mesquite wood.
PACE: Which, like I say, we use. But you've got to learn how to tame it and, you know, and then if your fire, of course, is too hot, your food's going to cook too fast, you're going to burn it. You know, so those are some of the characteristics of using lump wood charcoal and mesquite wood, raw wood, compared to using a briskette (sic) or gas because bricket – like I said, the briskettes and the gas, you can control that a little bit easier.
PACE: And it's not as hot.
CAVANAUGH: And so, Steven, even though it is something that sounds like it takes a lot of trial and error, is it worth learning?
RAICHLEN: Well, it's definitely worth learning, and it's actually pretty simple if you build something called a three zone fire. And what a three zone fire is, is you mound your wood embers deeper in the back of your grill and more spread out in the center of your grill and very sparse or even no – you leave yourself a kind of a safety zone in the front. Or if you're working on a grill where you can go side by side, you have a hot zone on one side, a medium zone in the center, and then no coals on the other side. And the way you control the heat is simply by moving the food back and forth. Hot zone for searing, medium zone for cooking, safety zone if you get flare-ups or things start to cook too quickly.
CAVANAUGH: We are talking about grilling, all things grilling, and we're inviting you to join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. I want to ask you both something quickly. I know you both sort of do this for a living, but, Phil, do you grill at home?
PACE: You know, sometimes but not as often as I used to when I was younger.
PACE: But, you know, you've got the grill at the work and, you know, sometimes…
PACE: …I'll take something over there, grill it, pack it up, take it home. But most of the time, not really, to tell you the truth.
PACE: You know?
CAVANAUGH: That's interesting.
CAVANAUGH: What kind – When you do, though, what kind of grill do you use at home?
PACE: I have almost the same kind of setup that I have…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, do you really?
PACE: …at the restaurant. But it's in a miniature form.
CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay.
PACE: Yeah, exactly, because that's how I've been taught, that's how I learned, and that's where I think I get the greatest flavor on the type of food that I cook.
CAVANAUGH: And, Steven, I think that you already told us that you – Oh, yeah, you take your work home with you.
RAICHLEN: I do. I would venture to say we grill something every night we eat home. And, you know, I'm always developing new recipes for new books. We also just firmly believe that, you know, there is no – if something tastes good baked, fried, or sautéed, it surely tastes even better grilled. Last night we did Spatchcock chickens with truffle butter under the skin. For 4th of July, we had got some beautiful harpooned swordfish, which we grilled with a caper garlic butter. You know, grilling is just the best way to cook anything.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, I want to talk a little bit more about the best cuts of meat or seafood to grill or maybe even grilling things people don't normally think of putting on the grill but we do have to take a short break.
RAICHLEN: Very good.
CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Phil Pace and Steven Raichlen. We will continue to talk about grilling and take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days in San Diego. My guests are Phil Pace. He is owner of Phil's BBQ in Point Loma. And Steve Raichlen, Steven Raichlen. He is author of "The Barbecue Bible" and host of Primal Grill, seen on KPBS TV every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. And we are talking about barbequing and grilling as we enter the height of grilling season. We are also asking for your calls and comments at 1-888-895-5727. And, Phil, you know, this past weekend, this 4th of July, you know, around my neighborhood, you could just smell the grills going and the barbeques going. But I wonder if a lot of people actually don't bother to do that themselves and just go – head down to Phil's BBQ?
PACE: Well, they do. It's actually one of our busiest days of the year, is 4th of July.
CAVANAUGH: That's amazing. About how many – how much stuff do you serve up?
PACE: Well, this past 4th of July, we served over 5,000 people.
CAVANAUGH: And do people all come in for hot food? Or do you also sell anything that they can take home and make themselves?
PACE: Surprising enough, a lot of people like to take food to go.
PACE: And it's mostly when they go to the beach, in their own backyard. But the thing that's been happening the last few years, is people would come in and they want our food prepared to the point to where they can finish it off on the grill.
