By Murray Schulman
There is mind-boggling evidence that somewhere between 100,000 and 1.6 million years ago, homo erectus understood a singular fact that you and I share with him today. We share the understanding that when food encounters a controlled flame, it tastes good. Does this shock or amaze you, my friends? Now that I’ve planted the thought, none of us are in the least surprised.
I could easily go into a long-winded discus-sion of the historical development of what I will refer to as controlled, open-hearth cooking. But I appreciate my readers and I would like to keep having you enjoy my column.
Instead, let’s think about experiences that we most likely have shared. For me, there is something exhilarating about sitting in a quality restaurant with an open kitchen. You are at your table when suddenly a brilliant flash catches you eye. You turn and see the chef working an open flame grill. The flames flare as that culinary professional adroitly manipulates steaks and chops on his grill. You can’t look away as the aromas reach out to you, and finally when your selection arrives straight from the flame sizzling on your platter perfectly seasoned and charred to perfection, you just know that your first bite will be delicious.
Consider the summer family get-together in your back yard. The center of attention is always the assault on the senses that is part of the cooking experience. It could be anything from grilled lobster to s’mores being prepared around the fire pit. If flames are involved, whatever you are eating will be special.
For me, it is the grill, the smoker, a fire pit, the campfire. Maybe it is a small hibachi at your tailgate, a strangely shaped pellet grill smoker, my old-school double grill with attached smoker with extended fire box, a trailer-style competition smoker or a giant commercial smoker capable of handling hundreds of pounds of meat, pork and poultry. The one thing that is the common element is the same as our ancestors came to realize: There is something almost mystical and spectacular about cooking with fire.
From a culinary standpoint, we could fill libraries with the number of books dealing with what has become a fine culinary art form. We see more and more cooking shows dealing with grilling everything from traditional burgers, hot dogs, chicken, steaks and chops to fruit and even pizza.
I am talented with the old-school smoker and traditional grilling. One close friend who happens to be an outstanding chef is a master with pig roasts using what is called a pig box. Yet another friend and fellow culinarian is brilliant at grilling pork and seafood of every type. My brother is simply a backyard cookout lover. He claims to be an expert at grilling burgers, chicken and steak. I’m sure that you each have your claim to fame on the grill. Don’t be afraid to show your skill.
I sometimes wonder if all the modern hype related to grilling and smoking has led to a fear factor. Have people become intimidated by all the “experts?” Be bold, be fearless! We all want what we prepare to taste great, and we love seeing our family and friends coming back for more of what we had on the grill. If homo erectus figured out it out, any one of us can follow a few basic principals and serve up a great batch of burgers. Even if you simply want to avoid the grill, BBQ restaurants are popping up in almost every neighborhood. You have easy access to some outstanding foods without ever leaving your house. These places will deliver to you with a phone call and a credit card.
This is the time of the year when we look to get outside and share some great food and better times. You will find me and you outside most weekends cooking with fire.