Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
It’s the perfect time for firing up the grill. Meat master and television host Steven Raichlen joins Kojo to explore how to make the most of this year’s barbecue season — whether you like to flame up beef, pork, fish … or even sting ray.
- Steven Raichlen Host of Primal Grill on PBS; and author most recently of "Planet Barbecue" (Workman)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Americans have a pretty good idea about when to grill, hot days and holidays. We also know what goes over the fire, beef, pork, fish and vegetables. But what about stingray, kangaroo, maybe ice cream? In the rest of the world, it turns out everything is fair game for the open flame and it took intrepid grilling authority Steven Raichlen to document those eclectic dishes and their history. He joins us in studio. Steven Raichlen is host of "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" on PBS. He's also author of the book "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around the World's Barbecue Trail." He joins us in studio. Steven Raichlen, good to see you again.
MR. STEVEN RAICHLENHello, Kojo. It is a pleasure to be back.
NNAMDIThe number you can call, because there will be tips and you will have questions, 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask questions or make a comment there. You spent five years visiting more than 50 countries to research this book. During your travels, you met more than 20 people you call grill masters. What does it take to be a true grill master?
RAICHLENWell, it takes a combination of incredible passion and incredible experience. And many of the people I talked to have spent their whole lives devoted to the art of live-fire cooking. Many examples of grill masters who started with a single pushcart, like Hass Brik in Marrakech, Morocco, and built that pushcart into an empire, a barbecue empire, a very common story. Other people, like Victor Arguinzoniz in the vast country in Spain. A guy who is a paper mill executive remembered his grandmother cooking over the only stove she had, which was an open fireplace, decided to get into grilling and has become the mad scientist of the grill, designing wild new equipment, smoking everything from butter to be spread onto a grilled bread for an appetizer and smoking cream to make the ice cream for dessert.
NNAMDIOh, we'll get to that in a second. But what amazes me about all of this is that the grill master is clearly a rare breed. There are, by my calculations, more than 30 countries that you visited in which there is no grill master.
RAICHLENWell, let me back up and say this. To be honest with you, Kojo, the manuscript for this book was twice as long as the 640 pages that...
NNAMDIThat it now is.
RAICHLENYes . And there were a lot more grill masters that didn't make it into the book. And sometimes, it's a question of not being able to get a good photograph or, you know, the way the chapter laid out. So...
RAICHLEN...there are a lot more grill masters than 20.
NNAMDIWe'll accept that.
RAICHLENThese are the 20 best.
NNAMDITo really understand how most people grill around the world, you need to know the difference between direct and indirect grilling. What's the difference?
RAICHLENWell, that is correct. And direct grilling is what is practiced by most grillers and grill masters everywhere. That is when you put the food directly over the fire. So anytime you cook a steak or hamburger or fish fillet or corn on the cob, what you're doing is direct grilling. It's especially suitable for small pieces of food, tender pieces of food or quick-cooking pieces of food. Now, in indirect grilling, what you do is you move the fire off to the side or to both sides. You cook the food in the center. You close the grill. So in fact, you turn your grill into a sort of outdoor oven or smoker. Indirect grilling is well suited to large cuts of meat like pork shoulders, fatty cuts of meat like spareribs or tough cuts meat like brisket.
NNAMDIDirect grilling and indirect grilling. Do you have a grill specialty or technique that you'd like to share? You can call us at 800-433-8850 or go to our website to share it, kojoshow.org. You can also shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our guest is Steven Raichlen, host of "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" on PBS. His latest book is called "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around the World's Barbecue Trail." In North America, Steven, serious barbecue-ers spend a lot of time perfecting cheap cuts of meat like spareribs and brisket, but you call brisket the holy grail of barbecue. Why is this lowbrow cut so hard to tame?
RAICHLENWell, first of all, brisket comes from the underbelly of the steer. It is a very tough muscle. In fact, it has muscles going -- muscle fibers going in three different directions. And it's simultaneously the easiest and the hardest, most difficult piece of meat to cook there is. Easy, because if you cook it low and slow, that is at 250 degrees for a period measured in half days rather than minutes or hours, and you put the right seasoning mixture on it, you will wind up with a slab of meat that is so indescribably delicious, so melting in your mouth, so cut-able with the side of a fork, that to eat it feels like a religious experience. However, if you try and rush the process, if you don't use the right amount of wood smoke, if you take the temperature wrong, if the brisket is too lean, you'll wind up with something akin to shoe leather.
NNAMDIYou know, the former description, please don't describe food so well. This is...
RAICHLENIt's lunch time.
NNAMDIIt's lunch time. You're driving me crazy. On the flipside, beef tenderloin is one of the costliest and most prestigious cuts of meat, but it's one of the least flavorful. However, in Columbia, you found grill masters who had figured out a way to give beef tenderloin both drama and taste. How did they do it?