PACE: Exactly what we do at the restaurant. And which they can have fun barbequing everything. The food is already prepared, it's done, they don't have to worry about it being, you know, raw, and all they have to do is make sure they don't burn it on their own grill. We give them a little set of instructions and the way they go (sic). But some of them try to get away with thinking that it's their own recipe. There's always one or two guests that are there that know it came from Phil's BBQ.
CAVANAUGH: And I don't want you to give away any of your state secrets here but do you – can you share any tips on how you prepare your meat?
PACE: Well, I don't know, I might have to be a little silent on that one.
CAVANAUGH: It is a state secret. Let's take a call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Michael is calling from University City. Good morning, Michael.
MICHAEL (Caller, University City): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Welcome to These Days.
MICHAEL: Thank you. Hey, I was one of the people at Phil's BBQ on July 4th.
PACE: There you go, thank you.
MICHAEL: I had my meal at the bar, go out, and baseball, it was great.
MICHAEL: My question for Phil is, the lines are so long at times. When is the best time of the week to come? And then, when are we going to get a new Phil's BBQ? University City would be a great place to build a Phil's BBQ.
PACE: We've been looking. We've been looking. We've just been a little cautious because of the economy. It's not that, you know, we won't do well anywhere else. But just, you know, when the economy takes a little sloop like it has, we need – you need to be a little bit more cautious because, you know, we don't want to get – we don't want to dig a big hole that'll suck in what we've got going good right now, and you don't want that to happen.
CAVANAUGH: And when is the best time to go to avoid crowds?
PACE: Well, the best time to go is to try to get there right when we open. We open at eleven o'clock but sometimes, like 4th of July, Father's Day, Mother's Day, there's 150 people in line before we even unlock the door.
CAVANAUGH: Holy mackerel.
PACE: And the best time is midday. Sometimes between two and four but now since we're getting into the summer months, it's kind of a little difficult. But most of the time, three o'clock. Three o'clock is about your best bet. And if you want to come in around closing, which is, you know, anywhere between 9:30, 10:00 during the week, and 11:00 on the weekends, that last hour is a pretty good time to come.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Steven, for people who are not standing in line outside of Phil's BBQ and I want to just…
RAICHLEN: They're queuing up and watching Primal Grill on PBS or heading for the bookstore for "The Barbecue Bible" on how to grill.
PACE: You know what, Steve, I forgot to tell you. I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio.
PACE: So, you know, it's not a California-style barbeque. I just fix some really good food that a lot of people enjoy.
RAICHLEN: Hey, Phil, I can't wait to get back to San Diego to try it.
PACE: There you go.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I was wondering, Steven, you know, for people who are doing this at home and checking out your "Barbecue Bible…
CAVANAUGH: …what are the best cuts of meat to seafood (sic) or grill at home?
RAICHLEN: Well, you know, there's so many ways to answer that question. I mean, you know, one way is sort of what is local? I mentioned that we're in Martha's Vineyard so when we cook fish, you know, we're thinking giant sea scallops, bay scallops a little bit later on in the fall. We're thinking swordfish and striped bass and bluefish. You know, all the wonderful food – seafood we have out here. I'm sure in San Diego you guys have totally different seafood.
RAICHLEN: One specialty you have out in Southern California is tri-tip, which is a triangular piece of the end of the sirloin. Fantastic, because it cooks like a steak but it slices like a brisket. We can't find that here, back east.
CAVANAUGH: I see.
RAICHLEN: You know, in our meat department back here, I mean, New York strip or T-bone, those are – T-bone's probably my single favorite steak. New York strip, I like a lot. But you can also work with a less expensive cut of meat like, for example, flank steak or skirt steak, and the trick there is to work over a hot fire and then very thinly slice the meat across the grain so you shorten those tough meat fibers.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that used to be a delicacy at home when I was growing up in New York, was flank steak on the grill, I remember that.
CAVANAUGH: Let's take a call from Brian in San Diego. Good morning, Brian, welcome to These Days.
BRIAN (Caller, San Diego): Thank you. Thank you. Big fan of…
PACE: Hi, Brian.
