Everyone with a grill thinks they know how to use it. We’ll fix that misconception and teach you how to use it too … on this edition of Frank Relationships.
FRANK RELATIONSHIPS: JIM SHAHIN ON GRILLING AND BARBEQUING
Guests: Jim Shahin
Date: August 2, 2016
Frank: Everybody who has grilled thinks they know how to use it. We’ll fix that misconception and teach you how to use it too… on this edition of Frank Relationships.
Yes. Those are my babies. As always, thanks for getting daddy’s daughter today.
What’s the biggest misconception when it comes to outdoor grilling with charcoal?
Jim: The biggest misconception, let’s see… I guess I would say that the biggest misconception when grilling with charcoal is that it’s a hassle. It’s actually not. I think it’s probably—for me anyway and I think for a lot of people who finally get into it, they find that especially with grills today that have the thing underneath that allows the ash to be caught, clean up pretty easy…. and it starts to the fact as a gas grill.
So a gas grill’s going to take you a solid 15 minutes to pre-warm, like you would your oven… and a charcoal grill’s going to take also roughly about the same amount of time to get the charcoal… 15-20 minutes to get the charcoal ashen. So it takes about the same amount of time and the flavor is so much better.
Frank: Speaking of getting started, do you—this is a very, very important question. Do you—I may say so myself…
Frank: Do you use lighter fluid?
Jim: Never ever. Not [unclear].
Frank: Ever. Do you hear that Nancy?
Nancy: I did.
Frank: He never uses lighter fluid.
Nancy: I notice people like getting away from that.
Frank: It’s not even—you put it away.
Nancy: Is it toxic?
Frank: You don’t need it. Somebody who knows what they’re doing doesn’t even need it. So we’re not talking about you.
Nancy: You most assuringly are not…
Jim: You don’t even have to know what you’re doing to not use a lighter fluid because they have… you can buy these things that are called a “chimney” and they’re about $15 and all you do is stuff a little newspaper in the bottom of it or some other paper and you light the bottom of it and there you go. That way, you don’t have… first of all, you just reduce your cost because you don’t have any… you’re not buying lighter fluid so there’s that.
Secondly, you don’t have that nasty smell that some people argue burns off anyway. Other people say there’s a residual. I don’t really know what it is but I know I hate that smell. I don’t want to take the chance of having any residual flavor form the lighter fluid.
And thirdly, you don’t have the lighter fluid now somewhere around your house, whether it’s in your garage or wherever it is… it can be kind of a safety issue. Why have that? What if it knocks over something in your garage? So for $15 you can take care all of that and have this chimney, doesn’t take up much space at all and no lighter fluid.
Frank: But Jim, I want you to understand, you said that as though she knew this… She didn’t even know that.
Nancy: Oh, all I know is you know… I did see—I did notice on the 4th of July that my uncle was not so interested in the lighter fluid and he was using more newspaper and he wasn’t too hot on the newspaper. So I though that’s a change. I can remember my grandfather dousing the thing with lighter fluid.
Jim: Yeah, all of our grandfathers used to douse that thing…
Nancy: Right, right, right….
Jeff: Now that’s a fire.
Jim: Yeah, unless those flames lift about 6 feet in the air… We didn’t really have anything going on…
Frank: And that only happen for like 30 seconds and then they had to pour some more.
Jim: Yeah. It had to look like Jimi Hendrix [unclear] guitar.
Frank: Welcome to Frank Relationships, a show for you my brethren who like me, are too young to be considered old and too old to be considered young. It’s also for those of you that love and support us. We’re here to provide weekly wisdom, conversation and the information that’ll help create a loving, flexible parent and partner.
I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com. If you’re listening to the show on Blog Talk Radio, please follow us and if via iTunes, please subscribe so that you can effortlessly get each week’s show.
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Greetings to my co-host, Nancy Goldring.
Nancy: Hi, Frank.
Frank: The consummate generalist… How you doing?
Nancy: I’m great.
Frank: Great. You sound great.
Nancy: Thank you.
Frank: We’ve got a special guest today that’ll help us develop an understanding of outdoor cooking. Today’s guest is a nationally recognize expert on live fire cooking. He writes the Washington Post Smoke Signals Barbecue and Grilling column where he shares scores of recipes on cooking steaks and fish to salads and desserts.
He recently wrote a column that caught my eye in interest on fire management when cooking with a kettle. When I was done with that article, my instant thought was “I got to interview this guy” and I immediately told my co-host—Jim, this is… Well, see I’ve given away already but I’m going to give you throwing under the bus 101. I’ma school you to something Jim. This is how you throw someone on the bus. When I saw that article, read it, was interested, I said I got to interview him, I talked to my co-host, Nancy who immediately said, “No thanks.”
Nancy: Looks like what am I going to talk to him about?
Frank: And that my friend is how you throw someone under the bus, right in front of the cup.
Nancy: Oh my… it wasn’t that simple, Jim. Let me tell you…
Frank: He’s judged the prestigious Jack Daniels International Barbecue competition which attracts teams from around the world. He’s made repeated tours of America’s Barbecue capitals and is well-versed in their regional styles. He’s also reviewed barbecue joints ranging from tiny shacks in Alabama to the Michelin 3-star Saison Restaurant—I hope I said that right. Simply put, this guy knows his man-stuff. Ha-ha… Yes…
Nancy: Oh my gosh…
Frank: So, if you like me, want to know his preference—charcoal or gas, if barbecue is political… Yeah, seriously, is it political?
Nancy: Is it political…
Frank: And how to manage your fire.
Frank: Then stay tuned as your Frank Relationships Team talk about barbecue and the many reasons that you probably know what you’re doing with none other than Jim Shahin. Welcome to the show.