RAICHLENWell, absolutely. It's a dish called Lomo al Trapo. That means tenderloin in a cloth. And what they do in Columbia is take about a half pound to one pound piece of beef tenderloin, and they spread out a two-foot square of a damp cotton cloth. On top of that, they dump one pound of salt, a sprinkling of dry oregano. They lay the piece of beef tenderloin on top of that and roll and tie the whole thing up so that it looks like an arm in a cast. That resulting package is laid directly on the embers of a charcoal or wood fire so forget about a grill grate. And it's cooked for exactly nine minutes on one side, eight minutes on the other side. And what results looks like a burnt tree log. You take it to the table. You whack it with a cleaver. The salt cloth and meat juices cook to a hard shell which opens, revealing this amazingly succulent, flavorful...
RAICHLEN...moist, exquisite morsel of beef tenderloin.
NNAMDIIt's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.
RAICHLENI know. Hey, sorry.
NNAMDIWhen you researched grilling techniques for beef, veal and game, you found that less is more. In fact, salt can often be the only ingredient when cooking these meats over the fire. In Montevideo, Uruguay, there's a particularly interesting way of using salt. Tell us about salt-crusted tri-tip.
RAICHLENWell, salt is, in fact, one of the constants on the world's barbecue trail. This particular recipe starts with a piece of beef that any of your listeners from California will be very familiar with. Tri-tip is a triangular end cut from the top sirloin. And what they do in Uruguay is they'll take the piece of meat and then they'll take two handfuls of coarse sea salt, the kind of salt that here in Washington they'd put on the roads when they're trying to prevent...
NNAMDIOh, we're very familiar with that from this past winter.
RAICHLENOkay. So -- and then the steak is -- the tri-tip is grilled over wood fire, low ember, so low heat for about an hour. And then, they turn it over, put more salt on top. When the meat is cooked, they stand the meat on edge, whack it with the side of the knife.
NNAMDIA lot of whacking, huh?
RAICHLENA lot of whacking. And knock all the excess salt over. But in fact, this salt grilling you find in the north of Italy, in Florence, where it's used to make the bistecca alla Fiorentina. You find it in the vast country in Spain, where the same technique is used to make chuleton -- chuleton, the rib steak for which Spain is so famous. You find it in Brazil. It's kind of salt grilling. It's really one of the constants in the world's barbecue trail.
NNAMDIDo you have a favorite grilled food from your travels? You could call us at 800-433-8850. Here is John on the Eastern Shore in Maryland. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNGood afternoon, gentlemen. And after hearing those last recipes and techniques, I'm salivating greatly and can't wait to try the tenderloin technique on my own grill.
NNAMDIThere you go.
JOHNMaryland and the Chesapeake Bay region has a problem now with overpopulation of cownose rays and other types of rays, which most times, when people are fishing for them, when they bring it up to the surface, they just cut the line and let them go. Cutting off the wings in the wing portion is -- it's a pain in the neck to -- you got to clean up the meats in there and everything. But simply cutting off the wing portion -- and hearing about your salt crust and this goes right along with it. Taking the standard crab seasoning salt mixture that's put over crabs when steamed, rolling the ray or skate wings in those so that it's well crusted, putting those over the grill, cooking them until done. You peel back the skin and the kind of a comb-like cartilage that's there and it reveals just delicious and succulent meat.
JOHNYes. Stingray or cownose ray or skate.
RAICHLENI am so there. And you may be interested to learn, John, that skate is a great specialty of the grill masters of Southeast Asia, where it is slathered with lemongrass, ginger, galingale, hot chilies and garlic, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled in the banana leaves. And that is -- also it's a fabulous fish. I'm sorry to hear that it's so underutilized here because it is sweet, moist, delicate, everything you could wish for in a fish. Thank you so much for calling.
JOHNIt's underutilized and overpopulated here so that's an available resource for a grill.
RAICHLENSo let's try and solve two problems at one time.
NNAMDIJust one of the things you'll find in "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around the World's Barbecue Trail." Thank you very much for your call, John. We move on now to Ogie in San Antonio, Texas. Ogie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OGIEYeah, great show. I have the ambiance (sic) of traveling all over the country, being a truck driver, and I'm originally from California. But I know everything that deals with, like, the region and the woods that are available. I reside in San Antonio, Texas, and we use a lot of mesquite and pecan because it's so abundant. Have you had the pleasure of eating barbacoa, the cow heads and also the cabrito, the goat, how it's buried in the ground and it's covered overnight? And that's a delicacy.
RAICHLENAbsolutely. Well, I'm so glad, first of all, you mentioned barbacoa because A, it's delicious, B, it's an example of how the same name changes depending on where you travel. In the southern part of the United States and the northern part of Mexico, it does indeed refer to a spiced cow's head that is cooked underground in a pit. However, as you move further south in Mexico, it becomes a goat. It gets wrapped in maguey cactus leaves and it gets roasted in a pit. That's sort of the way they do it in Mexico City.
RAICHLENWhen you get even further south, it becomes a lamb or sometimes a baby goat wrapped in avocado leaves and cooked in a pit over a pit full of vegetables and broth. And the dripping meat juices flavor the broth so you get your soup and your meat at the same time. Barbacoa, of course, was the Taino Indian word for a wooden frame positioned over a fire over which you'd cook meat, it gave us our word barbecue. As for cabrito, I'm sure you're familiar with Cooper's in Llano, Texas, in the Hill Country, some of the best cabrito around.
