Hot days and long nights. Morning dew and lingering sunsets. All are signs of the new season, but nothing says summer more than the smell of the almighty barbecue. From fish to fillet, we asked "Barbecue University" and "Primal Grill" front man Steven Raichlen how to make your grill the hottest ticket in town. It's time to update your BB-IQ.
Born in Japan, raised in Baltimore, educated in Portland and working everywhere from France to Boston to Miami, this grill master sounds more like an international diplomat than a barbecue king. But Raichlen's travels, combined with his years as a renowned food writer, are what inspired him to apply his expertise to the art of food by the fire.
"From an anthropology angle, the barbecue is tremendously fascinating," he says. "It's the oldest, most universal and loved cooking method on a global scale."
Raichlen travels at least five months of each year in the name of research, bringing home this international barbecue trail to his fans of the flame.
"Grilling is a performance art," say Raichlen.
When hosting a summer soiree, everything is done on the grill. Raichlen suggests grilling vegetables beforehand to serve to guests as they arrive while you flame up the main entrée. And for this host, grilling is not a spectator sport.
When it comes to pre-cook prep, marinades go on wet. The type of food combined with the strength and potency of the marinade determine how much soak time you'll need. For shrimp, aim for 15 minutes, but for a pork shoulder brisket you'll need 24 hours. Lighter vinaigrette marinades can stay on longer, while more corrosive marinades flavor faster with more intensity.
Like your marinade, a rub or season goes on before you grill, but these flavor enhancers go on dry. Wait to apply glazes during cooking, and save the chunky salsas and chutneys for when the meat comes off the grill.
When grilling, center small, quick-cooking items like vegetables, steaks and chicken directly over the fire. If the recipe calls for smoking, the meat cooks for a long time over a low heat with a wood chips or chunks.
Add years to your grill's life expectancy with regular maintenance. Raichlen's mantra: Keep it hot, clean and lubricated.
With a gas grill, empty grill pan daily, and with charcoal, dump the ash catcher after each use. Raichlen's No. 1 myth buster? Food never tastes better when cooked with last night's meal crusted to the grill grate.
Three tools can take you from brats to bacon-grilled trout
1 A long-handled grill brush for cleaning the grill grate.
2 Long-handled, spring-loaded tongs for turning food.
3 An instant read meat thermometer for temperature control.