Jim: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
Frank: Before we get too deep into today’s subject matter, we do a round of this and thats of what’s in the news and I got something for you, Nancy. Jim, please feel free to chime in if you have something to say.
I was reading an article in Huffington Post called “10 Things Everyone Should Know About Marriage”. According to divorcees, and one of the points—actually two of the points in the article was… If you suspect your spouse is upset about something, find out what it is at any cost. I thought that was crazy.
Nancy: Yeah. It is crazy.
Frank: I mean, pressure, nag, irritate, snoop, do whatever it takes to find out what might be bothering your partner. I can’t get with that.
Nancy: No… I’m divorced and I don’t agree. Yeah, I don’t agree with that. I mean, I think it’s valuable to be interested and to pursue it to some extent and yet I think you have to establish and kind of balance and knowing to back off… and you know, the only thing that I can think of is that some people like or need to be loved in that way… they need you to like go…
Frank: To pursue?
Nancy; Yeah—I mean, they need you to just like beg them for… What’s wrong?
Frank: Jeff? You look like I’ve said something that touched home.
Jeff: You know what? After you get to a certain age, you just… you’re not as needy… I don’t think relationships are either. They’re hard work but there’s too many extraneous things that are just that, extraneous, stick to the core, stick to what’s important, stick to the love and devotion—
Jeff: —and those things you have in common… and if you don’t have things in common, either try to find them which could be hard work or call it a day, go to a barbecue.
Frank: Jim, you got anything on that?
Jim: I think you guys pretty much covered it. I mean, I agree. I mean, you know I’ve been lucky enough to be married to my wife in 30 years and we… I’m from the East Coast, she’s from Texas. Actually, she in some ways was the one who kind of in some ways introduced me to barbecue and you know, I don’t know… when I see that there’s something bugging, I try to judge at what level are we yet?
Jim: If it is a level that she needs me to say, “Hey how are you doing? What’s going on? Are you feeling bad about them?” or are we at the level that just let it alone and let her work it out and not pick at it. so yeah, [unclear] a funny thing.
Frank: Indeed. There’s a Portland. You’ve ever been to Portland, Nancy?
Nancy: I have actually been…
Frank: That’s a no.
Nancy: On the [unclear] Portland but I haven’t seen the place.
Frank: No you haven’t been to Portland.
Nancy: Okay, I haven’t been to Portland, Frank. Thank you.
Jeff: No, I just know that that’s where Nike is.
Nancy: Yes. Huge.
Frank: Alright, alright. It’s a city—well, number one, it has a lot of swingers clubs, has the most strip bars per capita, it has an annual porn festival and is considered the city that’s making polyamory easy.
Frank: Apparently, you can’t go anywhere without seeing a polyamorous couple in Portland.
Jeff: And you still live in D.C.?
Nancy: That’s heavy. How about that? And you know what I think it’s fascinating you always hear about what a great town Portland is, no one ever mentioned these things…
Nancy: This is the [unclear] watch my language…
Frank: Maybe people don’t think that’s great.
Nancy: Well I don’t… I am completely blown away that there’s such a charge there around sex and sexuality and there’s no conversation about it.
Nancy: Imagine that.
Frank: Imagine that.
Nancy: Well, I tell you one thing, the next time you ask me about if I ever been to Portland, the answer will not be no.
Frank: Oh my…
Nancy: I’m going to go check this out.
Frank: Where did this come from?
Nancy: This I got to see…
Jeff: Buy some sneakers and then share them.
Frank: Okay, Jim. Let’s get to the good stuff. What is fire management?
Jim: Let’s see… Fire management would be… the thing about when you’re grilling with fire, real fire which is to say wood or charcoal fire, it’s variable as anybody who’s done this kind of stuff knows… I mean, whether you’re putting on a burger or you’re doing a pork [unclear] or whatever… you’re going to have fire that’s going to have different hot spots in it. It’s not going to be even like a gas oven or a gas stove. It’s going to be uneven and it’s going to also have from the beginning, when you get it going, it’s going to have different temperatures throughout its cook.
So for example, if you want to do a steak real fast, then you’re going to put that on in the early part of the fire when it’s really super hot and then later on you might put say I don’t know, peaches or mangoes or something when the fire isn’t quite so hot. So knowing our fire, how to manage it, when to add wood or charcoal to keep it going and at what temperature is pretty important and that sort of comes with practice and time.
Frank: Jim, you’ve been married 30 years. I know you’re going to know what to do with this question. It’s really—
Nancy: Stand down.
Frank: It’s another important one.
Nancy: Oh gosh…
Frank: Why is it that women are supposed to inherently be in the kitchen seasoning the meat? I mean, it’s not even a question of whether that’s supposed to be what’s going on.
Frank: It’s definitely what should happen. Why is that, Jim? Do you have any idea?
Nancy: I can tell you one thing…
Jim: That’s a risky area. Actually, I don’t have much of an answer to that because…
Nancy: Because I have the answer.
Jim: No, I tell you why. It’s because my wife doesn’t cook. I do all the cooking [unclear]—
Jim: —but I love cooking. I enjoy cooking of all sorts and so I’m the one like later today as a matter of fact, I’ll be seasoning the ribs that I’ll be putting on and I’d be making a couple of seasoning rubs. So I do all that. What I do find in barbecue circles is actually… my wife and I were talking about this just this morning, as a matter of fact, about how they talk about the barbecue spouse and these circles, they say that the guy gets all this credit for having taken a chunk of meat, put it on fire, pulling it off and everybody [unclear] on. Whereas, traditionally, typically, women tend to do the sides…
Jim: …they put together the table, they do everything else and yet it’s the guy who gets this credit for doing this one thing. This is a [unclear]. I will tell you this, it’s really interesting actually that Weber, the big grill company that has [unclear] kettles all over the place in people’s backyards—
Jim: —did a study and the percentage of women who are grilling now is way up from what it was a few years ago. So roughly, something like 25% of women in a household with a grill, grill much of the time whereas that number was done around I believe it was [unclear] I would’ve checked on it had I known it’s going to come up but it was I think it’s 17% just a few years ago. So women are clearly getting more comfortable with grilling and smoking and in fact there are some websites out there dedicated to women grilling and smoking.
