From the man who wrote the “Barbecue Bible” comes a new-old style of grilling steaks. Caveman cooking, where meat is laid directly on burning hardwood embers, isn’t for the faint of heart, but we’d expect it to catch on like wildfire in Texas.
Steven Raichlen was at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort Monday night, the latest appearance in the KLRN-TV Chef Series. The author and television personality demonstrated his primordial Caveman T-bones, and made a multi-course meal on two trusty Weber kettle grills.
With Memorial Day weekend and Father’s Day fast approaching, his tips were timely. The audience not only liked their food, prepared by the staff at the Hyatt, but were obviously curious about Raichlen’s methods and theories of live fire cooking. The show was set up under the air-conditioned pavilion at the Hyatt, with the author’s food, grills and other equipment set up on a platform, safely just outside the front of the tent.
He also promoted his latest cookbook, “Planet Barbecue” (Workman Publishing, $22.95). In it he mentions the traditional Texas “barbecue” as being pit smoked meat. His book, though, focuses on direct grilling over a hot, live fire — the way that most barbecue is done in the rest of the world. In addition to having more than two dozen books to his credit, he has won five James Beard Awards and hosts “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University” on PBS.
The meal was a global feast. The Coconut Grilled Corn came from Cambodia. Grilled Potatoes with Herbed Cheese were smoke-roasted and topped with a German cheese called quark. Grilled poblano peppers were seared, then scented with sesame oil for an Asian flavor. The stars of the show were the right-on-the-embers-roasted Caveman T-bones. The romance here was that this could very well have been how early man, some 1.8 million years ago, might have cooked an (early) steer. A spit-roasted whole pineapple was dessert and was credited to Brazil.
Raichlen tossed out three initial tips from his PBS show, “Primal Grill.” “First, you have to keep the grill hot,” he said. Raichlen held his hand a short distance above the grill and said, “San Antonio one, San Antonio two … ouch!” As he pulled his hand quickly away, he added that the grill needs to be scrupulously clean, brushed well before the grilling begins. Finally, “Keep the grill well oiled or lubricated.” He demonstrated by drawing a thick, oiled pad of paper towel over the grate.
“Barbecue was the first brain food,” Raichlen said. When early men had to eat raw meat to get their protein, it involved a lot of heavy chewing. Their jaws were huge; their brains small. Cooked meat allowed them to attain maximum protein intake in a shorter time, hence encouraging the growth of the brain.
Cooking was also the beginning of man’s socializing, of eating together around a fire. It marked the beginning of the division of labor, he said, as some went out to hunt for meat and others kept the fires back at the cave burning. The way we eat, preparing food, seasoning it, is what separates us from other animals, he says.
“Why do we have such a passion for barbecue?,” he asked, rhetorically. “Because we remember, in some primordial way that this is what made us human.”
Other tips from Raichlen’s appearance:
- Keep part of the grill coal free. This is the safety zone (place to pull food that is in danger of overcooking).
- Don’t crowd the items on the grill. “Every grill has hot spots and cold spots. You gotta keep the food moving.” Also, you need to leave room for maneuvering.
- Turn steaks once. When little pearls of liquid begin to appear on top, it’s time to turn.
- Raichlen uses lump charcoal. It’s made from whole trees and branches that are partially burned.
- When broiling, have a three-zone fire: hot, medium and the safety zone.
- Give meat a rest. After it is cooked to the doneness you desire, set it on a plate and cover with foil, and let it rest a couple of minutes. The juices redistribute and won’t all flow out when you cut into the meat.
- When grilling corn, he doesn’t enclose it in the husks — this way it steams rather than grills. He puts it directly on the grill, pulling the husks up above the corn and tying them to form a handle. For the Coconut-Grilled Corn grilled the corn partway before brushing it with unsweetened coconut milk.
- The best way to start the fire? Use a chimney, a cylindrical metal canister with a handle that holds the coals while they catch fire. These are sold with most grilling equipment.
Photos by Bonnie Walker