NNAMDIYou should recall, after listening to Steven Raichlen, that he is a culinary historian and that is one of the reasons you fell in love with barbecue. Tell us that story.
RAICHLENWell, the history of barbecue is really nothing less than the history of mankind itself. I won't even say human beings. A human ancestor called Homo erectus, upright man, discovered that you could cook meat with fire about 1.8 million years ago. I'm sure the first barbecue was an accident. A forest fire swept through the woods, caught a bison or aardvark on the hoof, roasted it, somebody very hungry very early on tasted and uttered the first grunt of gastronomic pleasure in human history. The fact is, that once Homo erectus started eating meat cooked with fire, there were profound evolutionary and social changes.
RAICHLENThe jaws -- the massive jaws you find in the primate shrunk, the teeth shrunk. The brain -- because it turns out that cooked meat is a lot more efficient to digest than raw meat and cooked meat provides about 20 -- the brain requires about 20 percent of the calories that we intake to fuel. So within 100,000 years of this discovery of cooked meat, Homo erectus developed a brain that was very nearly the size of ours. The jaw became smaller, the tongue more agile, speech developed. When you think about primates in the wild today, they sleep alone in trees for safety. But once you have fire, you have a social gathering where these early human ancestors could gather around the fire on the grounds.
RAICHLENYou have the first kind of communal groupings. If you think about what it takes to keep fire going, when you don't know how to make it yourself because that wouldn't have come for another four or 500,000 years -- you need to have some people stay around, protect the fire, feed it with fuel, other people go out and hunt and find the meat. So you get the first vision of labor, both in a family situation -- where one person tends the hearth, the other person goes out and earns a living -- and in a societal way of looking at things where one group becomes the caretakers at home, the other group go out into the workplace. All these began with barbecue. So I'd like to say that barbecue truly begot civilization.
NNAMDISteven Raichlen, he is host of "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" on PBS. His latest book is called "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around The World's Barbecue Trail." He joins us in studio. You can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Or go into our website, kojoshow.org. Join in the conversation there. What's the strangest thing you've ever seen cooked over an open fire? Join us and let us know. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking barbecue with Steven Raichlen, host of "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" on PBS. He's also author of "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around The World's Barbecue Trail," in which he visited more than 50 countries to see how barbecue is done in different places. And just when he thought he'd seen it all, he visited a grill master you call the Emeril of Azerbaijan. Of all things, he grilled ice cream. How did he do it?
RAICHLENWell, it was pretty amazing. And it was an example, I guess, of extreme journalism as well as extreme grilling. But this guy has a morning TV show in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, by the way, the oil-rich country in the Caucasus Mountains bordering the Caspian Sea. Azeris are famed the world over for their grilling. So I experienced with him amazing chicken and cooked in their version of a tandoori and every imaginable lamb kebab, breads grilled. And he happened to mention that there was even a grilled dessert, grilled ice cream. I said, nah, you can't grill ice cream.
RAICHLENWell, sure I can, but I can't do it right now. I'm too busy. I don't believe you. Long story short, he got some ice cream. He formed balls of ice cream. He dipped each ball in beaten egg then in shredded coconut and then put the ice cream on a metal skewer, cooked it over a screaming, excruciatingly hot fire. What happened was the fire sealed and cooked the egg and coconut into a crust while leaving the ice cream frozen in the center. That's how fast it was. And so that was how your fateful author happened to eat grilled ice cream in Baku, Azerbaijan.
NNAMDIIn Spain's vast country, they actually smoke ice cream.
NNAMDIHow was that done?
RAICHLENWell, there is this guy Victor Arguinzoniz, one of the most innovative grill masters in the world. And what he does -- he has created a device. He uses it in the morning to make his own charcoal and then he will put wood with the embers to create wood smoke. And he puts a pan of heavy cream in the smoker device and he actually smokes the cream and then takes the cream, puts it in an ice cream churn with the eggs and sugar and makes ice cream.
NNAMDIYou remember the names of all of these chefs, didn't you?
RAICHLENWell, you know, if you would have talked to my wife, you would find out I'm incapable of remembering an errand. I'm incapable of remembering anything I'm supposed to do around the house. But the one thing...
NNAMDIBut a grill master in Azerbaijan...
RAICHLENI'm hopeless with names and faces of people I meet, but dishes and grill masters, I'm -- that seems to be where my strengths lie.
NNAMDIAmazing. Here is Leo in Baltimore, Md. Leo, your turn.
LEOHi. How are you doing?
RAICHLENI'm doing great. You're in my hometown. And, actually, I'm headed up there tonight and I'm gonna be there all day tomorrow. I'm doing a book signing down in Columbia, Md., tomorrow night. So...
LEOOh, we're doing some grilling, too.
RAICHLENOkay. So how are you?
LEOI'm interested in fuel types. What's the preferred fuel types of all these grill masters and is there any that are taboo? You know, the grill masters won't touch propane. And did you find out in any unusual fuel type set no one would think of?