Jim: And even classes…
Nancy: Imagine that…
Jim: …on women specifically grilling and smoking. There’s a variety of [unclear] there that you can find online and yeah… So it’s sort of expanding out of the traditional sense of what women have typically done in the kitchen or help out in a barbecue to where they’re beginning to take the throne themselves.
Frank: Funny enough to compliment what you were saying is it’s not unknown or myth for women to be those in the background.
Frank: Making whatever work works.
Frank: I mean, it kind of is how things are in many sectors.
Nancy: In the support role.
Frank: Yeah. So even though… my wife and my sister-in-law, they—and my cousin, they… when I’m grilling, they season the meat. I just give it to them. I walk in, I drop down the brontosaurus leg in the kitchen and they season it.
Nancy: So that it doesn’t taste like a brontosaurus…
Frank: What’s the difference Jim between grilling and barbecuing?
Jim: Grilling is fast. Barbecuing is slow. Grilling is hot. Barbecue is soft. So for example, you would grill a hotdog, you would grill a steak, you would grill fish but those things that take anywhere say 3 to 10 minutes or so, 12 minutes is grilling. If you’re going to get a low—what they call low, meaning low temperature and slow, meaning over a long period of time using wood, then that’s barbecue.
So that pork butts, ribs, beef brisket, that sort of stuff… stuff you’re going to put on and it’s just going to go roughly in the neighborhood of about 225° or so over X amount of ours anywhere say from 5 hours for ribs say to 12 or 18 or even longer for beef brisket. And so, yeah. That’s the basic difference.
Frank: And so it has nothing to do with the sauce? Barbecue sauce?
Jim: No, that’s yet another debate. Everything in barbecue is a debate. There are those like primarily… the barbecue sauce thing is… no, the barbecue sauce has nothing to do with grilling or—because you can put a sauce on anything. You can put a sauce, let’s say you can put some kind of a Worcestershire A1 sauce or something on your steak. You can put any number of kinds of sauces if you wanted to on your burger and you can do the same of course on your ribs.
So it’s not about the sauce but there is a separate debate about the definition of barbecuing that it does involve the sauce. The people—a lot of Texans, for example have… believe that barbecue is not about the sauce, it’s about the smoky, I’s about the method and it’s about how you smoke the meat, you bring it out and you sauce it. If you prefer, as an option on the table but the meat doesn’t come sauce, generally speaking in Central Texas barbecue.
And now then other places of course, it’s very much apart of the barbecue like in Kansas City for example where you get all these great sauces that come out in Kansas City. It’s very much apart of the identity of that barbecue in places like Kansas City in Memphis.
Frank: What are some of the… Well, I am so inspired to say what about New York City and then have somebody say “New York City!” okay, alright just…
Nancy: New York City!
Frank: Thank you, thank you.
Nancy: It’s what I’m here for… [unclear] sent me the script…
Jeff: Now get back in the kitchen and season that meat.
Frank: Thank you, Jeff.
Nancy: Okay… I’ma let it go… That’s because I don’t eat animals and I can take a more relaxed approach to this attack…
Jim: Is that right? You don’t eat meat?
Nancy: I don’t eat meat anymore now.
Jim: Oh my gosh, I got to tell you there are some great books out there and stuff on grilling and barbecuing vegetables—
Jim: —and it’s one of my favorite things to do. I love doing that.
Nancy: Oh I’m so glad you said that.
Jim: There are so many things you can do with vegetables. I’ve done just well last night, I was travelling and I just got back from Upstate New York. I got back late and I had a commitment with people but my—what I was wanting to do but I got back too late because this is one of my favorite easy go-to meals is to make an eggplant parmesan on the grill.
Jim: And so, you can make your favorite sauce or buy a sauce and then you just slice up the eggplant and you put your cheese on there, just like you would anything else. And then you put it on the… what we call the indirect side of the grill so you have the coals on one side and nothing on the other and then you just put the top on for… I think it’s about 40 minutes or so and you have this lovely, sort of a little bit of a woodsy kind of way where of this eggplant parmesan. All that is all vegetables.
Jim: You got a main course.
Nancy: See that?
Frank: He is interesting to you.
Nancy: Yes… Yes. I was thinking “well what am I going to talk to this guy about? He barbecues and grills meat.”
Frank: Alright now…
Nancy: I’m happy. Thank you.
Jim: [unclear] so much, I just really… One of my favorites is… I think it’s on the Washington Post article that you’re talking about is the simply, the Italian antipasti where you have grilled vegetables, zucchini and the onion and maybe some tomatoes and some eggplant. It makes for such an easy, none of that takes more than 10 minutes.
Nancy: Right, right.
Jim: All are 10 minutes, next thing you know… And you can do it in the morning and just put some saran wrap over it and then serve it in the evening so it’s done and out o the way. You don’t have to worry about it and you pull it out and everybody ooze it ons because it looks so great,—
Jim: —it seems so time intensive but it is like a great sort of party thing. There’s another thing you could do which… It was in a different article I just wrote on, reviewing various books that came out and this is a super easy one. I’ll give credit to one of the kings of grilling a barbecue, Steven Raichlen from his book in which he does Camembert cheese on a soaked wood plank, a see the plank, and you just put that on the grill and do that for maybe—I don’t know, 10 minutes or something with some kind of a jelly that you might like. Say an apricot or something and then if you like it spicy, slice up a jalapeno, put it on there and it starts to get a little melty…
Jim: …and everything all comes together and that is a spectacular appetizer that took nothing.
