Expert Grilling: Barbecue, Peaches And Spicy Corn

This Fourth of July weekend, flames and smoke will rise over backyards across the country. And that means grilling. In the best-case scenario, you get a tasty meal. In the worst case, you get an awesome story of how you turned hamburger into charcoal briquettes — or maybe how you got grill marks on your hand.

Steven Raichlen, author of the Barbecue! Bible, wants to help you stay on the right side of that line.

Testing out a holiday menu on a recent morning, Raichlen fired up three grills in a backyard, then slipped back inside to the kitchen.

"So what we're going to do," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, "is an entire meal on the grill, from appetizer to dessert. And we're going to do a celebration of regional American barbecue."

Raichlen surveys his ingredients on the kitchen island: a slab of Alaskan salmon, and a cedar plank to grill it on; spices for Mexican corn on the cob; and poblano peppers, to be stuffed with onions, spices, beans and pepper jack cheese.

He's brought in bread and butter and garlic, to grill Texas toast. Off to the side, several pounds of uncooked pork sat, waiting for the grill to heat up.

Raichlen describes the main course: "pulled pork sliders, with a nod to South Carolina: spice-rubbed, smoke-roasted pork shoulder, that will be chopped and served on soft buns, with mustard slaw and mustard sauce."

Raichlen grills peaches skewered on cinnamon sticks.

hide captionRaichlen grills peaches skewered on cinnamon sticks.

Claire O'Neill/NPR

The recipe reflects a specialty in South Carolina, where barbecue sauce is often mustard-based.

"To finish up, from Georgia," Raichlen says, "cinnamon-grilled peaches, with a vitamin B3 glaze. And those three vitamins are brown sugar, butter and bourbon."

Taking It Outside

Three factors will affect this meal. The first is the food itself — in this case, a cut of pork shoulder, often called a Boston butt.

The next factor is what you put on the food, the rub and sauce you use before it's cooking and while it cooks.

Using a miniature mop, Raichlen applies his "mop sauce" — vinegar, mustard, and spices — "after the first hour and every hour thereafter."

Swabbing the sauce onto the cooking meat, he explains that it "adds an extra layer of flavor, it helps keep the meat moist, and it looks really cool."

But of course, the biggest factor in barbecuing is the star of the show: the fire.

One of our test grills runs on gas. The others are simple kettle grills, which Raichlen gradually fills with charcoal.

"Remember, there is a difference between grilling and burning," he says.

He carefully measures the charcoal out, dropping in a bit at a time from a container.

"You know when people start out, they kind of build a raging fire, and throw the food on," Raichlen says, "and then somehow hope by some divine miracle that it will come out grilled. But you want to control the fire. That's why we work with multiple heat zones."

He splits his grilling area into three regions: "a hot zone for searing, medium zone for cooking, and a safety zone, with no fire whatsoever," he says.

Raichlen analyzes where each new batch of coals should go — and what part of the grill is best for each type of food, especially tricky items like stuffed peppers.

Direct And Indirect Grilling

As the food goes on, Raichlen uses one of two cooking styles: direct grilling, with the food right over the flame, and indirect grilling, where the coals have been pushed off to either side.

"Any time you grill something that is either big or fatty, or needs a prolonged cooking time," he says, "you use indirect grilling. Because if we direct grilled, we'd char the peppers, but the filling wouldn't be done."

About The Fire

Charcoal briquettes are composites originally made from wood scraps and petroleum. Raichlen prefers natural lump charcoal — "a tree baked in a kiln to cook out the water," which retains many natural flavors, he says.

To start the fire, Raichlen lights the charcoal in a chimney starter, a metal tube or box with charcoal in the top and some newspaper in bottom. This way, he can light the coals without using lighter fluid.

For indirect grilling, Raichlen recommends raking coals into two mounds on opposite side of the grill, with a drip pan in the center. "What this does, in effect, is turn your grill into an outdoor oven," he says.

Another advantage of natural lump charcoal is that more can be added right onto the fire. When using briquettes, it's best to light the second batch in a chimney starter.

