WITH THE AVERAGE cost of a wedding in the U.S. reaching $35,329 in 2016, as reported by theknot.com, many couples are opting for more casual affairs to mark their big day: a picnic in the park, a buffet on the beach or even a backyard barbecue.
For menu ideas and for the latest trends in American barbecue we consulted James Beard Award nominee Jamie Purviance, whose cookbook, “Weber’s New American Barbecue: A Modern Spin on the Classics” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99) offers the latest flavors, trends and techniques of our country’s diverse regional barbecue traditions from New Orleans to Texas, Chicago, New York and beyond.
Close to home, the Santa Maria style of barbecue, what Purviance calls a “hidden gem,” developed in the ranching country of Central California. “It bears as much resemblance to what they serve in Kansas City as a rattlesnake to a possum,” he writes. “For hundreds of years the guys that worked the fields would cook over local red oak,” he told me. “It’s wonderfully aromatic, the kind of smoke you get off of that. They started using tri-tip, which had usually been ground into burger blend, with classic side dishes like local beans, mild salsa, and garlic toast. It’s California’s proudest barbecue moment to date.”
American barbecue emerged beginning in the 1500’s when European explorers observed the natives cooking with large branches elevated over a fire. “They were cooking whatever they could capture: iguana, snakes, turtles, alligators. The explorers asked them, ‘What do you call that?’ They said ‘barbacoa,’ and the Europeans ran with it.”
Authentic barbecue used to mean cooking entirely with wood. Not anymore. “Today many of the best barbecue restaurants in the U.S. cook with gas for the heat and then add wood to get the smokiness,” noted Purviance. “There are smoker boxes that hold wood chips, and the smoke pours out and flavors the meat the same way that logs do with wood burning.”
Most people are afraid to barbecue fish because it may stick or fall apart. “The grate has to be preheated properly to really high, higher than most people think,” he advised. ”Also, they need to be cleaned of last night’s chicken. Give the fish a nice layer of oil on all sides. The real key is patience. Wait until the fish naturally releases. It always sticks at first, so let it go five or six minutes to form a natural crust, which allows you to pick it up off the grill. Most people go at it too early and are afraid it’s going to overcook. Let the first side cook longer than the second side, what I call the 70/30 rule. Say your salmon cooks for 10 minutes. Do seven on the first side and three on the second.”
And here’s another great tip. Do you sear your steak over high heat and then push it off to the side to finish slowly? “A new technique is the reverse sear process in which you start out roasting at a very low temperature over indirect heat and sear it at the end over a hot direct fire,” recommended Purviance. “You get a much wider section of rosy red meat at whatever doneness you like from top to bottom with less overcooking. If you sear it first, you have to overcook the surface of the meat. The reverse sear solves that.”
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.