Nancy: Oh… and you said the book is by Steven Raichlen?
Jim: Yeah, it’s his new book. It’s called “Project Smoke”.
Nancy: Project Smoke. Okay.
Frank: Look at that.
Jim: Yeah, he’s got some terrific vegetable things in there, recipes in there… but I tell you, there’s—believe it or not, if you look in any number of barbecue books, they all have stuff. They’re not just all about meat. There’s all sorts of different stuff and almost any barbecue book you would’ve pick up.
Nancy: Great. Thank you so much for that, Jim.
Frank: See? You follow me and I take care of you.
Nancy: Oh my—no. No, no, no… he would’ve left me out there in animal land.
Jim: [unclear] you might be interested in…
Jim: And it’s called “The Gardener and the Grill”.
Jim: “The Gardener and the Grill” and if you want to write this down,—
Nancy: I’m writing.
Jim: “The Gardener and the Grill” has, it’s by a woman named Karen Adler and Judith Fertig. It is such a terrific overview of—I mean it’s a good, sick, sturdy, wonderful book about so much that you can do with vegetables. It’s a terrific book.
Frank: I like to grill asparagus, squash…
Jim: Oh yeah…
Frank: …mushrooms. I really like grilling mushrooms. Those—
Frank: I got a thing about mushrooms anyway. They’re like a great meat substitute.
Frank: And even eggplant. I like grilling eggplant.
Jim: Yeah man. You’re talking my language. Now you make a nice sandwich out of that too. Like you take those mushrooms and that eggplant, maybe a little onion, you grill all that up and you put whatever you like on it in terms of—there’s a great… and a jalapeno sauce that they have over at Eastern Market in D.C. and you put maybe a little spicy mayonnaise or something… Its’ spectacular. It makes a great lunch.
Jeff: Hey Jim, I have—I actually saw this at William-Sonoma. They were doing a demonstration… they have these indoor air grills. What’s your impression or opinion on those?
Jim: Those… depends on which one you’re talking about because there are a couple different types… but I think, you know… especially in Northern climates of course, when you can’t always be… well, some of us do but—
Frank: Yeah… yeah…
Jim: —out in the cold, in the snow in the winter time. I’m not that crazy about them as a barbecue substitute during the time that you can go out. Why not do it… the real way. But I do like them if you just want that flavor and you know… it’s 28° outside and it’s been snowing all day… man, I had to try to pretend like it’s the middle of summer and they work great. I got to tell you, there are all sorts of ways that you can grill indoors and smoke indoors that are really pretty easy.
They have something called the Cameron, it’s a company called Cameron and they make an indoor smoking thing that you can just pop in the oven. They have this little sort of… but little wood chips in the bottom of it. it’s kind of like a baking—a big baking tray and it’s not at all complicated. You don’t have to know anything about technology, it’s so easy and you can get a lovely smoke on whatever… fish, or vegetables, or whatever you want. I think they run—I just don’t remember how much they are now but in my mind, I think they’re like about $50 or something. But whatever they are, if you will, a lot of people have a problem with—they live in an apartment, they’re not allowed to smoke a grill, I find that the Cameron’s a pretty good, you know, not a bad way to get that same kind of flavor.
Frank: Something you brought up, Jim, was the weather and for… in my humble opinion, in my personal experience, the weather and grilling on the barbecue have on the grill, they have nothing to do with each other. I can’t think of a day when it’s ever been too cold—
Nancy: Or too hot.
Frank: —to throw something on the grill.
Nancy: Well you know what, that actually is an evolution also I feel. I can remember when it seems like you only grill in the summer or when the weather’s nice.
Frank: Some novices still thinks that.
Nancy: Clearly, things have changed.
Frank: You have anything on that, Jim?
Jim: Well, you know I agree with you. As a matter of fact, we’re coming up on my favorite time of the year… I love barbecuing in the fall. I think that, you know, that the [unclear] days are spectacular for barbecuing. You’re out there—especially if you’re doing big things, you’re standing by the grill a lot and it does… like this weekend, it probably to tell you the truth, it’s like my least favorite time to grill because it’s going to be like 95°, it could be 100°… you’re just making hot hotter.
Nancy: Right, right.
Jim: I will be grilling and nonetheless, I’m actually doing a barbecue boot camp at the Hill Center in D.C. on Sunday. So a number of students have signed up—I think it might even be, I don’t know if there’s any—I don’t know it’s sold out yet or not. [unclear] grilling in the weekday, I’m like too left or something… but in any event… So this Sunday what’s forecast to be the hottest day of the summer. I’ll be out there behind the grill for 3 hours…
Frank: Aren’t you lucky?
Jim: Having said that, typically in a day like that, if I wasn’t doing the boot camp… on a day like that, if I was going to grill at all, I would tend to do one of two things: I would not do medium smoking or grilling. I would do either a quick [unclear] for 15 or something minutes for like a steak or whatever… or I would do long low and slow where I put it in and leave it alone… and they say if you’re looking, you’re not cooking. So you don’t even pick up the lid. You just let it go for whatever, 8 hours or whatever it is that you’re doing. and so that way, you’re not standing by that grill in that super hot heat but you’re still able to do it.
So I mean, personally I think there are certain days that are better than others and I grill year-round but my favorite is in this fall. I just love it.
Frank: Nice. Barbecue Boot Camp, tell us about it.
Jim: Well, Barbecue Boot Camp is something that, [unclear] the Hill Center in Washington D.C. in Capital Hill does and yeah. This Sunday, I’ll be doing a demonstration of fire management and it’s all charcoal. It’s an all charcoal and wood demonstration and we’re going to do ribs, we’re going to do wings, then I’ll do some salads to go with them and we’ll talk about some of the very same things that we’re talking about here today and then everybody will eat.