BRIAN: …Phil's BBQ and the Primal Grill. And I'm just wondering, I'm getting ready to barbeque a turkey this weekend for a little Thanksgiving in July for my roommate's birthday. Wondering if either one of you have any tips for that.
RAICHLEN: Well, I'm a big partisan of brining turkeys because, you know, turkey has a lot of white meat. White meat tends to dry out on the grill. And, you know, basic brine, it's a marinade made with equal parts salt and sugar and water. And then to that, I like to add bourbon because there are very few things on the grill that don't taste better with bourbon. Brining time for a whole turkey, let's say if you were around maybe a twelve pound turkey, I like to do it overnight. And then I sort of break with tradition a little bit. You know, barbeque tradition calls for cooking a brine turkey low and slow, about 250 degrees in a smoker for maybe half a day. I use the indirect method on a charcoal grill, 350, cooking time is, for a twelve pound turkey, is maybe two and a half hours. The advantage of working at a higher heat is that you crisp the skin and, let's face it, the best part of any grilled – any poultry is the skin.
CAVANAUGH: Interesting. And would you like to add anything, Phil?
PACE: Well, a lot of traditional – What they're doing here in California, a lot of them like to deep fry it.
PACE: Yeah, deep-fried turkey.
CAVANAUGH: I've heard about that.
PACE: Yeah, and you have to be very careful with that. You know, you have the right thermometer, you've got to know the right temperature to keep the oil, you know, the grease, you know, at a right temperature, and that comes out really, really good. But, you know, you got to use peanut oil.
CAVANAUGH: For – for deep frying.
PACE: For the flavor and everything else. And it comes out really, really good. That's, to me, is the very easy, very simple way of doing it. And the white meat is tremendous. It's very juicy.
CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Let's take another call. John is on the line from La Jolla. Good morning, John, welcome to These Days.
JOHN (Caller, La Jolla): Hi, how you doing? Yeah, I wanted to ask, without giving any, you know, trade secrets away, the recommendation on ribs, to boil or not to boil before putting it on the grill? Because I know that they do this with Korean ribs as well.
RAICHLEN: Do not boil your ribs. Sorry, I'm pretty emphatic on that.
PACE: That's right, you didn't give me a chance there, Steve, but you go ahead.
RAICHLEN: Yeah, boiling ribs is – Well, when do you boil bones? You boil bones when you want to make soup.
RAICHLEN: And the whole purpose of boiling is to take the flavor out of the bones and put it in the soup. I find that a boiled rib has a denatured flavor, it's not nearly as tasty. If you work low and slow, use the indirect method, a lot of wood smoke, you can produce a rib that's incredibly tender and flavorful without boiling. The other thing I would just like to observe—Phil, I don't know if you agree with me or not—but a rib should not be fall-off-the-bone tender. That's why God gave you teeth. A rib should have a little chew to it.
PACE: Well, the people that are walking the streets and going out to restaurants, they like the fall-off-the-bone. It's not to say that that's what mine does but that's exactly what it does. And to me, my mother, she's Hungarian, she's going to be 80 next month, and, let me tell you, if you don't cook the hell out of…
PACE: …out of pork, sometimes the flavor just doesn't come out. Of course, my mom never boiled it and we never – we don't boil the pork either.
CAVANAUGH: I never even heard of boiling. Do some people boil their ribs before they…
RAICHLEN: A lot of people do.
PACE: A lot of people.
RAICHLEN: And a lot of the sort of rib chains, if they don't boil them, they cook them in a closed container in the oven with liquid, which is almost as bad as boiling.
CAVANAUGH: And why do they do that?
PACE: Quicker cooking.
RAICHLEN: Probably because there's a sort of a perverse notion that a rib should be fall-off-the-bone tender and, you know, it's taking the easy route out.
CAVANAUGH: Phil, does it make it cook faster if you do that?
PACE: Well, it makes it cook faster, for one thing, and then, of course, you get that fall-off-the-bone but, of course, and all you're having is just a piece of meat with no flavor.
CAVANAUGH: It's not the true fall-off-the-bone that you…
PACE: Well, yeah, if you want to call it that, you want to call it that. But what I'm saying, you know, I mean, if you want to get back to, you know, get a little sticky on falling-off-the-bone and using the teeth the good Lord gave you to chew…
CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm. Umm-hmm.
