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A summer meal in barbecue-obsessed Denver often involves a back patio, a few cold microbrews, and a friendly debate about the best grilling techniques. To settle the score, we asked celeb chef Steven Raichlen, award-winning author of The Barbecue! Bible and host of a brand-new PBS show called The Primal Grill, your burning questions.
Which do you prefer: charcoal or gas? Neither. I prefer grilling over wood— it’s a more mercurial way to grill. It gives you much more heat and a light smoke flavor. Plus, you can customize the flavor—cherry [wood] has a different flavor than oak or mesquite. In Argentina, Tuscany, and South Africa they love to grill over wood.
Is there any way to get a blackened flavor without overcooking meat or fish? Work over a high heat; the higher the heat, the more you sear the outside. You can use the Mississippi test. Hold your hand about three inches above the grate and count “one Mississippi.” If you can only keep your hand there for two to three seconds you are working with a hot grill. The typical operating temp of a grill is between 650 and 700 degrees.
What’s your favorite fish to grill? Line-caught swordfish. If I had my way I’d have it five times a week. I also like Colorado trout.
What’s your favorite general-purpose grill for under $500? For charcoal it’s hard to beat a 22½-inch Weber kettle grill, which you can get for $150. In terms of gas grills, the Weber Genesis series is pretty good. I also like Vermont Castings—it’s built by a company that makes woodstoves, and is better suited for a cold climate.
I’m new to charcoal grilling. What type of fuel is best? Look for natural lump charcoal that comes in jagged chunks. If it looks like cubes and strips, it’s probably been made from furniture scraps. Start [the charcoal] in a chimney starter—that way you don’t need petroleum starters and it heats more evenly.
What temperature do you recommend for grilling a T-bone? Are you from the high-heat camp or the slow-cook camp? High-heat camp. All you accomplish with low heat is a stew instead of a sear; it’s a no-no.
For more questions and answers, check out the 10th anniversary edition of The Barbecue! Bible, which now includes 150 frequently asked reader questions.