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June 03, 2008

Days of Summer: Cooking With Coals

Post-grill perfection: my goal.

by Julia Bainbridge

People grill in mysterious ways--to me, at least. Yes, there are myriad tutorial-like cookbooks out there. Yes, the June issues of culinary magazines annually publish chefs' tips on the subject. Yes, the Food Network is currently flaming with BBQ how-to specials. But for whatever reason (an overpowering fidelity to cocktails? a bizarre love for prep work that trumps any attention to the backyard brouhaha? delinquency?), that perfect char remains out of my reach.

Charcoal power's on the brain these days as the weather turns warm and the office brings on summer hours. And I'm determined to become a seasoned grill-goer before the season's end. This past weekend, I watched as my dear foodie friend Nick Pandolfi cooked sausages to perfection; they had beautiful diagonal scorch lines running their lengths, and when provoked with the tip of a paring knife, they released the most fragrant and sizzling juices. (We topped them with caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and good old French's yellow mustard. Rapturous, I tell you.) I'm not sure I could do the same solo yet, but the applejack cocktails I made were a hit.

There are dozens of great BBQ joints in New York where grillmaster hopefuls comme moi can at least learn what kind of flavor to attain. And even those places not known for their grill skills churn out some delicious options. Just this Sunday, I stopped by The Smith for a roast pork sandwich; it exited the kitchen in a cloud of porky steam and arrived in front of me, its bread positively soaked in sauce mixed with opalescent fatty drippings (not to mention the fact that it was adorned with some killer spicy cauliflower). But this weekend I'm headed to Texas--Houston, to be exact--that mecca of the 'cue. After this, the grill should be no mystery.

Stay tuned for a report on my meat-tastic weekend way down South.

Note: A Texan friend who will go nameless recently complained to me that we "Yanks" fail to sufficiently distinguish grilling from barbecuing. I will say that the only real difference involves sauce; the cooking method is similar ("to roast or broil on a rack or revolving spit over or before a source of heat [such as] hot coals," says Merriam-Webster). Disagree? Comments/knowledge welcome.


Although Yankees do constitute the majority of people who mess this distinction up, I'm sure some people from the South/Texas/Missouri (people in both of the last two places will distinguish themselves from Southerners) get it wrong every now and then. For the benefit of all who don't know the difference between barbecue and grilling, please take heed: barbecue uses low heat and slow cooking, whereas grilling uses high heat and rapid cooking.

Need proof? Alright. TV wouldn't lie to you, would it? Check this out:

A-ha! Thank you, GlorifiedYetNamelessTexanFriend. Looks like I'll have to re-route my summer learning plans--and like I'll be in for even more of a treat this weekend than I thought (since true BBQ is difficult to reproduce at home). Later this summer, I will trek to Austin; anyone have favorite BBQ joints there?

Ms. Bainbridge,

As a native Houstonian and collegiate Austinite, I would highly suggest Rudy's ( Saltlick ( for barbecue while you are in Austin, and I might also suggest Sunday brunch at Stubbs downtown (

As a current New York City resident, I can say that nothing here quite compares although I am very fond and most impressed with Hill Country on 26th Street. It is the only place in the city that carries Blue Bell ice cream and rumor has it, they are working on a distribution deal to get Shiner Bock beer this summer. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

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