RAICHLENThat is a...
NNAMDIAnd Leo has a great question. Allow me to add this email from Mickey in Arlington. "Please talk about the basics of the fire. Does your guest prefer charcoal or wood? And now, there are certain foods that do substantially better on one or another type of fuel. Finally, while most famous barbeque chefs say they hate to use a gas grill, the reality is -- that is what most of us own. So does he have any tips for those of us who do use gas for getting the most of our -- most out of our grill?"
RAICHLENOkay. And, Kojo, I understand you've extended the show 'til 3:00 today so that I can -- well, very, very, very...
NNAMDIThat's how long it'll take.
RAICHLENNo, very quickly. There are three primary fuels used in the world; wood, which is used primarily in South America and Northern Italy, charcoal, which is used virtually everywhere else and propane, which is used almost exclusively in North America, Australia a bit and South Africa a bit. But it's really a charcoal world. My personal preference is wood because only wood gives you both smoke and heat.
RAICHLENCharcoal gives you a great kind of heat. It's a high-dry heat, excellent for caramelizing the meat proteins and the plant sugars when you grow. But charcoal does not really impart much of a flavor. Gas -- everybody loves to dump on gas. And in fact, the -- all gas does is grow your food. It doesn't really have an intrinsic flavor of its own. But I will go on record as saying as I own gas grills. I use them. If I'm in a hurry on a busy week night, I will use a gas grill.
RAICHLENThe secret to using gas is to let it run until you think it's preheated then walk away for 15 minutes and come back and get it really screaming hot. Now, in order to achieve a better flavor on a gas grill, you can take soaked wood chips; hickory, oak, cherry. Each has its own subtle flavor, what is really the spice of true barbeque. Wrap those chips in aluminum foil. Poke holes in the resulting package. Place that under the grate, over one of the burners. Cook your food on top. That will release smoke that will give you some of the smoke flavor you could normally get on a wood grill. It's not perfect, but it is an acceptable workaround. In order to come back to the original question, from my colleague in Baltimore...
RAICHLENLeo. So Leo, the wood used by most grill masters around the world is oak. And you may be surprised to learn that even though Texans have a reputation for using mesquite a lot, oak is the wood that the real -- the guys at Kreuz Market and Louie Muellers and Coopers, they all use oak. Oak is found throughout South America. Oak is used throughout Europe. And I think what it is that oak -- it has a very robust flavor. But it's not overpowering, something like mesquite quickly overpowers the food.
RAICHLENOther woods that are used in Germany -- beech wood is used a great deal for grilling pork, make a dish called Schwenkbraten and Spiessbraten. In France and many wine producing countries, people use grapevine trimmings, which have a wonderful flavor. In the west coast of France, they actually use dry pine needles for smoke roasting mussels and that's a recipe you'll find in "Planet Barbecue." So I hope -- big subject. I hope I've sort of touched on some of the high points.
NNAMDIHappy grilling to you, Leo.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. The lengths that grill masters will go through are truly obsessive. Case in point is a famous chef you met in Argentina who staked his reputation on grilling food on a Patagonian glacier in winter. He calls his cooking barbaric and he specializes in cooking on seven kinds of fires. And he thought there was only one kind of fire, the hot kind.
RAICHLENWell, his name is Francis Mallmann.
NNAMDISee. There he goes, remembering the name again.
RAICHLENYeah. All right. It's as...
NNAMDICan't remember the grocery list.
RAICHLEN...you know, you can talk to my wife Barbara that -- tell her my powers of memory. And he's an amazing guy, a very smart guy. Now, what you meet, you know, you meet a lot of guys who -- this live-fire cooking thing has become in this -- an obsession very quickly. Well, what he means by seven fires -- let's see. There's the conventional grow with the grill grate, that's called asado. And then, he has a style of grilling called infernio, where he'll take one fire on one level and then he'll sort of put some bricks up and a metal sheet over that and put another fire on top of that. He cooks in between them so if you could, sort of think of it as a deconstructed wood burning oven. So that's another style of grilling.
RAICHLENThe third is the most widespread in ancient grilling in all of South America. Brazilians know it as Fogo del Chao. Argentineans call it asado. Basically, you build a giant bonfire with log. You stick either whole or half animals with poles in front of the fire. You control the heat very accurately by tilting the pole closer to the fire or further away from the fire. That's the third kind of fire he uses. There's another fire called a chapa, which we would know as ala plancha. Basically, it is a piece of cast iron that is heated by the fire and you sear foods on top of it. And because there's a wood fire underneath of it, the smoke curls around the edge of the grill and actually flavors your food.
RAICHLENReal quickly, let's see, the fifth one is a -- or maybe the sixth one -- I lost count -- is cooking in a big cast iron cauldron. A technique which again, because you're on a wood fire, adds extra flavor, and, by the way, is echoed in South Africa, a technique brought to the Dutch by South Africa. One of the fascinating things about traveling around "Planet Barbecue" is to notice these sort of -- these connections, how sort of one idea -- the salt will appear in South America and then in Europe or the iron pot cooking in South America and then South Africa. The last one, bearing food in the ashes of a fire that has died down, a technique you find all over South America. You'll find it in Germany, great for roasting potatoes. In fact, remember the Van Gogh painting, "The Potato Eaters?"