Frank: Is it $500 to register? $50?
Jim: I think it’s $85.
Frank: Interesting. There’s a conversation that exists around carcinogens and barbecuing, grilling… What do you say to that?
Jim: Well I say… that to me, it’s all about the science. I don’t say anything about it that isn’t said by science. So if you look at the CDC and others who’ve studied this, what we have found is that it’s really… the link between the carcinogens and grilling or smoking, first of all I my readings have been… well, how shall I put this? They… it’s not super solid. Themselves will say that when you read these… there’ll be a little caveat like we can’t—we’re not sure that there is a link but it appear to be that there may be a link. That link is going to be more in the fast hot grilling like when you char your steak. That’s going to create what they are concerned, maybe carcinogens more than you’re doing a long smoke. It’s that reaction of the hot fire with the meat and the fat that’s creating a chemical reaction that they are concerned may be carcinogenic. But again, if you go and look up the studies, they’re just not sure that there is a link and I’m not suggesting… I’m perfectly really—I have no interest in trying to you know, defend grilling or smoking just because it’s something I do.
Jim: If the science concerns that there’s definitely a link there then of course, I think we should all be really careful about that. So I also shows though is this and that is… so far from what they can tell, the amount that you have to eat for it to have an impact on your health is so massive, it’s not going to happen on an occasional steak now. Again, you’re not going to eat a steak and get cancer.
So I feel still pretty comfortable about grilling especially, let’s say it’s far more about the grilling that it’s not…
Frank: A big deal.
Jim: …it’s not necessarily an unhealthy activity.
Frank: Got you. Gas or charcoal? I think—
Jim: By fire charcoal.
Frank: By fire charcoal. I’m right there with you. You got something to say?
Jim: I don’t, you know…
Nancy: Well the only one I wanted to add to the comment that Jim was making about grilling and your question around carcinogens is that what I did see in doing a little bit of looking around was that it wasn’t the food itself, it was the smoke.
Nancy: The issue was the smoke.
Jim: Well… it’s really more about the interaction of that fire on the meat and the fat of the meat. The way the chemical reaction occurs that’s causing it.
Jim: Now what you’re talking about with the smoke is there’s actually a different… smoke is an extremely complicated chemical compound and there’s actually methane in it and other chemicals that on some level, we would try to avoid. But as it interacts with itself—that is to say the other chemicals in smoke itself—and with the meat, it tends not to really create a carcinogenic situation.
So… that one is not… as I say, it’s more generally about the fast grilling than it is about the long smoking. It may be because of what the chemical compounds that they’re… I don’t know what it is you read but it’s possible that the chemical compounds that make up the smoke but something that cost some concern. But generally, what I read from the CDC (Center for Disease and Control), don’t support that.
Frank: There’s barbecue that I’ve had that I actually didn’t like. There was like vinegar-y, there’s different like taste to different regions. Would you weigh in on just… would you try to describe North Carolina barbecue and Texas and…
Frank: Yeah… whatever there is. Would you tell us a little bit about it?
Jim: Yeah, sure they are basically… there are four acknowledged barbecue capitals that have distinct styles and North Carolina, Texas, Memphis and Kansas City. North Carolina is divided into two sides. There’s the Eastern North Carolina style and there’s the Western North Carolina style. North Carolina has so many places on the East Coast. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina will claim to be the one true barbecue that… you know, barbecue’s from… [unclear]… was a…
Nancy: Born there?
Jim: Multi-cultural creation when Europeans came to the Americas and they observed the Taino Indians of the Caribbean slow-smoking foods in an indirect manner. And so the word that they understood the Indians to be using was something that was kind of—we understand to be unpronounceable to them and it became something like “bablako” or something like that. The Spanish then called it “barbacoa” and then it became anglicized into “barbecue”.
So that style of putting coals, hard wood coals which is to say that the wood is burn down to coals and put underneath the food about whatever distance it might be but so it’s not really—so it’s cooking very, very slowly so the fat renders into it… is what we consider to be barbecue on some level. And so North Carolina does that in some way in their pits and they then when they were introduced to the Americas, that’s kind of what really, really took off and so…
Frank: As in pork?
Jim: Eastern Carolina, they do… whole hog over glowing [unclear / ogandor] hickory embers. And then they finish it with a sauce that could be roughly traced all the way back to hundreds of years and it is a vinegar-pepper based sauce. The English back then had a similar sauce and if they would use… and so that’s sort of your vinegar sort of flavor that you’re talking about. Then if you go to Western North Carolina, they do roughly the same thing in terms of the cooking method but they use porked shoulder not a whole hog and they will a little tomato or ketchup to that otherwise vinegar-pepper sauce. That basically defines North Carolina barbecue.
If you go to Texas, well if you got to Central Texas because there’s so many parts of Texas but it’s really Central Texas that gets discussed all the time as the Texas barbecue. That on some measure was result of German immigration using their smoking history to create these meat markets that became barbecue houses later on and they tend to go far more with beef. So they have beef sausage will be big, and of course beef brisket is big there and they use a different style but it is also low and slow and they have an offset.
So they put the fire not directly beneath the meat but in what’s called a fire box which is an attached box that then waffs smoke across the meat inside the cooking chamber.
Frank: Over a long period of time?
Jim: So if you get brisket, comes un-sauced, generally speaking, not always but generally speaking, and that beef sausage and usually ribs… Those will be the three primary meats that you’re going to get and that’s going to be Texas barbecue.
In Kansas City, you have all sorts of things that are getting barbecued and grilled and smoked and whatnot. It’s very eclectic and they have all sorts of sauces. They’re sort of a city of sauce. They just have lots of different—the gates sauce and just so many others. And so Kansas City has a combination—they have brisket, they’ll have pork, all that.