Raichlen also uses indirect grilling on that slab of pork shoulder. He drops a few water-soaked wood chips down among the charcoal to produce a smoked flavor. Then he covers the grill.

And then, the wait would begin, for the next saucing in an hour's time. But in the miraculous tradition of professional test chefs everywhere, Raichlen has a finished pork shoulder on hand, one he started hours earlier.

"Cooking time on this is about three hours," he says. "And you can see it's a beautiful crusty golden brown. It's so tender. I can just pull little pieces of pulled pork, right off the meat."

Summing up his method, Raichlen says, "indirect grilling, about 3 hours, adding wood chips every hour — but not the last hour."

For any amateur grillers who might worry that they've overcooked their meat, Raichlen offers some reassurance. "There's a difference between black and very dark brown," he says.

Serving Up A Barbecued Feast

Slaving for hours in the smoke under the sun, Steven Raichlen has grilled a perfect slab of meat. And now, he takes it back into the kitchen, and destroys it.

Using a cleaver, he chops the meat into a fairly fine hash, turning it into the filling for a pulled-pork slider. Then, you drop it on a soft roll with some slaw, and eat.

The small sandwich packs "a very complex set of flavors and textures," Raichlen says.

The sliders are followed by grilled peaches — speared on cinnamon sticks, and basted with that brown sugar, butter, and bourbon mix, directly over the flame of the grill.

"You see how the ends of the cinnamon sticks are burning," Raichlen says. "That releases all of those cinnamon oils. It's all about flavor."

Actually, out by the grill, not everything is about flavor. For Steve Raichlen, it's also a kind of performance art.

"One of the extraordinary things about grilling — it's a public event, it's a theatrical event, it's a social event" he says. "People do not gather around a stove to watch a pot of soup simmer, or an oven to watch a cake bake. But when you grill, instantly, you have a crowd."

Recipe: Pinto Bean and Pepperjack Cheese Chiles Rellenos

Pinto Bean and Pepperjack Cheese Chiles Rellenos i i

hide captionPinto Bean and Pepperjack Cheese Chiles Rellenos

Claire O'Neill/NPR
Pinto Bean and Pepperjack Cheese Chiles Rellenos

Pinto Bean and Pepperjack Cheese Chiles Rellenos

Claire O'Neill/NPR
  • 4 large poblano peppers
  • 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for drizzling
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low sodium pinto beans, drained, rinsed in a colander, and drained again
  • 1 can (15 ounces) low sodium black beans, drained, rinsed in a colander, and drained again
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 12 ounces pepper jack cheese, coarsely grated
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups hickory or other wood chips, soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick skillet. Add the onion, garlic, pumpkin seeds, and cumin and cook over medium heat until golden brown, 4 minutes. Stir in the beans, cilantro, and 2/3 of the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the mixture into the hollowed peppers. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and drizzle with remaining olive oil.

Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium high (400 degrees). Just before cooking, toss the wood chips on the coals.

Arrange the peppers on the grill grate away from fire. Indirect grill until the peppers are tender and the cheese is browned and bubbling, 30 to 40 minutes.

Use a spatula to transfer the peppers to a platter or plates and serve at once.

Adapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2003 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

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Recipe: Cinnamon-Grilled Peaches

Cinnamon-Grilled Peaches i i
Claire O'Neill/NPR
Cinnamon-Grilled Peaches
Claire O'Neill/NPR
  • 4 large ripe freestone peaches
  • 8 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long)
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pint peach or vanilla ice cream (optional) for serving

Rinse the peaches and blot them dry with paper towels. Cut each peach in half along the crease, running your knife in a circular motion around the peach and cutting to the pit. Twist the halves in opposite directions to separate them. Using a spoon, pry out and discard the pit. Cut each peach half in half. Using a pointed chopstick or metal skewer, make a starter hole in the center of each peach quarter, working from the pit side to the skin side. Skewer 2 peach quarters on each cinnamon stick, placing a mint leaf between the two quarters.

Combine the butter, brown sugar, bourbon, cinnamon, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Let the glaze boil until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes.

Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the skewered peaches on the hot grate and grill until nicely browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side, basting with the bourbon and butter glaze. Scoop ice cream into bowls or martini glasses and arrange the peaches on top. Spoon any remaining glaze over the grilled peaches and serve at once.

Adapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2003 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

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Recipe: Chi-Mex Grilled Corn

Chi-Mex Grilled Corn i i

hide captionChi-Mex Grilled Corn

Claire O'Neill/NPR
Chi-Mex Grilled Corn

Chi-Mex Grilled Corn

Claire O'Neill/NPR
  • 6 ears sweet corn in the husk
  • 1 cup mayonnaise (preferably Hellmann's)
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) freshly grated Cotija, Romano, or real Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pure chile powder (preferably ancho chili powder)
  • Limes wedges for serving
  • Butcher's string

Shuck the corn, stripping the husk back as though you were peeling a banana, but leaving the husk attached at the stem end (leave the stem on). Holding an ear of the corn in one hand, gather the husk together so that it covers the stem and then tie it with a piece of butcher's string, forming a sort of handle. Remove the corn silk. Repeat with the remaining ears of corn.

Place the mayonnaise, cheese, chile powder, and lime wedges in small attractive bowls. Have these ingredients ready on the table, along with butter knives for spreading the mayonnaise.

Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

When ready to cook, arrange the corn on the hot grate so that the husks hang over the edge of the grill (this keeps them from burning) or place a folded sheet of aluminum foil under the husks to shield them. Grill the corn until nicely browned on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side (8 to 12 minutes in all), turning with tongs.

Transfer the grilled corn to a platter. To serve, tell everyone to spread mayonnaise on the corn, then working over a plate or the platter, sprinkle the ears with cheese and chile powder. Squeeze lime juice to taste over the corn and eat the kernels right off the cob.

Adapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2003 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

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Recipe: Planked Salmon With Mustard Glaze

Planked Salmon with Mustard Glaze i i
Claire O'Neill/NPR
Planked Salmon with Mustard Glaze
Claire O'Neill/NPR

For the fish:

  • 2 pound piece of wild salmon fillet (ideally cut from the head end)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Hellmann's)
  • 1/3 cup Meaux-style (grainy French) mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

You'll also need:

  • 1 cedar plank (about 6 by 12 inches), soaked in water to cover for 2 hours (a baking sheet or large roasting pan works well for this), then drained

Run your fingers over the salmon fillets, feeling for bones. Pull out any you find with a needle-nose pliers or tweezers. Generously brush the skin side of the fish with olive oil. Generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the plank.

Prepare the glaze. Place the mayonnaise, mustard, tarragon, and lemon zest in a mixing bowl and whisk to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Set up your grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high.

Spread the glaze mixture evenly over the top and sides of the salmon. Place the plank on the grill away from the heat. Cover the grill and indirect grill the salmon until cooked, about 20 minutes. To test for doneness, use an instant read meat thermometer inserted through the side: the temperature should be about 135 degrees. Or insert a metal skewer in the side of the fish—it should come out hot to the touch. And the glaze will turn a deep golden brown. Transfer the plank and fish to a platter and serve it right off the plank.

Adapted from Planet Barbecue by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2010 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

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Recipe: Grilled Garlic-Cilantro Bread

Grilled Garlic-Cilantro Bread i i
Becky Lettenberger/NPR
Grilled Garlic-Cilantro Bread
Becky Lettenberger/NPR
  • 1 loaf French bread (20 to 24 inches long)
  • 12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high.

Cut the bread sharply on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices and arrange them on a baking sheet.

Place the butter in a medium bowl and cream it using a whisk or wooden spoon. Add the garlic, cilantro, and pepper and beat until the butter is creamy. Using a spatula or knife, spread the garlic butter on both sides of the bread slices.

When ready to cook, place the bread on the hot grate and grill until golden brown on both sides, 1 to 3 minutes per side. Don't take your eyes off the grill for a second as buttered bread can burn quickly. If it starts to burn, use tongs to move the slices to a cooler area of the grill. Remove the bread from the grill and serve at once.

