In Celebration of National Back to Barbecue Day: Why I Grill


Why do I grill? To paraphrase Shakespeare, let me count the ways. I grill because I like playing with fire. I grill because almost any food tastes better cooked with smoke and fire. I grill because I love cooking and eating outdoors. Above all, I grill because I love how it brings people together. So on this Back To Barbecue Day, I invite you to join me and fire it up. Grill on!

Steven Raichlen
May 17, 2023

What a difference a year makes!

Last year we were still in the throes of Covid 19—uncertain as to how much we should socially distance at barbecues, or whether it was safe to host barbecues at all.

This year, socializing is back with a vengeance, as are the fires that draw us around the grill.

And grilling we are—on a wider array of kettles, kamados, wood-burners, pellet grills, outdoor griddles, etc., than ever before. We’re even grilling on a new generation of electric grills that actually deliver the heat you need for properly searing a steak.

Back to Barbecue Day - Why I Grill - Steven Raichlen - Planet BarbecueWe’re also grilling a wider array of foods than ever before—from breakfast (grilled eggs anyone?) to pizza, from appetizers to desserts. We’re grilling not just on special occasions, but four or six nights a week.

This year, we have more reasons than ever to fire it up. Impressive new grills that deliver professional strength smoke and fire to our backyards. Powerful new technologies that let us control our grills from our smartphones and dial in doneness temperatures to the precise degree. Bold new flavors—from Asian lemongrass to Middle Eastern za’atar—that let us travel Planet Barbecue when we grill. And a newfound respect for grilled vegetables to help us grill healthier and gladden the hearts of vegetarians and omnivores alike.

To these, add the reasons we’ve always grilled, like the joy of cooking and eating outdoors. The thrill of sizzling meat (and poultry and seafood and even tofu) over live fire. The inimitable flavors of fire and wood smoke and how they seem to make every food taste better.

Above all, there’s the conviviality of grilling—the sheer pleasure and excitement we experience when we gather around the grill. After all, nobody stands at the oven to watch a loaf of bread bake. But fire up the grill, and you’ve got a party.

I have a very personal reason for rejoicing in Back to Barbecue Day this year. It coincides to the day with the launch of my new Public Television TV show: Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue!

Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time at the grill researching my books and TV shows. So when people ask me the secret of great grilling, I’m ready to help you take your grilling to the next level. Herewith, my top seven tips for better grilling this summer:

  1. Start with enough fuel. Charcoal grillers: that means an extra bag of coals; gas grillers, an extra tank of propane. There’s nothing worse than running out of fire halfway through your grill session. Trust me: I’ve done it. 😉
  2. Use a chimney starter. Lights your charcoal in 15 minutes and you don’t need to use petroleum based lighter fluid. If you use a gas grill, have the lid open when you light it to prevent a potentially deadly buildup of propane.
  3. Wood smoke is the umami of barbecue. Add soaked wood chips or hardwood chunks to your fire (or place under the grate over one of the burners on your gas grill). The resulting fragrant wood smoke makes everything taste better.
  4. Grill out of your comfort zone. Most of us grill the same three or four dishes—you know, steak, burgers, sausages, kebabs—in monotonous rotation. The next time you fire it up, try something you’ve never grilled before.
  5. Keep your food safe. A “grate” debate rages as to whether or not to let your meat come to room temperature before grilling. Don’t. Keep meats, seafood, mayonnaise, etc. on ice until you’re ready to grill. A few extra seconds of grill time are worth keeping you and your guests safe from food-borne illness.
  6. Apply barbecue sauce at the end. Brush it on too early and the sugar in the sauce will burn before the meat is cooked through.
  7. Above all, have fun. If you’re enjoying the process, so will your guests. And repeat the above often. As with so much in life, practice makes perfect. That’s especially true of grilling.

I’ll see you around the grill!

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