Now, all these being said, we’re seeing a big blending these days. Down in Texas over the last several years, you see a lot more pulled pork down there and all over the East Coast now and all over North Carolina you’re seeing brisket. So you’re seeing more and more of a blending.
And then finally, in Memphis, it also tends to be a sauced barbecue. They have what they call “dry and wet ribs”. So the dry is just seasonings but no sauce, the wet comes sauce. They also have these great pork sandwiches, typically what’s usually sauce. Oftentimes, as with North Carolina, with coleslaw on top. So… and then Memphis, man, they do so much cool stuff. One of them has a barbecue spaghetti…
Jim: I got to tell you, at first it kind of sounds “Oh! Why would anybody do that?” but man, once you sit down and you have it, it’s great.
Jim: And I’ve recreated it… I think I have a recipe for it online, I’m not sure. But anyway, so those are the basic four. Now there are a lot of other variants of those but basically, that’s—when you’re talking about regional differences, that’s basically it.
Frank: What are the super duper tools that you use… I know you’ve got a major garage full of special barbecue tools. What do you use?
Jim: Tongs. I keep tongs… like I do like when I do my barbecue camp tomorrow, I’m going to hold up the tongs and say, “This is all you need.”
Jim: Because… now yeah, you need a spatula, yeah. I’m really—I believe that you keep—we’re talking about caveman stuff here.
Frank: Yes sir.
Jim: So keep it simple.
Jim: We just don’t know—you don’t have to overcomplicate the stuff. People buy all these stuff you know… they think it’s going to improve their game. If you know about how long to leave something on over a fire, you got it. That’s all there is to it. There’s not much more.
So I won’t poke my meat with a fork because I don’t want to release any of the juices. So I just use long handle tongs for almost everything. One thing I do like to have is a vegetable holder so that if I have… I don’t know, like say grape tomatoes or something like that, I can put them in there and then I’m going to fall though the grape that way…
Jim: So those are pretty much the primary things. And then just say, you’re going to want to have of course a spatula if you’re going to do whatever it might be… Say, a fish for example, it’s going to be easier to turn than if you’re using tongs whereas with a steak, I always use tongs… but burgers, you’re going to use a spatula. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money in this. You can. God knows hey have all this stuff out there for you to buy but you just don’t need to buy much.
Jeff: Jim, I actually have two questions. The first of which is a local D.C. type of question, Red Hot and Blue, Famous Daves, Hogs on the Hill, I don’t know if you can endorse or not any of these places. Are they all similar or is there one better than another for specific barbecue type items.
Jim: Well you know, Red Hot and Blue is partly founded by Republican strategist who became the… who was a strategist for the first George Bush.
Jeff: So you’re saying he copied the recipe from a democratic who started the Famous Daves?
Jim: Well, Lee Atwater… I don’t know if you know that name.
Jeff: Oh I know that name. He’s a famous name in political strategy circles—
Jim: He was the guy who engineered the wind by Bush over to [unclear] when they were down by 10 points coming out of conventions. He Lee Atwater was born and raised in what he called the middle of the middle class which was in Columbia, South Carolina and he loved barbecue. He became the… after his turn at getting the [unclear] he became the head of the RNC, the Republic National Committee and he also co-founded Red Hot and Blue which was intended as a homage if you will to Memphis barbecue. It took off, became a chain and there you have it.
Frank: Is the food any good?
Jim: [unclear] Red Hot and Blue and it became something I guess in a way a little bit of a template of a lot of kind of places to follow which is to say they had all sorts of different kinds of… they were kind of region [unclear] Illinois even though I mean they have the dry and wet ribs that I was talking about. It’s kind of very Memphis-y but it was also—there was something broad-based about it and as… barbecue is expanded, what we’ve seen is it used to be, you go to a barbecue place generally speaking back in the day, 30 something years ago most barbecue places were relatively small, they weren’t these big restaurants that you see now and the guy, the proprietor would take some pride in exactly what it was that he was serving and he would have his own signature sauce.
Now you go in somewhere and they have these sauces that are supposed to be representative of all these areas of a country. So you have 4, 6, 8 different sauces in there. so there’s no real signature and they serve all these different stuff so that it’s kind of a pan-regionalism barbecue which is kind of homogenising what otherwise had been or maybe on some level it still is. A hyper regional cuisine. So yeah, I mean… so when you go to a lot of different places whether in D.C. or somewhere else, you know, those are some of the things that you’re seeing.
Now one of the things that’ll be well that was different, Hill Country Barbecue in Washington D.C. in [unclear] is based on a famous Texas place in South of Washington town called Lockheart and creates barbecue is this world famous barbecue pace on which Hill Country was patterned because the owner would spend his summers… he’s from the owners form the [unclear] and he would spend his summers down in Lockheart with his grandfather who lived down there. So he loved it so much and remembered it as he became older that he wanted to recreate that experience. so he created a very hyper regional idea of Texas barbecue and did it in New York and Washington D.C. Since having done that, which he used a kind of a classic on the side, Texas sauce, it was counter ordering so it wasn’t table ordering. It was the main thing with brisket. They also had a beef rib, all that. But since then, they’ve added pulled pork which [unclear] in as they say blur the lines a little bit but that’s kind of the way things are going these days.
So but for a more singular experience, you would get something like that. You might go there for… there was a place, it was terrific called “The City Smoke House” but that is no longer as of… I don’t know, maybe a year or something ago and the pitman there who a lot of people regard as one of the best around is, he’s trying to see if he might be able to get another place going at some point. But he had lots of different stuff but it was a different approach to barbecue because it wasn’t quite so traditional. He’s have different kinds of things that he’d do on the sandwiches and whatnot but yeah, his food was excellent.