PACE: …you know, we're more likely to satisfy more customers…
PACE: …with meat that actually falls off the bone.
CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay. So we got a little barbeque controversy going here. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Let's go to Tom. He is calling us from South Park. Good morning, Tom, welcome to These Days.
TOM (Caller, South Park): Hey, guys, how's it going?
TOM: Hey, you know, a couple of things. First of all, from one pyromaniac to another, it's nice to be on the show. And, you know, a couple of things. I've been tempted for years to switch to the gas. It's just so convenient and so simple, but I like that commercial that's on TV, I think it's a Kingsford commercial, called – it says slow down and grill. And when I light up the charcoal, it provides me, you know, some time to be out in the yard, some time to be with my son, and all those things are quality of life issues for me. And to top it all off, you know, I'd like to say that I do – every Thanksgiving, do the brine turkey on the grill and also I'd like to mention that it was my father that grilled in the backyard and so a part of grilling for me is very familial in that, you know, this is a tradition that I have embraced wholly and look forward to having my son cook on the grill for me later in life.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Thank you.
PACE: Sundays, yeah, Sundays, were T-bone steaks and spaghetti…
PACE: …when we were kids, outside.
CAVANAUGH: All right. And, Steven, that is part of the entire barbeque grilling experience, isn't it? I mean, it's not just the taste of the food but it's spending time with family. It's that whole atmosphere of eating outdoors.
RAICHLEN: Well, remember there are five definitions of barbeque and number four is a meal cooked and eaten outdoors. And number five, and it's, in a sense, a barbeque back in George Washington's day, and that is a communal feast. Barbeque is not something you cook for yourself, typically, or eat for yourself. Back in, you know, really up through the Civil War, it was a feast partaken of by the whole community.
CAVANAUGH: Exactly right. You know, I would like to move on if I could a little bit. We've been talking a lot about meats and, you know, please chime in with anything you'd like to say about that, but I'd also – People are doing some strange things with grilling these days, grilling a lot of vegetables, a lot of fruits. And, Steven, I'd like you to talk to us a little bit about that. What are the best vegetables to grill and how should you prepare them?
RAICHLEN: Well, first of all, they're not strange if you happen to come to India where there are about 300 million vegetarians.
CAVANAUGH: Right, yes.
RAICHLEN: And if you travel the world's barbeque trail, even in a staunchly carnivorian culture like Argentina or Uruguay, you will find grilled vegetables. I mean, you'll find grilled peppers, grilled eggplants. In terms of the best vegetables for grilling, it starts with vegetables that have a high water content, vegetables like onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, asparagus. But even with vegetables that are relatively dense and starchy, there's a way to grill them. For example, regular potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and that is actually in the embers. Lay them right on the embers of your charcoal or wood burning grill.
CAVANAUGH: And people say – I haven't had many grilled vegetables myself but people say that grilling brings out the flavor of these vegetables.
RAICHLEN: Well, it does. If you think about it, you know, what sort of gives vegetables their sweetness? Well, there are natural plant sugars. And when you grill a vegetable, you're caramelizing those sugars. It's the same process whereby when you burn sugar in a controlled way, you make caramel, which is what makes cakes and pastries so delicious.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, and what about grilling fruits then?
RAICHLEN: Well, grilled fruit is fantastic. Again, tradition gives us examples. In southeast Asia, they grill bananas with coconut milk caramel. In Hawaii, they grill pineapple. You know, the baked apple, sort of a classic of American – New England-American cooking. Well, anything baked tastes even better on the grill. When I make a baked apple, I smoke roast it on the grill with some applewood. It's absolutely fantastic.
CAVANAUGH: In San Diego, peaches are a big thing that we grill out here.
RAICHLEN: I tell you what, I'll give you a great peach recipe from my book "BBQ USA." What you do is take quarter peaches and skewer them on sticks of cinnamon with a mint leaf in between each. Your basting sauce is what I call vitamin B-3 glaze, the three B's are brown sugar, butter and bourbon, all boiled together…
CAVANAUGH: That's the kind of vitamin we could like.
