Q&A : With Steven Raichlen

Grilling Tips & Gifts

Steven Raichlen, a multi-award winning author, journalist and television host has sold more than 4 millions copies of his best-selling books, such as "The Barbeque Bible!" and "How To Grill". His "Planet Barbecue!" is a comprehensive guide covering grilling techniques and recipes from 75 countries on 6 continents. Gifts.com caught up with Steven to ask him questions on the subjects of great grilling gifts and how to take your grilling to the elusive "next level".
Q
A friend just got a new grill
What are three indispensable grilling tools I could get this person as a gift to help them enjoy new grill?
A
The only three tools you really need are a grill brush, like our Ultimate Grill Brush, a set of tongs, like our Lumatong and an instant read meat thermometer. These and a pair of suede grill gloves and you're ready to go.
Q
Grilling 101
What is a common grilling mistake made by "weekend warrior" grillers?
A
There are three. First, is confusing grilling with burning. (Brown is good; black is less good.) Second, is overcrowding the grill. I always leave at least one third of the grate food free, so I have a safety zone where I can move the food if you get flare-ups. Lastly, is giving in to the "guy syndrome"—which says, if some is good, more is better, as in if some barbecue rub or hot sauce is good, dumping in the whole bottle will be even better. Often less is more.
Q
Unexpected grilling
What are some underrated foods that are great for grilling or foods people tend not to think of as foods good for grilling?
A
Breads. If you've ever had bruschetta made the authentic Tuscan way—grilled over a wood fire—you know what I'm talking about. Remember, the grill was the original toaster.
Lettuce. Quickly grill half romaine lettuce heads over a smoky wood fire to make the world's best Caesar salad.
Sweetbreads. OK, first you've got to be willing to try them (the thymus gland of a calf). Grill over a wood fire, as they do in Argentina. Serve with nothing more than a sprinkle of sea salt and squeeze of lemon juice. The new book "Planet Barbeque" has scores of recipes that should be quite new to many.
Q
Back to basics
Burgers & dogs are summer time staples on the grill. What are few simple things someone could do to add new life to these classics?
A
Get beyond them. If you really insist on ground meat, try sliders (sliders/mini burgers)—there's a killer recipe for wagyu beef sliders in Planet Barbecue. Or try pljeskavica, a giant pork and veal burger from the Balkans that's electrified with garlic and chilies. For hotdogs, you could try a samba dog—stuffed with onions, peppers, and olives, like they make in Brazil. (Recipe in How to Grill.)
Q
Back to basics
Do you have any tips one should keep in mind when planning to grill a meal for a party of 10+ people?
A
Sure. First, do the whole meal on the grill. (And buy a second grill if you need it.) Start off with something easy you can serve hot off the grill as people gather around the fire: grilled garlic bread, for example, or bacon-grilled prunes. For the side dish, do a gorgeous plate of grilled vegetables (peppers, onions, asparagus—make it colorful). Beauty of grilled vegetables is that they taste great at room temperature, so you can grill them ahead of time. For the main course, smoke a large hunk of animal protein—a brisket, for example, or pork shoulder. This too can be done ahead, and the cooking time is a lot more forgiving. Finally, grill a dessert while everyone is watching—or even have people grill and make their own uptown s'mores (designer marshmallows, homemade cookies, really good bittersweet chocolate).
Q
Enhancing your grilling experience
Could you tell Gifts.com some of your favorite non-food items that will really enhance a meal cooked and enjoyed outdoors?
A
Sure. Microbrew beers and almost any beer from Belgium (especially a cherry beer called Krik Lambic). Wine, which is one of the best ways I know to take your barbecue to the next level. Fortunately, some of the world's greatest grilling regions are also some of the world's best wine makers (the short list includes South America, Spain, Italy, and Australia.) These days, I'm really big on Aussie shiraz, New Zealand and South African sauvignon blanc, and South American malbec. I also like to build on the theme of live fire—tiki torches, fire pits, candles on the table. For music, it should be background and noticeable in that you don't really notice it. What matters is the conversation. Except of course Bob Dylan, who should be listened to in rapt attention.