Grilling lessons learned from dad

Oneforthetable.comJune 11, 2013 

Ben Eisendrath, left, with his father, Charles Eisendrath, right, during a fishing trip in Brazil.


In many families, grilling and barbecue are rites of passage. Son or daughter reaches the age when he or she can handle fire without disaster. Dad passes the tongs and secret family recipes, and a new barbecue generation is born. Well, that’s how it works in theory, although in my family, my mother did the grilling and my father kept strangely silent on the subject.

So in honor of Father’s Day, I asked three barbecue masters what their fathers taught them about barbecuing and grilling. Whether you’re teaching or learning this year, happy Father’s Day! You’ve earned it.

John Vergos

John’s father, Charlie Vergos, founded the Rendezvous in Memphis. Today Vergos runs the 750-seat rib emporium with his brother Nick and sister Tina.

• “Let the meat speak for itself,” says Vergos. “When you cook ribs (we use top loin ribs), you don’t want to overpower the pork with too much sauce or seasonings. We don’t marinate or rub our ribs before cooking. We apply a vinegar wash and spice rub right before serving. But no sauce. We serve the sauce – for people who want it – on the side.”

Tom Douglas

Seattle chef and restaurateur, whose many restaurants include the James Beard Award-winning Dahlia Lounge (complete with a massive wood-burning grill), Douglas also created the Rub With Love brand of barbecue rubs.

• “My dad taught me how to make a chimney starter from a paint can and church key bottle opener,” says Douglas. “Use the latter to make holes in the former. Nothing beats a chimney for lighting charcoal.”

• To keep the price affordable, buy steaks in family packs, especially if you have a large family, he explains.

• “When it comes to grilling a steak, rare is never quite rare enough,” he says.

Ben Eisendrath

In 1978, journalist and grilling enthusiast Charles Eisendrath created an ingenious stainless steel wood-burning grill called the Grillery. In 2007, his son Ben resurrected the company, improving the design and expanding the product line. Today, Grillworks has become the grill-maker to the stars, supplying high-end grills to marquee chefs like Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York and Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston. “My dad taught me everything I know about grilling, so I’ll also share a few things I’ve taught him back,” says Ben Eisendrath.

• “Rotisserie cooking isn’t always an abomination, even if it’s not, per se, grilling,” says Eisendrath.

• “Chunk charcoal (natural lump charcoal) makes an acceptable fuel as long as there is also wood present,” explains Eisendrath. “My dad is still skeptical, but I think I’m making progress.”

Five-time James Beard Award-winning author Steven Raichlen wrote “The Barbecue! Bible” cookbook series (Workman Publishing) and hosts “Primal Grill” on PBS. His website is One for the Table is Amy Ephron’s online magazine that specializes in food, politics, and love.

To see a printable version of this recipe, click on the link below:

Mustard-Slathered Baby Backs

Mustard-Slathered Baby Backs Most ribs are indirect grilled or smoked. Ben slathers these with Dijon mustard, then minced garlic, and then soy sauce; then he direct grills them over a wood fire. This puts the emphasis on the meat, not the smoke. Not your traditional barbecue, but no less delectable. This recipe comes from Ben Eisendrath. 2 racks of baby back ribs (pick racks that are on the smaller side for quicker grilling) Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper Dijon mustard 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced The best quality soy sauce

ARRANGE ribs on a baking sheet and remove the membrane. Generously season ribs on both sides with salt and pepper. Thickly slather ribs with mustard on both sides. Sprinkle garlic on top and sprinkle soy sauce on top of that. Let ribs marinate at room temperature while you light and preheat your grill.

SET up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium (with one zone medium-low). Ideally, you’ll grill on an oak or other hardwood fire (the logs should be burned down to embers). If grilling over charcoal, at very least toss some hardwood chunks on the coals.

PLACE ribs bone side down on the grate over the medium fire zone. Grill until the bottoms are browned and the ribs are mostly cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. If bottom starts to brown too much, move ribs to the medium-low zone. Sprinkle ribs a couple times with soy sauce.

TURN ribs over and grill until the top (rounded side) is browned and the ribs are cooked, 6 to 8 minutes more. (To check for doneness, cut between the two thickest ribs – you should see only the faintest trace of pink, which will fade as the ribs continue to cook off the grill.)

TRANSFER ribs to a platter and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes, then cut crosswise into two bone portions for serving. Serve with bowls of mustard and soy sauce. Yield: 2-4 servings

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