Jeff: Frank… I’m sorry, Jim, my second question’s actually kind of a phenomenon amongst barbecue fanatics… I was once in Morganton, North Carolina about two hours outside of [unclear] and the locals kept raving about this barbecue “You got to go to this barbecue place.” I forgot the name of it. And so I went with a group of people and it was good. In fact, it was very good. I really can’t tell if it was any better than a place like a Red Hot and Blue but the volume of food was.
You ordered a plate and it… I mean, just food for days. That has… there’s something about that, that’s what they were proud of. Look, you’re not just getting this; you’re getting three slabs of ribs and the brisket and the chicken and the…
Nancy: More than you can eat.
Jeff: And that’s part—there’s a phenomenon even when you watch these barbecue battles, look at how much food there is.
Jeff: And do you find that—I mean, that’s an attraction of guys love food, guys love a lot of food. That kind of thing…
Jim: Well… I myself, I can fall into that trap too. There is something about—I mean, first of all, it’s kind of I would say a throwback to the idea of a barbecue whiz. I mean, barbecue is something shared. No one throws a barbecue for themselves, you know… that doesn’t happen. When you do a barbecue, a true barbecue—and by that, I don’t mean grilling burgers, hotdogs or steaks. I’m talking about the long smoke with the brisket and the pulled pork or something like that.
Well you’re talking about an 8-pound piece of meat or bigger and you’re going to share that with family, you’re going to share that with friends. Oftentimes, it’s going to be a special occasion. I mean that’s a lot of what barbecue in some ways grew up as in America as a special occasion kind of food. And so, you’d have… in the fall, you’d have the harvest and there’s be these big barbecues or there’d be political barbecues in which you know, candidates to throw a barbecue and hundreds of people would come, even thousands. It was a way to sort of feed everybody.
So barbecue goes back to a sense of community. So today, when we’re so [unclear] and we have… it’s a very different world… if you make a barbecue now, you’re not going to have hundreds of people at it. you’re going to have maybe whatever… 10… 20 maybe, if you have a big family reunion. Maybe as many as 50 or something so… But you’re still going to have that sense of making sure that everybody that is coming to your home is going to have plenty and it’s kind of… I don’t know proletarian opulents if you will. So you got lots of potato salad, you got lots of coleslaw, you got lots of beans and stuff.
So I think they’re that aspect to it that it’s a food meant to be shared and when you’re sharing something, you want to make sure that nobody ever… that you don’t run out. On the other hand… and there is another hand and that is this, you don’t… Well, one final thing before I get into that and that is, it’s a rural food too. Typically, you didn’t see barbecue that much in the cities. It was really something that you saw out in the rural areas and now, due to technology, you can see these places all over everywhere now… D.C., New York, wherever.
And so rural eating has always been hard eating. I mean, they did a lot of hard work. They weren’t sitting behind a computer… all day long… So that sort of bounty of food that was coming from the farms was something that was intrinsic in country eating. So all that goes into sort of I think the positive aspects of a barbecue and the community sense of a barbecue.
The downside… I was going to say on the other hand, is that if you get… I personally am not that… I try to be conscious of… not overdoing it too much. I can be very guilty of it if you ask any of my friends… but believe it or not, it is something that I am aware of and you try at the same time to—you try to walk that line of making sure that everybody has plenty and you’re really proud of what you put out, you’re very happy with. If they’re happy…
Jim: But at the same time, you just don’t really want to overdo it. it can get kind of obscene.
Nancy: Right, wasteful.
Frank: You spoke of politics and barbecue. Can you—I know you have an opinion on the meshing of the two. Would you share that?
Jim: Well, it has played a huge role in America and in some levels, the development of America ever since the very beginning. I mean, when I was talking about celebration barbecue and special event barbecue, when you had the Taino-Indian of the Caribbean which I talked about, then African-Americans brought here as slaves helped define this thing we call “barbecue” because they’re on the [unclear] was the slaves who were cooking this meet for the master’s table. Typically, these things would happen at as I say, generally speaking, not always but usually a special event like a fourth of July or a fall harvest social gathering or something…
So not… you’re meshing these different kinds of approaches to this cuisine so you have American-Indian, African-American, you have some white European and now you’re getting this very sort of multi-cultural development in this cuisine. But the people who are actually cooking it, are the ones who are kind of defining it for that area
So since it was primarily and I don’t want to… try to be careful on how I actually phrase this because all these stuff can get very [unclear]. But I wrote a piece on—not long ago—on African-Americans barbecue and what their legacy disappearing underneath this onslaught of all these multi-million dollar places that have been opening up all over the country and to what extent is that heritage still alive. I got a fair amount of hate mails saying that—
Jim: —I was ignoring the contributions of others, that it wasn’t just about African-Americans da-da-da… which isn’t at all what I said. So I’m going to try again. What I am saying is that I believe that true barbecue is a one true indigenous American food. You could trace it all the way back to the very earliest days before even the founding of the country… and it has the different contributions to it. That said, the people that cook it are the people who define it. that has, in no small measure been slave cooking, plantation cooking, African-Americans and when you’re putting seasoning to the stuff on say a whole animal, and remember, way back then… you were doing a whole animal. It wasn’t like they had slaughter houses and trains,—
Jim: —they were removing shoulders and briskets around. It would be a whole oxen or a whole pig or something. So when you are seasoning it, you are making… you are helping to create the difference. It’s you who are doing that. So that’s where you get this sort or micro regionalism of the barbecue which almost like accents… you know, you talk to somebody and can kind of tell a little bit where they’re from, so it is with barbecue. And so, I would say that when you talk about politics and barbecue, you’re getting into race, you’re getting into well all sorts of things having to do with thing we call barbecue. And so one of them is that… who owns this thing called barbecue? And it certainly got co-ownership. I don’t think anybody can argue with that. But I also think that especially today, when you… a lot of places open and they have these PR guys and they build… it certainly somewhat further away from it’s roots than it was even say 3 years ago.