RAICHLEN: …for a glaze completely and totally fantastic.
CAVANAUGH: And you brush that on there. I spoke over you a little bit. You brush the vitamin B over it.
RAICHLEN: You do.
RAICHLEN: Yes, it's both healthy and delicious.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Phil, when you – you actually do off-premises catering so you bring your stuff to people who want you to cook them a dinner in their backyards, is that right?
PACE: That's right.
CAVANAUGH: And when you do that, do they ask you to grill things that you're not used to grilling?
PACE: Well, that's one of the – one of the reasons why we have salmon on our off-premise menu.
PACE: We had – several years ago, we had a guest came in that we catered in their backyard and he said, I've got all this salmon.
PACE: Can you cook it up for me? And we did.
CAVANAUGH: And how did you do that? The same way? Or did you do something different?
PACE: Basically, what I do is we take a little olive oil and some butter and then we take a little bit of kosher salt and then what we do is, we do just a light poach. And then from there, we cool it and then we grill it on the grill. And it comes out really, really good. So – Because a lot of time when you cook fish—Steve can probably agree with me—is, on the grill, is if you're not careful, it can dry out.
PACE: So poaching it, giving it a little bit less cook time on the grill, but still absorbing all those flavors…
PACE: …from the grill, comes out with a nice piece of moist fish that is just tremendous.
CAVANAUGH: And, Steven, I've heard a lot about cooking fish on planks of wood. Do you do that?
RAICHLEN: I do. Plank salmons are another classic of American barbeque circuit. It's traditionally associated with the Pacific northwest and I venture to say most of the planks come from the northwest. Cedar is the preferred material. But, in fact, it's a very ancient traditional dish from the east coast. You find it being served at Delmonico's in New York back in the 1830s. In Connecticut, they have something called shad roes where they'll actually nail shad fillets to an oak board, stand them in front of the fire. The beauty of planking is that eliminates the two sort of dangers always associated with grilling fish and one is that it will stick to the grill grate. Number two is that it will fall apart when you try and turn it. Plus, the salmon gives you this absolutely amazing – the cedar gives you this amazing aromatic flavor.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue talking with Phil Pace and Steven Raichlen about barbeque and grilling. The number to call to join the conversation is 1-888-895-5727. We'll be back on These Days in just a few moments.
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We're talking about hot barbeque and grilling. Phil Pace, owner of Phil's BBQ in Point Loma, is one of my guests. And Steven Raichlen, he has written "The Barbecue Bible." He is host of Primal Grill, seen on KPBS television every Saturday starting at 11:30 a.m. Steven – Oh, and I want to tell everybody they can join the conversation. The number is 1-888-895-5727, with your grilling questions and your barbeque stories. Give us a call. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Steven, I do want to start with you. And I want to talk about the fact that there are people who are concerned about health dangers when it comes to grilled food. What can you tell us about that and how can you minimize that?
RAICHLEN: Well, okay, first of all, I think this is a risk that is enormously over-exaggerated and probably the result of our relentless news cycle that requires controversial headlines every spring. But you have to remember this: Our human ancestors discovered the act of cooking with live fire about a half million years ago. And if you examine the fossil record, that discovery, the deliciousness and ease of eating and digestion of cooked meat as opposed to raw meat, had a profound evolutionary effect. If you look at skulls of human ancestors that ate cooked meat versus raw, what you see is the modern face, the modern jaw, the modern larynx. Modern man, as we know it. And, in fact, there's a really fascinating new book just came out, called "How Cooking Made Us Human."
RAICHLEN: And that book sort of talks about cooking over live fires and evolutionary influence. Now, if eating barbeque or fire-cooked meats was bad for us, we wouldn't be here. On the contrary, it sort of gave us that leap that led to modern humanity. Second thing I'd like to say about it is that there is a difference between grilled food and burnt food. And the supposed health risks that people write about come from eating burnt food, that is food that is black, that has been not merely caramelized but carbonized. And I think Phil would agree with me that anybody who is serious about this business, that the goal is to do deliciously grilled food, not burnt food.
