Adam Perry Lang’s new cookbook, BBQ 25, comes out May 11 (just in time for Memorial Day!) and the more accessible follow-up to Serious Barbecue is a hot little number — 25 grilling recipes printed on pages so thick and glossy they can withstand both beer spills and all the salivating you’ll do over the hard-core steak porn. (As if it weren’t clear enough that this book is for the dudes, there are telestrator-style notes like “SUPER TASTY” and “MAX TASTY” all over the place). We asked the meat-master behind Daisy May’s (a man who would even cook Elmo) for some barbecuing advice, and to tell us about a fascination with fire that has taken him everywhere from Poland to Japan.
What would you recommend to someone who’s looking to buy a grill this summer?
Whatever will get you out there most and grill the most. I like to cook in live fire with a mix of wood and charcoal, but that takes a bit of a commitment. A gas grill doesn’t deliver as much, but if you’re going to be entertaining and you don’t want to get the charcoal going, that’s the grill for you. One of the most important parts on the grill is one of the most inexpensive and that’s the grill surface, or the rods. You can get a reasonably priced Weber or whatever brand, but the key is to have great grill rods because that’s going to conduct heat and accentuate charring and caramelizing and recovery. I tend to like cast-iron, though it requires a bit of maintenance. You should clean it and coat with a light coat of vegetable oil on top. Enameled steel is fine but depending on what grill brushes you have, you can wear it down or crust it up.
Speaking of vegetable oil, you advise against using olive oil. Why’s that?
It’s good for finishing and can be nice as part of marinating components, but when you’re grilling, it has a lower burn temperature and it tends to smoke and give off flavors at higher temperatures. It’s also more expensive.
In the book, you tell whether to apply direct or indirect heat to various cuts of meat. What’s the rule of thumb?
It’s about the thickness [of the meat] and also what your end result is. I’ll often use a combination of the two to create an oven effect. I want a char, but I also want that heat to mete into the center and not dry out the crust. I like to moisturize the meat as I’m cooking. Whatever the protein is, it’s being bombarded by direct heat. I like to choose more indirect [heat] when I want to make things, like shoulder, that are thicker cuts that are heavily collagen-laden, or things that are going to be pulling apart, or where I’m focusing on the collagen turning into gelatin, giving it that voluptuous texture. Brisket is cooked mostly indirect because there’s so much collagen that it requires relatively slower cooking with more moist heat.
Is it worth buying a smoker or is it just fine to convert your Weber?
It comes down to your lifestyle. The smaller you go, the more sensitive the micro-climate is. But the larger you go, the more you need to make sure you have enough to fill it. If you have a big smoker and you put one thing in it and it fits 50, it’s going to be too dry of an environment. You can create an indirect type of thing by having one side turned on and one side off with a pan underneath so you have the heat emanating and the meat cooking.
For the amateur who does decide to invest in a smoker, what would you recommend?
The Weber Smokey Mountain is a great inexpensive unit, and it turns out some great barbecue.
What’s the latest with your London project with Jamie Oliver?
One of the misunderstandings is that I’m going to do something like Daisy May’s in Europe. It has more to do with wood-fired cooking and using different types of equipment, whether it’s a robata, or a tandoor, or Texas-style open pit. It’s centered on the equipment and the applications of heat, wood-fired cooking.
Where has your research taken you lately and what did you bring back?
I just went to Japan because I’ve been fascinated with Japanese charcoal and how they handle the grill and flavors. I spent three, four hours a day eating four meals a day. They’re all about subtlety and flavor. What I got from the trip was seeing how they manage and maintain a salty flavor in their grilling.
I went to Krakow and went to a lot of the local markets and got to meet some of the artisans that create these old-school sausages. That was tremendous.
Have you cooked with a tandoor before, or are you learning these methods cold?
Some of them are a completely new discovery — I’ve always had these fantasies of what this wood-burning tandoor might produce, and it’s lived up to it and more. For me it’s probably one of the greatest methods to cook game birds like quail, pigeon, squab also, incredible mutton chops. It’s not simple. It’s not like it’s this clay oven and you have to put this stuff in — it takes a real knowledge of air flow and temperature, and resting it halfway through similar to how you’d do Korean fried chicken so that it carries over and crisps at the end.
Will you bring any of this newfound knowledge back to New York? What’s next for you here?
I’m not really thinking about New York right now — right now I’m focusing on what’s at hand. There’s a lot to do and a lot of excitement and things to experience. We have plans to expand, but I’m just dealing with what’s at hand.
BBQ 25 will be published May 11 and is available for presale on Amazon.