RAICHLENThat is their technique of cooking.
NNAMDIIf you have a favorite technique that you have encountered in your travel, a grilling technique, call us at 800-433-8850. We move now to Eric in Alexandria, VA. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICYeah. I -- it's a technique for grilling chicken, but I think it could probably be used for any meat that has a lot of fat. It should work for duck. Basically, what I do is I take coal or charcoals -- this is only for charcoals. So I take charcoal, I put it in a circle with aluminum pan in the middle and so -- with aluminum with water. And then, I cook the chicken -- this would be a whole chicken -- over the water with the coals surrounding it and basically allow it to cook. Taking the cover off sometimes, putting the cover back on in order to moderate the heat. But the basic technique is to allow the fat to drip inside the water so that it's not dripping on the coals, flaring up and burning the meat. Anyway, it's worked for me for a long time.
RAICHLENAbsolutely. What you're describing is a variation of that first question you asked, Kojo, the difference between direct and indirect...
RAICHLEN…grilling. That is classic indirect grilling. And if your caller, whether you place some sopped oak or hickory chips on a coals, he could smoke his chicken, that would be pretty darn amazing too.
NNAMDIHey, Eric. Good for you.
NNAMDIThanks for your call.
NNAMDIYou too can call us, 800-433-8850, with your favorite technique. We got an email from Tina in Boyds, Md. You can email us at email@example.com. Tina says, "any tips for those of us who are not tempted by your succulent descriptions of muscle fibers and crunchy cartilage? Yes. I'm talking about us, vegetarians and vegans. Every time I go to a barbecue, I'm obliged to bring my standard frozen veggie burger. Please give me and everyone else some more interesting ideas. What can we do to marinate tofu, steaks or Portobello mushrooms? Any other surprising veggies we might not think to try on under grill? Now, that summer is here, I can't bear to think of all of the frozen cardboard veggie patties I'll have to endure."
RAICHLENWell, endure no longer, because "Planet Barbecue" is both rife and ripe with great vegetarian dishes. One has to think no further than India, where a huge number of people, actually, are vegetarians. In "Planet" -- and also, my wife has strong vegetarian leanings. And when I wrote one of my previous books, "Barbecue Bible," both she and my daughter were vegetarians. So I feel your pain. I have great respect and affection for your situation. Up on that first, Indians have a cheese called paneer. It's very similar to Greek saganaki. It's a cheese that has the genial property that it can be grilled, it will burn, but it will not melt and become gooey all over the place. So in India, you will find tandoori cheese kebabs.
RAICHLENThey're kebabs that are -- chunks of cheese sandwich with tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, based with cilantro butter and direct grilled. Absolutely fabulous. In Malaysia, you will find tofu that is marinated in a sweet, sour fruit sauce, direct grilled, served with toasted peanuts. And then -- and this is where the amazing contrast of flavors and textures, diced pineapple, diced cucumber, beans sprouts. So you get fruity. You get crunchy. You get the kind of wet. You get the spicy. Another fantastic dish. Another great dish for vegetarians, a schoolyard treat in Luang Prabang, Laos, where sticky rice is molded into sort of popsicle shapes. Put on a popsicle stick, direct grilled over charcoal. You can do it on gas, too, for that matter and then dipped in chili sauce and served as a snack. So let's say...
RAICHLEN...that's not -- not even to mention all the fabulous grilled breads, the grilled cheese sandwiches from that meat-eating heartland in South Africa, where sharp cheddar cheese, fruit chutney, finely sliced onions are placed on bread, brushed with butter and grilled. A true grilled sandwich grilled over charcoal to make the best grilled cheese you'll ever taste. So please fret no longer, "Planet Barbecue" awaits you and will take care you.
NNAMDISee Tina, the succulent descriptions of muscle fibers and crunchy cartilage are equal, maybe even surpassed by the succulent descriptions of vegetables. Here is Peter in Fairfax, Va. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERThank you. Steve, the problem we have, for those of us who came to this part of the world from a place where we know about smoking, is finding wood and finding brisket of a size with the decal on...
PETER...or something other than corned beef.
RAICHLENYup. I hear your pain. And in terms of woods, I'm sure that there are barbecue shops or if you'll look in "Planet Barbecue," we actually have mail-order services where you can mail away for post oak, you can mail away for oak. I actually have a line of best of barbecue products. And we have a beef smoking blend that's oak mesquite apple and a couple of other woods. In terms of brisket, you'll need to go to a butcher and you will need to order that from afar. For those of -- your listeners, Peter, who don't know what the decal is, I told you earlier, brisket has three muscles.
RAICHLENThere's the point. The flat and the decal sandwich with enormous lump of fat which is absolutely essential to succeeding in a perfect brisket. You need to go to a butcher shop for that. But I'll tell you what, Peter, I'm gonna give you a trick we used when we get briskets that have been mercilessly trimmed of all their fat. And that is, I cooked the brisket in a foil pan, draped with strips of bacon over the top. So the melting bacon fat melts under the meat, keeps it moist. The foil pan on the bottom protects that bottom lean part from drying out. And because it's open on top, you get plenty of smoke flavor. So I hope that helps.