PACE: Correct. Exactly.
CAVANAUGH: And you actually mentioned that you don't like the idea of eating a lot of smoky food frequently, Phil.
PACE: Correct, correct. Yeah. Like I said, like Steve mentioned earlier on the show here, that we do caramelize…
PACE: …and it takes several weeks to teach these – the guys that we put on the grill…
PACE: …when to stop grilling.
PACE: Know when it's, you know, know when it's not burnt. It's a very difficult procedure.
RAICHLEN: You know…
RAICHLEN: …there's a kind of a simple rule for people to remember and that is: Dark brown, delicious; black, not so delicious.
CAVANAUGH: And, Steven, what do you say, how often should you turn food on the grill?
RAICHLEN: Only once, in my opinion. We're talking about direct grilling, right?
RAICHLEN: Because in indirect grilling, you don't turn at all because your fire's on the side and your lid is closed so the heat sort of goes around 365 degrees. But when you're cooking a burger or steak, you know, for me, you turn it once. With the steak, it goes on the grill, you wait until you see little beads of blood pearl up on the top of the steak, you turn it once. This is as you ascend the ladder of barbeque enlightenment. You use tongs to turn a steak, not a barbeque fork unless you want to perforate the meat and drain out the juices.
CAVANAUGH: All right. And you agree? Just once?
PACE: Totally, totally.
CAVANAUGH: Let's go to the phones. Jim is in El Cajon. Good morning, Jim, and welcome to These Days.
JIM (Caller, El Cajon): Well, thank you. I have a question. When grilling and – do you usually want to close your lid? Or always leave it open when cooking like hamburgers and steaks?
RAICHLEN: Very good question. For me, I have sort of what I call the rule of palm and that is, if you're grilling something thicker than the palm of your hand, let's say a Bible-thick porterhouse steak or a Spatchcock chicken, you want to close the grill lid to hold in the heat and speed up the cooking process. If, on the other hand, you're grilling something thinner than the palm of your hand, let's say a flattened chicken breast or asparagus stalks or shrimp, you want to leave the grill lid open so you can monitor the cooking. Now, if you're indirect grilling or smoking, lid closed, of course, to hold in the smoke.
CAVANAUGH: We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Right now Chad is on the line. He's calling from San Diego. And good morning, Chad, you're on These Days.
CHAD (Caller, San Diego): Thank you for taking my call. You guys mentioned the cedar planks earlier. I happened to go by Costco and they sold a – I bought a pack of cedar planks and they had some recipes for some other meats. I'm curious, you mentioned salmon and that's kind of the common meat that's grilled on cedar planks. Are there other meats that you guys would recommend grilling on cedar planks?
RAICHLEN: For me, let's see, seafood of all sorts but especially seafood with skin on it. Trout grilled on a cedar plank is great, shrimp. I don't tend to like to do red meats on a cedar plank. I like them to sear directly exposed to the fire.
CAVANAUGH: And, Phil, you've discovered those – that wood plank method when you were doing your off-premises catering. Anything else that you cook on a plank?
PACE: No, not really. I'm not much into cooking on the plank other than just the salmon.
PACE: But other than that, not much…
PACE: …not much experience with doing that. I've had it before and I've loved the flavor but I've had places where it's been overly done and…
PACE: …and it's not really – doesn't really taste that good.
CAVANAUGH: Now, I'm going to try you once more on these marinades to see if I can get anything out of you at all. Is there – For people who are cooking perhaps their ribs or steaks at home, Phil, what would you say is the best marinade for grilling?
PACE: Well, it depends on the meat, depends on how long you're going to cook it.
PACE: And how you're actually going to start with what piece of meat that you have. See, a lot of my cooking is that the majority of the food is basically done. Before we cook the food, it has – we do a dry seasoning. We don't actually do a liquid marinade on anything but we have a dry rub seasoning that sets on the ribs for quite a while and then we actually bake them off into these certain types of ovens that we have and that kind of gets into the meat.