Adapted from How To Grill by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2001 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

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Recipe: Carolina Pulled Pork Sliders with Mustard Sauce

Pulled Pork Sliders i i
Claire O'Neill/NPR
Pulled Pork Sliders
Claire O'Neill/NPR

PULLED PORK

Adapted from: BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen

For the rub and Boston butt:

  • 2 tablespoons dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 Boston butt (bone-in pork shoulder roast), 5 to 7 pounds

For the mop sauce:

  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

  • 24 mini hamburger buns (ideally mini brioche rolls)
  • 6 tablespoons butter (optional), melted
  • Thinly sliced sweet pickles
  • South Carolina Mustard Barbecue Sauce (recipe follows)

You'll also need:

  • 4-1/2 cups hardwood chips (preferably hickory), soaked in water to cover for 1 hour, then drained

Combine the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl and stir to mix. Sprinkle the rub all over the pork, patting it onto the meat with your fingertips. Let the pork cure at room temperature while you make the mop sauce.

Make the mop sauce. Combine the vinegar, mustard, water, salt and pepper in a large nonreactive mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup of water, and whisk until the salt dissolves.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips or chunks in a smoker box or smoker pouch and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium-low. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center, preheat the grill to medium-low, then toss 1 cup of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.

When ready to cook, place the pork, skin side up, if there is one, in the center of the hot grate over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill. Cook the pork until darkly browned on the outside and very tender inside, 2-1/2 to 3 hours. (You can also cook the pork in a smoker at 225 degrees for 4 to 6 hours. To test for doneness, use an instant-read meat thermometer: The internal temperature of the pork should be about 190 degrees F. If the pork starts to brown too much (and it probably will), cover it loosely with aluminum foil, but remember that the browned bits are good, too. Every hour for the first 4 hours, swab the pork with some of the mop sauce, using a barbecue mop or basting brush. If using a charcoal grill, every hour you'll need to add 12 fresh coals and 1/2 cup of wood chips or chunks to each side.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board, cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and let it rest for 20 minutes before coarsely chopping with a cleaver. Place the pork in an aluminum foil pan. If you are not quite ready to serve, cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it on a warm—not hot—grill or in a low oven.

If desired, brush the buns with the melted butter and lightly toast them on the grill. Load each bun with pork and slather with mustard sauce. Top with pickle slices and serve at once.

Adapted from BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2003 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

SUB-RECIPE: SOUTH CAROLINA MUSTARD BARBECUE SAUCE

Makes about 3 cups

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 slice bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch slivers
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (preferably Crystal), or more to taste
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and onion and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat.

Stir in the mustard, brown sugar, vinegar, and hot sauce. Let the sauce simmer, uncovered, until thick and richly flavored, 6 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more hot sauce as necessary and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce cool to room temperature before serving. In the unlikely case you have any mustard sauce left, store it in a clean jar in the refrigerator. It will keep for at least a week; bring it to room temperature before serving.

SUB-RECIPE: MEMPHIS MUSTARD SLAW

Makes 5 to 6 cups

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
  • Salt

For the slaw:

  • 1 small or 1/2 large head green cabbage (about 1-1/2 pounds), finely shredded
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced

Make the dressing: Place the mustard, mayonnaise, and sugar in a large nonreactive mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the vinegar, celery seed, and black pepper. Stir in the cabbage and bell pepper. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as necessary. Refrigerate until serving time. The slaw can be made up to 1 day ahead.

Adapted from Barbecue Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2000 by Steven Raichlen. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.

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Books Featured In This Story

Bbq USA
Bbq USA

425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America

by Steven Raichlen

Paperback, 774 pages | purchase

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  • Bbq USA
  • 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America
  • Steven Raichlen
How to Grill
How to Grill

The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques, a Barbecue Bible! Cookbook

by Steven Raichlen and Greg Schneider

Paperback, 498 pages | purchase

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  • How to Grill
  • The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques, a Barbecue Bible! Cookbook
  • Steven Raichlen and Greg Schneider
Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes
Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes

by Steven Raichlen and Ron Tanovitz

Paperback, 304 pages | purchase

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  • Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes
  • Steven Raichlen and Ron Tanovitz

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