PETERWell, there's a situation now that the woodchips used to -- having -- have four restaurants in Texas and a catering company, we're used to doing split hickory and...
PETER...I can't find anything around here that isn't used for firewood. It's already dried out.
RAICHLENAnd you like your wood a little bit green to get more smoke.
PETERYeah. You know, I feel your pain. But if you smoke it...
PETERIt's a long way around.
RAICHLEN...they will come to you.
NNAMDIHey, Peter, we've also provided a link to Steven Raichlen's website so you can check around there and see if you find anything there, if you go to kojoshow.org and click on that link.
PETERI will and thank you.
RAICHLENYou know, also we have a -- on my website, there's a barbecue board and it's full of people who, you know -- you ask that question. There may be somebody in the D.C. area, also from Texas, who can help you out.
NNAMDIWe've got to take a short break. If you've already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. If the lines are busy, shoot us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Steven Raichlen about "Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Steven Raichlen, host of "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" on PBS. His latest book is called "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around the World's Barbecue Trail." There seems to be a healthy rivalry going on in South America over which country does the best barbecue. Is there, in your opinion, a winner?
RAICHLENYou know, that's the Sophie's choice question. Which is my favorite child? And I'm gonna have to say I love them all. But I will tell you four countries where if you're serious about this thing, you must visit.
RAICHLENAnd the first is Argentina.
RAICHLENNo brainer there. Argentina's famous for its steakhouses. The second is Uruguay, little tiny Uruguay, where every male right of passage is to learn how to grill over wood. All Uruguayan grilling is done over wood. The third is Brazil, which has taken the art of spit roasting to a degree of sophistication and artistry that is scarcely imaginable. That's where the -- one of the grilled desserts in "Planet Barbecue," the spit roasted pineapple with cinnamon sugar, comes from. And finally, led into it earlier, Colombia. Totally off the barbecue radar and yet where else can you get Chiguiro Navarra, which is sort of a giant guinea pig. I think we call it capybara -- that is grilled on sticks over a eucalyptus wood fire. Pretty tough to beat that.
NNAMDISpeaking of dessert, let's speak of Spain for a second. You highlight a unique one by Jose Andres, a frequent guest in our studio and a star Washington, D.C. chef. What does he do with fire, bread and chocolate?
RAICHLENWell, bread and chocolate, classic combination in Europe. We don't eat it here. He sandwiches beautiful, country style bread slices with chocolate, brushes them with olive oil, grills them. And then, the secret is he hits them with big crystals of coarse sea salt. So you bite into this, the crunch of the bread, the soft, gooey -- the chocolate, the sweetness of the chocolate, the salt crystals, which only serve to bring out the sweetness more, the perfume fruity quality of the olive oil. It's barbecue you can eat for breakfast and dessert and I think that's quite an accomplishment.
NNAMDIThat's the kind of thing Jose does. Here is Matthew in Washington, D.C. Matthew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHEWHey, Kojo and Steven. Thanks for having me on. I love both of your shows.
MATTHEWI wanted to ask Steven a quick question about a kind of strange cooking technique I was trying recently. I've got a group of friends. When we get together, we try to cook funny, wild crazy things. And recently, I had a failed attempt to try to cook a steak inside of a pineapple. Apparently, pineapple enzymes break down the meat. I was wondering if Steven had any techniques for trying this out.
RAICHLENWell, Matthew, I am familiar with the technique and I'm afraid to say that I don't think it's ultimately going to work out for you. Why is that? Because when you cook a meat like a steak in a pineapple, in a sense, what you do is stewing it. And you wouldn't really stew a steak. Steak benefits better from a high direct heat. But if I were to try and reinvent your dish, because I'm always sort of thinking that way -- and in fact, there's a recipe in "Planet Barbecue" that -- it's not steak, it's goat, but from Indonesia. Goat or lamb, but the same idea. What I think I would do is I'd make a kebab interspersing chunks of pineapple with the meat.
RAICHLENAnd the reason that would work is you would get the tenderizing effect of the pineapple and you get the sort of sweet flavor, which would be great. But because you're in kebab format, you'd be able to expose the meat to the high dry heat of the fire, which is so well-suited to steak. So sounds like a cool idea. I'm not sure it's there. What I might do -- if you're really persistent at it, I might do something like maybe put a pork shoulder in it, indirect grill it for four or five hours so that the whole thing sort of just collapses into a soft, tender, flavorful -- I won't say mush, but that might work. But I wouldn't do it with steak.
MATTHEWWell, it sounds like it's a good idea.
NNAMDIGood luck to you, Matthew.
RAICHLENYou know, damn, I feel like I've failed a little bit. But, you know, sometimes knowing when you're walking down a wrong path is sort of better than finding out you're in the wrong destination when you get there.
