Casual Living Staff -- Casual Living, 3/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
The search for flavor sends outdoor cooks down some freewheeling paths.
Some cooks tinker with bubbling brews of barbecue sauce. Others mix exotic spices in hopes of concocting magically delicious blends. Some go to great lengths to purchase meats and produce of extraordinary distinction. I know food fanatics where I live out in California who think that spending $10 per pound for heirloom tomatoes is perfectly worthwhile, provided the tomatoes were planted under a blue moon by leprechauns with pixie dust in their hair. (OK, I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.) If something promises to taste good, outdoor cooks will part with a lot of money to eat it.
In the past couple of years I've noticed a lot of people charging down one path in particular. In the grilling classes I teach and in various online circles (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), I have been seeing a slew of questions and enthusiasm about how to smoke foods. As a cooking technique, smoking is almost as old as cooking itself, but for some reason today we are witnessing a surge of interest in it. Maybe this is related to a strong trend in Southern cuisine, especially the upscale versions of it.
Many of the questions I hear revolve around how to master barbecue classics like ribs, beef brisket and pulled pork - all of which require clouds of wood smoke and hours and hours of gentle cooking before they surrender to tenderness. So Weber and I decided it was time to write a cookbook that covered those slow-cooked dishes thoroughly, explaining to both new and experienced cooks how to control their fires, choose their woods and harmonize various types of smoke with spice rubs and sauces. However, we didn't want Weber's Smoke to be about barbecue alone. Beyond that great American cooking tradition, there is a wide, wonderful spectrum of foods that is improved significantly in a matter of minutes with just a little smoke.
For example, I think we can all agree that rib-eye steaks grilled over smoky charcoal can be a feast for the senses, but when you add mesq uite wood chips to the coals and also throw in some woody sprigs of fresh thyme, let me tell you, the results are tremendous. The aromatic smoke is not the prominent flavor; it lingers in the background and contributes depth and complexity to the grilled meat. The same is true of other quick dishes in the book like Vietnamese Shrimp Sausages with Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce and Cedar-Planked Brie with a Quick Cherry Chutney.
Some of the questions I hear from outdoor cooks suggest to me that a lot of people still think you need a smoker to smoke. That's not necessarily true. In fact, most of the recipes in my new cookbook can be smoked on either a gas or charcoal grill, which is important for beginning cooks to know. They can build their confidence with a simple cedar-planked tuna salad or oak-smoked leg of lamb. Then, if they are like many of us who have let a hobby turn into an obsession, it won't be long before they are buying a smoker and tackling some of my book's more advanced recipes like Homemade Maple-cured Bacon, Smoked Trout and Artichoke Dip, and Peppery Beef Jerky - all of which are featured in stunning color photography.
I am hopeful that this new book will strengthen the smoking trend. It welcomes newcomers with a thorough introduction to all the basics, helping everyone get past any confusion or intimidation about the topic, and then it teaches a set of advanced skills and techniques that outdoor cooks can rely on with any grill.
Finally, of course, it gives cooks plenty of recipes for practicing and refining the art of smoking so that they emerge on the other side of all this with a fearless attitude and a greater compulsion to buy the equipment and accessories that make cooking this way so much fun.
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