Fresh ingredients, excellent seasonings, and just the right amount of heat are the secrets to a delicious barbecue.
Last summer I hosted a big party at the farm for a group of coworkers and their families. Six well-known chefs and I "turned up the heat" and barbecued, grilled, and melted all sorts of things on several types of grills. One of the chefs, Brad Farmerie, of Public and Saxon + Parole restaurants, in New York City, cooked up a platter of Maine lobster and corn over a wood fire. It was my favorite food that hot, hot day, and Brad generously offered his recipe for publication here.
Another popular station was the s'mores grill, where carefully charred store-bought marshmallows married with delicious milk chocolate and homemade graham crackers. Despite the heat generated by coals from well-burned firewood in the bottom of a giant iron cauldron, the children and I roasted marshmallows to perfection on extra-long willow branches. The kids were briefed on the hazards of grilling, and each appeared to have paid close attention, since there were no problems whatsoever.
What I learned that day, cooking pork, steaks, seafood, vegetables, and chicken, was that grilling is all about fresh food, excellent seasonings, and precise heat, or "fire," as expert chefs call the wood, charcoal, or gas-fired open or covered grills that we all use and love.
I am not an expert griller like Emeril Lagasse, one of the guest chefs, or Brad, or Chris Schlesinger, Elizabeth Karmel, Roberto Guerra, or Bill Taibe, who were also in attendance. In fact, I'm not a fan of overly charred food, but I do like carefully cooked food, meats and fish especially, slowly roasted over hot wood coals with flames hovering just below, not touching, whatever it is I am making.
My favorite grill is based on what caterers call the Big John, a large, flat, rectangular steel grill with an adjustable top, on which lots of different things can be cooked at the same time. I know gas is easy, and I know there is a strong tradition of charcoal grilling, but I have an abundance of fragrant hardwoods at the farm -- apple, pear, birch, oak, maple -- that I use for different amounts of heat and different flavors. I try not to use the "smoky" woods, such as mesquite, because the smoke often masks the taste of the food being grilled.
My grill was custom designed by a griller from Argentina. He totally understood the necessity of a shallow bottom for the coals and a grill top that can be raised and lowered during cooking. The grill is longer than it is deep and open on all sides, so one's arms do not get singed trying to reach food.
No matter your barbecue style or preference, finding the best seasonal ingredients and a grill that fits your needs -- Weber, Big Green Egg, and Brinkmann offer many reliable types of grills and smokers -- will guarantee a flavorful outdoor meal.
Martha's Grilling Tips
Simple things to remember when cooking outdoors.
- Use a grill you feel comfortable with.
- Use a fuel you can work with easily.
- Start the fire well in advance of cooking so the wood or charcoal has time to get hot and form ashy coals.
- Use long tongs to turn and lift food.
- Use a spray bottle filled with water to tame flare-ups.
- Take your time, and enjoy the process.