PACE: And if we don't – we've experimented before. We just took a plain rib, many, many years ago, and tried it without the seasoning and it was just kind of blah.
CAVANAUGH: And any rub recipes that you'd like to share?
PACE: Well, there's your basics, you know, there's garlic, there's the paprika, you know, there's – if people want to add a little spice to it but you've got to be careful. The chili powder, you don't want to add too much of that into it. And the other once – the other unusual one is a little celery. Celery seeds – not celery but ground celery.
CAVANAUGH: Interesting. Steven, any thoughts on marinades?
RAICHLEN: Well, I do, and I'll tell you what, since I'm not trying to keep any proprietary secrets here, I'll give you a great all-purpose rub and a great all-purpose marinade.
CAVANAUGH: All right.
RAICHLEN: All right? The all-purpose rub, I call it Raichlen's Rub or 4-4 Rub and it's simply equal parts salt, pepper, paprika and brown sugar. And that will give any food that flies, creeps on the earth or swims a barbeque flavor. Super simple to make. In terms of marinades, in my book "Sauces, Rubs and Marinades," there's a recipe called 'The Only Marinade You'll Ever Need.' Basically, it consists of three parts olive oil, one part lemon juice, and any fresh herb you can add by the handful: rosemary, basil, thyme, chervil, tarragon. And then lemon zest. So you kind of plan the fragrant herbal, the aromatic lemon zest, the tartness of the lemon, the olive oil and then salt and pepper. Super simple. And, again, there isn't a single food on the planet that wouldn't taste good with that.
RAICHLEN: Including, by the way, pineapple.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Ralph in Pacific Beach has a question that I think we'll close on, gentlemen. And, Ralph, welcome to These Days.
RALPH (Caller, Pacific Beach): Oh, thank you very much. I want to just mention I'm a big fan of Phil's BBQ. Been there many, many times and I really enjoy the food, so…
PACE: Thank you.
RALPH: …keep that up. You know, I wanted to ask I usually don't grill too much during the winter but I sort of start it up in the spring or summer. And I wanted to know what's the best way to sort of clean your barbeque? What is the best materials that you can go to the store and buy to clean it, disinfect it, you know, get ready to go? I use a – it's a propane gas barbeque, your typical barbeque. But I just don't know what's the best way to clean it. What should I be using to clean it well and disinfect it?
RAICHLEN: I will jump in there. And, really, the best way to clean a grill is, A, to use it a lot and, B, to heat it up screaming hot and hit the grate with a stiff wire brush. Other than that, if there's a drip pan or drip can, you want to empty that on a regular basis. You know, brush in soapy water on the outside but I don't do too much on the inside. I don't think you need any special chemicals.
CAVANAUGH: And Phil.
PACE: Well, basically, you know, I used to tell my friends just turn the heat up, close the lid, get it really, really hot, and then you can just scrape it off. I don't really like to use any soap or anything inside of it.
PACE: But getting it really hot actually everything crusts right off and then just leave it that way. And then just make sure the outside weather doesn't get – you know, the outside weather doesn't get to the grill itself.
CAVANAUGH: Right, then you don't have a big mess when you start firing it up in the springtime.
PACE: Yeah, exactly, because the worst grill to cook on is when you first take it out of the box, you know.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, exactly.
PACE: So you got to – you got to keep it, you know, you got to keep it a little dark here and there but you still want to, you know, you close that lid and let the flame, the existing flames in there, cook it all off. And when you're done eating and your day is over, you know, you could scrape it the next time you use it.
CAVANAUGH: Hey, Phil Pace, owner of Phil's BBQ in Point Loma, thanks so much.
PACE: You're welcome.
CAVANAUGH: And Steven Raichlen, author of "The Barbecue Bible" and host of Primal Grill, which you can see every Saturday, 11:30 a.m. on KPBS TV, Steven, thank you so much for joining us today.
RAICHLEN: You're very welcome. And if I may mention my website, barbecuebible.com. It's a great place for people to get information, contact me, find out the viewing times of the shows, lots of recipes. It's a really good resource.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.
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