NNAMDIHey, Matthew, thank you for your call. Here's Lynn on I-66 in Virginia. Lynn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LYNNHi, Kojo. Thanks. I'm wondering if in his travels -- I have two questions. The first is, in your travels, did you ever hear in Dulles about Mike's Barbecue? My uncle ran a barbecue stand right near City Hall for 35 years. He cooked only brisket and it was, I think, nationally renowned, at least anybody who went there said it was the best brisket they ever had. And then, the second question I have is, in Southeast Asia, in Thailand, they grill squid on a stick and I wanna know if you know what they actually baste it with when they put it over the open fire.
RAICHLENTwo very good questions. First of all, I've heard of Mike's. I did not actually have the pleasure of eating there. Second of all, with regard to squid on a stick, yes, it's a very popular dish in Thailand. And you will find a recipe for that in the book. Actually, what you'll find is a recipe for the marinade and it's actually applied to cockles, which is a kind of shellfish that's also grilled in Thailand. But you can use the same marinade for the squid with the same happy results. You brought back some nice memories. Thank you, Mike.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. And I'm glad our previous caller talked about his uncle's place in Dulles because, even though you said that this is like having a favorite child, if you could eat at only one barbecue restaurant in the United States, what would it be?
RAICHLENOoh. That is cruel. And I'm doomed because whatever I answer, I'm going to...
RAICHLEN...upset a lot of people.
RAICHLENI'm gonna go out on a limb here and I'm headed to Texas on Saturday for the weekend so I'm gonna say Cooper's in Plano, Texas.
RAICHLENWell, first of all, they have an amazing grill set-up. They have a giant burner where they burn massive logs the size of my legs to embers. And then, those embers are taken out of that grill, log burner, and they're shoveled under the meats in another cooker. And that's where the cooking is done. Unlike -- and also unlike many barbecue places in Texas that just focus on one meat like brisket or beef shoulder clod, they do many different kinds of meat, all the beef. You'll also find cabrito, which is baby goat. It's just a fun place. But you know what, Kojo? If you ask me the same question two hours later, I'm gonna give you a different answer.
NNAMDIHow about in this area, Baltimore?
RAICHLENWell, to be honest with you, I like to eat steamed crabs when I'm in Baltimore and I would never -- I mean...
RAICHLEN...I'm sure Baltimore has some good places...
NNAMDIThe ultimate Baltimore cop-out, yes.
RAICHLEN...but I gotta have crabs.
NNAMDIGotta do it.
RAICHLENBut I should say, though -- I mean, there is a barbecue specialty in Baltimore. It's pit beef done with -- Pulaski Highway is sort of the place to have it.
NNAMDIThere you go. 1-800-433-8850. That's the number Walter in McLean, Va. called. Walter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WALTERGreat. Thank you. This is great timing. Our office just had a grill party last weekend. And for all of us, we seemingly knew the grill was doing -- one of these infrared grills...
WALTER...which none of us have used, so of course we're all gonna have to buy your book because we think of you as the ultimate expert...
WALTER...and best we could find. You don't -- you must hate them because you don't seem to address them in your book.
RAICHLENWell, I have addressed them briefly in one book, in my book "How to Grill." But here's the deal with infrared grills. And for those listeners who may not be familiar with them, they're basically gas grills, but the gas heats a ceramic honeycomb and they achieve very high temperatures, upwards of a thousand degrees. And what they are excellent for is giving you a steakhouse quality char on a steak. So if you are a steak lover, a -- an infrared grill is great. However, they're just about -- they're measurable for cooking just about anything else. Because it's very hard to get, there are not a whole lot of foods beyond steak that you wanna cook at a thousand degrees. Steaks, chops, but anything that requires indirect grilling or more moderate heat, you're best off with a different type of grill. I should say, by the way, I own -- I also own an infrared grill. I love it. I use it for steak, but that's it.
NNAMDIHere's Zack in Fairfax, Va. Hi, Zack.
ZACKHi. Thanks for taking my call.
ZACKI wanted to mention a type of grilling I witnessed down in Mexico. I was a guest at a party and it was a big party. And they had these mounds. I guess they're the ovens. They kind of looked like little igloos that were open on the top and then kind of on the bottom, too. And they just piled all kinds of goat pieces into there and then I guess after that -- they've already lit the fire. And then, they sealed it all off with a bunch of mud and sealed the top and the bottom and then just let it cook all day and opened it up in the evening and pulled it all out and had a big feast.
RAICHLENWell, that sounds pretty terrific. And that's, you know, that sounds like an above-ground clambake or luau to me. But -- in fact, this technique is used all over the world. Even in Mexico, there's a classic dish in the Yucatan called pibil and I went to see it. And that was sort of in the warehouse districts on the outskirts of a town and there was kind of gunfire in the distance because it was a holiday. It was a very sinister-looking place. And lined up on the ground where it looks sort of like shallow graves and under each of them was a metal casket with a pork that was wrapped in banana leaves and cooked underground. But -- this is a very ancient technique, very effective technique. And I bet you were one happy guy that evening.
NNAMDIWere you, Zack?
ZACKYeah. It was pretty good.
ZACKThis was in Teotihuacan.
