I like fire. As a child I nearly burned our house down in each of the successive countries we called home. I played with matches in Paris and Buenos Aires, and certainly would have in London had I not been imprisoned in my crib. I even took my hobby to camp with me and scorched portions of my cabin.
Whether out of practicality or self-preservation, my father began to channel my obsession at our farm in northern Michigan. In the summers I was put to work cutting, categorizing, and stacking firewood for the winter. Monstrous "Yule logs" meant to burn all evening, short stout pieces for the basement's wood furnace, long ones to power the living room fireplace, and compact lengths for the wood stove. When all this was done, I could look forward to picking up all suitable sticks on our four acres to store for kindling.
Obviously Dad liked fire too. After the wood gathering, I'd experience payoff in the form of a dinner of game, beef, or garden-grown vegetables, fresh off the family grill. Now this was not just any grill. This was The Grill. Sooty, worn, and a little byzantine, our stainless steel machine had stood in the same place for 20 years, harnessing thousands of fires into doing our bidding.
Dad's hometown of St. Louis is a barbecue city by any measure. He had also worked as a foreign correspondent for Time magazine, and his first post, in France, had opened his eyes to the magic of reductions and sophisticated sauces. When my father was assigned by his employer to cover the coup in Chile, he deposited his young family in the relative safety of Buenos Aires. The grilled cuisine of rural regions and Argentina—well, there was the site of an open-fire revelation.
When we settled in Michigan, father and family immediately missed the flame of our travels. The first few summers became grill-designing season. Dad tested prototype after prototype, the requirements being that the end product be a single machine that could perform the techniques of Europe, South America, and the USA. Even with all the effort put into it, he didn't envision it as a product, just our family grill. It became The Grill.
The Grill was a quick hit with dinner guests, some of whom knew that what they were looking at was an amalgam of international grilling equipment, the rest simply there for the open fire and the results. Shortly his friends wanted their own, and a hobby business was born. Then their friends called. Stories appeared in the paper. Horrified Mom was pressed into service as Treasurer. Letters sent on a lark were answered by calls from food great James Beard, among others, who invited my father to his New York office with grill in tow—then didn't allow the grill to leave.
The Grill was dubbed The Grillery, and almost 30 years of recreational capitalism followed, ending when my father, never intending to devote more than his bottom drawer to this thing, declared he'd "had his fun." By the time I decided to revive The Grill, I had a lifetime of ideas about fire and grilling to vent. The surface, already excellent at delivering juices to a basting pan, could be improved further by reducing the gap between the channels to virtually eliminate flaring. The finish could be improved to bring it into the realm of true premium culinary equipment. The product line could be expanded to include built-in models like those seen in Argentina, and the flagship freestanding grills now boast twin fire stations with a crank wheel at each end. And vitally, we explain the range of flavors offered by different woods and different fires to our customers, much as oenophiles explain pairing wines with foods.
In short, Grillworks Inc is run by a born pyrophile.
Whether you are using a Grillworks grill or not, there are a couple flame recipes I share with friends who need an easy showstopper. Here is a go-to for rib lovers:
Go to your meat counter of choice and find some good-looking baby back ribs. Good-looking means small racks with a good fat covering. Lean and large do not tender baby backs make. Plan for at least four ribs per person, and err on the side of too much, as they are natural leftovers.
MORE ON GRILLING:
Tom Mylan: A Butcher's Grilling Tips
Tom Mylan: A Case for Low Heat
Regina Charboneau: Five Marinades
Pick up a generous container of Grey Poupon Dijon mustard (no seeds). I've tried all sorts of other varieties but this one is the best, hands-down. Have no fear—I have no affiliation with Grey Poupon. Make sure you have some good soy sauce and garlic handy too.
Cover the racks with mustard. Use enough that you can barely make out the ribs beneath.
Smooth some garlic into the mustard with a spoon. You can use fresh or powdered, but I find that minced has the perfect strength level.
Pour soy sauce over the ribs and let them stand for about 25 minutes.
Place on the grill bone side down, over a low wood fire or medium heat. Baste with more soy sauce periodically. Turn at the end of cooking for a few minutes to get a good sear on the top, then remove and cut into the rib racks you'd like to serve. Let rest for 10 minutes and plate.
With best regards, may your Labor Day be fiery.
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