Nancy: But our elections…
Jim: That’s part of it. There are other aspects too. I mean, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was upheld at the Supreme Court because there was a challenge to it by a barbecue place in Birmingham called “Ali’s” saying that he didn’t have to serve blacks. So he said he didn’t serve blacks because it was Civil Rights Act of 1964 was… he said, because he didn’t get anything from other state, of his purchases were done in State, then he was not [unclear] to the law.
Well, they found that some of his meat was being shipped from out of state and he was near an interstate so that there was an interstate commerce, people visiting this place weren’t just local. And so it was the interstate commerce cost that upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that was brought by a barbecue place in Birmingham, Alabama.
Jim: So it was all sorts of stuff with politics that if you can do LBJ what they have called the barbecue diplomacy where you have the German head of state join him at his Texas ranch and he would conduct a lot of his politics there. So there’s a lot.
Frank: Real quick, before we wrap up. I got a few questions that I want to get in that are just like… to the point like maybe 10 second answers.
Frank: Best fish for grilling?
Jim: Sword fish and salmon.
Frank: Okay. Direct fire, what is it?
Jim: Fire that is immediately beneath your food.
Frank: All of it, meaning the whole kettle?
Jim: Not necess—yes, it does. Yes, yes, yes.
Jim: If you’re cooking direct, that’s yeah. Right.
Frank: Indirect fire
Jim: Indirect fire, you put the fire on one side of the kettle, leave the other side without the fire so that you can cook on both sides of the grill, keep the stuff warm and warm it through the other side.
Frank: Three-zone fire?
Jim: Three-zone fire is where you create kind of like an indirect but you create a second mount in between so that you can do sort of a fast, a little slower and then a warming area more or less.
Jim: I’m sorry, what’s that?
Frank: Steps. Is there a technique in terms of how you do your coals, called steps?
Jim: I think you might be referring to is like the steps you sue for… it might be the snake or the sea or the ring of smoulder which is to say that there’s… you make this ring around the perimeter of your Weber Grill with about 6 –inch to a 1 foot gap so that the ring doesn’t meet and it’ll go forever then. You just start one end of it and it’ll go for easily 6 hours. So you can do a pork butt on your Weber grill. You don’t have to buy an expensive smoker.
Frank: So you put that ring around the entire perimeter—
Frank: —of the… Okay. Of the kettle.
Frank: And then rotisserie.
Jim: Rotisserie is you need an outlet and you have this electric gadget that will just like you go in town somewhere and you get the… these great sort of Peruvian chickens and you just put it on the rotisserie, goes round and round over the coals and that’s what a rotisserie is.
Frank: Rocklands—and I’m saying that in terms of the name of the place here in D.C. Any opinion on Rocklands?
Jim: Well I’ll tell you what… I think one of the things that’s terrific about Rocklands is that he actually cooks unlike so many nowadays overall wood. A lot of people these days cook with the gas oven with some wood enhancement. He cooks all wood like the old days.
Frank: Got you. Give me two good restaurants in the D.C. area or give me two in the D.C. area and two for me and Jeff to road trip to.
Jim: Well, let’s see… there’s… well, that’s a big question to ask me [unclear] here… Let’s see… I think… for road tripping, well you could go to maybe Texas Jack’s in [unclear] road trip necessarily. It’s in Northern Virginia. It’s a relatively new place. It’s pretty good.
Jim: And you know, I mentioned Hill Country before, it’s also pretty good.
Frank: Those are both in the D.C. area?
Jim: There is… Ashburn Brothers which is a little bit of a road trip. I can’t remember exactly… I may be wrong about that name, it might be Carolina Brothers in Ashburn. I wish I could recall the name of that but there’s a couple and yeah… So…
Frank: Any great sauces or rubs?
Jim: Well… I make my own. So I’m not really…
Jim: I mean, there are sauces and rubs out there that I like but they tend to be these very boutique-y type things that… I usually go to the place like [unclear] in Hemingway, South Carolina makes a fantastic sauce but you have to go there to get it. But commercially speaking, well Pork Barrel Barbecue makes a nice sauce. They’re local and they actually make a line of sauces and they make a pretty good job of making some cool sauces. And so, that’s good. I think you know, you have… personally, I’ve always like Gate sauce out of Kansas City. It’s just a very traditional thick-ish red type sauce but I’ve always liked it. We talked earlier about the vinegar base but if you like a sort of that… I mean, I know you were crazy about that but if you like that kind of thing, there’s something called Scott’s sauce and that’s a pretty good representation of that Eastern North Carolina style.
Frank: You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’ve been talking with Washington Post columnist and live fire cooking aficionado, Jim Shahin. Jim has been educating us on the ways of the grill. Jim, how can our listeners find you and what you’re up to?
Jim: Best way to do is just simply Google my name and Washington Post or you can go to Washington Post and then do a search for “Jim Shahin”. Those are the two easiest ways.
Frank: Along today’s journey, we’ve discussed politics and barbecue, vegetables grilling for Nancy…
Nancy: Thank you.
Frank: …and the different regions and their characteristics related to barbecue. Thank you to my co-host Nancy; thanks to Jeff Newman, my engineer; and thank you to my guest, Jim Shahin.
Jim: Thank you.
Frank: You’ve been great.
I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had hanging out with today’s ensemble. As always, it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that I hope you create a relation that’s as loving and accepting as possible.
Let us know what you think of today’s show at facebook.com/relationshipflove, on Twitter at @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. If you’re listening via Blog Talk Radio, make sure you like us there and if via iTunes, make sure you subscribe so that you can receive each week’s show each week.
This is Frank love.
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