RAICHLENOkay. Do you remember what they called it?
ZACKNo, I don't. I just remember that the meat was goat.
NNAMDIYeah, it is.
RAICHLENWell, goat, an undervalued, but -- I think it's an undervalued meat here in North America, but definitely on the way back.
NNAMDIHey, Zack, thank you very much for your call.
RAICHLENThank you for calling.
NNAMDITraveling the world for "Planet Barbecue," you saw just about everything cooked on the grill, including food many of us would probably recoil from. Can you mention some of those unmentionables?
RAICHLENWell, sure. In the Philippines, they have this sort of wonderful street vernacular for barbecue and it is affordable. It's in poor neighborhoods. So let's see. You have helmets, which are chicken heads. You have walkman, which are pig's ears grilled. You have adidas, which are chicken feet. And you have betamax, the strangest of all, which are black rectangles of congealed chicken blood that are grilled. In Greece, there's a dish...
NNAMDIWell, did you taste any of those?
RAICHLENI tasted all of it. I will taste everything once, except possibly sheep's eyeballs. I must confess I didn't go back for seconds.
NNAMDIOh, on any of those. Speaking of so-called unmentionables, you found that people even make coffee over the grill in South Africa.
RAICHLENWell, this is the book I -- the recipe I closed the book with. It's a fantastic dish to finish a party with. It's called mare cafe, which means burnt coffee. And what you do is you dump the grounds into a cast iron pot like you'd see the old cowboy is using. You boil the coffee and then to precipitate the grounds to the bottom, finish the coffee and give it sort of a spectacular smoky flavor, you take a burning log at the end of tongs and you plunged the log into the coffee, (laugh) get a volcanic hiss. And somehow the process makes all the grounds go to the bottom and you get the sort of wood smoke flavor to it. Some of the most remarkable coffee you'll ever taste.
NNAMDIBTF tweeted to ask, "Help me. I need to know how to add more coals to the grill while foods are cooking. I don't know why, but I always seem to run out of heat while grilling big meals. Could I be using the wrong type of charcoal or any specific suggestions for brands?"
RAICHLENWell, you might be using the right kind of charcoal, which is natural lump charcoal, the kind made out in pure trees, not briquettes, which are a compound mixture of coal dust, borax, petroleum bidders and wood scraps. But the easiest way to add more charcoal, if you're using natural lump charcoal, is simply lift the lid -- take off the lid, take off the grate with the food, put more charcoal on. Let the grill burn open for about five more minutes and that will light the charcoal without any acrid smoke.
RAICHLENNow, if you're using charcoal briquettes -- and I have a personal preference for natural lump, but many famous grill masters and pit masters use the briquettes. The secret there is to light the charcoal separately in a chimney starter, wait 'til it's lightly ashed over and then add it to the coals because charcoal briquettes will emit a very unpleasant tasting smoke until they're completely lit.
NNAMDIAnd this e-mailer in Washington, "Any suggestions on how to get the live-fire flavor when you can't have a live-fire due to living in an apartment? I do have an indoor grill. My real barbecue grill is still packed away in its box and it hurts my heart."
RAICHLENWell, I feel your pain. I actually did write a book a couple of years ago called "Indoor Grilling." And in that book, there are many secrets and tricks. I'll just give you one now. It's a little bit cheating. But hey, we're friends here. And that is if you mix salted melted butter with a little liquid smoke, which is a natural product, and you baste items that are grilled on an indoor grill, you will get some of the smoky flavor that you find outdoors.
NNAMDIAnd finally, there's this. "I cook for family members who can't eat salt and can't have a lot of sugar. Any ideas on how I can marinade the meat? I've tried sweetened marinades, but too often, the sugar burns prematurely and creates a burnt crust. What can I do to flavor grilled meat without using sugar or salt?"
RAICHLENWhat I would use is lemon juice, olive oil and some of the Mediterranean herbs, like mint or oregano or rosemary. Why lemon juice? Lemon juice reacts on the tongue in a way that is somewhat similar to salt. Is it as good as salt? No. But it sort of plays to the taste -- same taste buds. So that's what we would do.
NNAMDISteven Raichlen is host of "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" on PBS. His latest book is called "Planet Barbecue!: An Electrifying Journey Around the World's Barbecue Trail." Come back sooner next time, Steven.
RAICHLENI would like that. This is really fun. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt really is. "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Diane Vogel, Brendan Sweeney, Tara Boyle, Michael Martinez and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff with help from videographer Anne Stopper. Diane Vogel is the managing producer. The engineer today, Rebecca Berlin. Anne Coddington was on the phones. I am Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Facing Calls For Dismissal, Prince George’s Schools CEO Kevin Maxwell Attends To Crisis Of Confidence
An investigation into Prince George's County Public Schools last fall found inflated graduation rates, too many excused absences and overly lax grading. How will the county fix its school's problems?
We check in with D.C.'s police chief to discuss his first year of policing the nation's capital.
80 degree days, windstorms, floods, droughts and bomb cyclones. We're all coping with a changing climate, but what happens when your livelihood depends on the weather?