Project Fire: Fan the Flame

Author Photo
By Steven Raichlen | Jun 27, 2019

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Photo Credit

    Photo by Kesu01

    Nothing says summer quite like firing up the grill on a warm afternoon, and dishing out hamburgers and hot dogs. But a grill is capable of so much more than these summer staples, and very few people take full advantage of its power. Luckily, all it takes to fix this are the right recipes, using various ingredients and cooking methods that may be new to your grate. So get outside, fire it up, and let some of my favorite recipes show you what your grill can really do.

    Triple Steak Burgers

    What makes a great burger? The flavorings, the grill master’s skill, and even the shape of the roll all contribute to the overall quality of a burger. However, the most important factor may be the one that few of us have control over: the composition of the meat. It’s hard to know what’s actually in the ground beef you buy in your supermarket, but here’s your chance to take charge and determine the meat blend. My dream burger contains equal parts brisket, sirloin, and short ribs: the first for its beefiness; the second for its steakiness; and the third for its richness and fat.

    To create this meat blend, you’ll need a real meat grinder — you can’t properly grind meat in a food processor. If you don’t have a meat grinder, ask your local butcher to grind the burger meat to your specs.

    Yield: 4 servings

    Method: Direct grilling. Grilled over charcoal, wood, or gas. For the best results, grill over wood or a wood-enhanced fire.

    • 10 ounces sirloin, cut into 1-inch chunks, chilled
    • 10 ounces beef brisket (not too lean), cut into 1-inch chunks, chilled
    • 10 ounces boneless beef short ribs, cut into 1-inch chunks, chilled
    • Vegetable oil, for oiling the grill grate
    • Coarse sea or kosher salt, to taste
    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • 4 slices sharp cheddar cheese or aged provolone, optional
    • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
    • 4 brioche hamburger buns or sesame buns, split
    • 4 lettuce leaves
    • Optional toppings, as desired: grilled bacon, tomato slices, avocado slices, pickles, potato chips, onion slices, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and/or pickle relish
    1. Coarsely grind the meat in a chilled meat grinder.
    2. Mix well with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined.
    3. Wet your hands with cold water and form 4 patties, each 3⁄4 inch thick. Dimple the centers slightly with your thumb — burgers rise in the center as they cook, so dimpling them will ensure even cooking. Place the patties on a plate lined with plastic wrap. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate while you prepare the grill.
    4. Set up your grill for direct grilling, and heat it to high. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean. Oil it well.
    5. Remove the burgers from the refrigerator, and season them generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Arrange them on the grate, and grill until the bottoms are sizzling and browned, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating them a quarter turn after 90 seconds, so they grill evenly. Flip the burgers, and top them with cheese, if desired. Close the grill lid and continue grilling for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the burgers are cooked through. (The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 160 F, so insert an instant-read thermometer through the side of the burger to check it before declaring it finished.)
    6. While the burgers cook, butter the cut sides of the buns. Place them, cut side down, on the grill, and toast them for about 1 minute, or until they’re nicely browned.
    7. To assemble the burgers, line the bottom of each toasted bun with a lettuce leaf to keep the burger juices from soaking into the bun. Add the burger and toppings of choice. Cover with the top buns, and serve the burgers immediately.

    Photo by Matthew Benson

    Smoke-Roasted Carrots with Spice-Scented Yogurt

    These slender root vegetables are turning up on fashionable menus everywhere. Sometimes roasted, and sometimes smoked or grilled, carrots are served as starters, desserts, and even in cocktails. Sometimes they precede the steak; sometimes they are the steak. And of course, they always make a killer side dish. Think of these sweet, smoky, crusty, meaty, tender carrots as vegetable brisket.

    These carrots call for a two-step grilling process: indirect grilling followed by direct grilling. Indirect grilling softens and smokes them, and direct grilling caramelizes and crisps the exterior.

    For this recipe, I recommend organic rainbow carrots, as they taste more carroty, and they won’t have any residual pesticides. One sign of freshness is bright, springy green tops (which you can use to make pesto).

    Photo by Matthew Benson

    Yield: 4 to 6 servings

    Method: Smoke-roasting/indirect grilling, followed by direct grilling. First grilled over charcoal or gas, and then with 2 hardwood chunks or 11⁄2 cups wood chips (soaked in water for 30 minutes, then drained).

    Spice-Scented Yogurt:

    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
    • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
    • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon or lime zest
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


    • 2 pounds medium-sized whole carrots, trimmed and peeled
    • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
    • Coarse sea or kosher salt, to taste
    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, optional

    To make Spice-Scented Yogurt:

    1. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and coriander seeds, and roast them, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until they’re fragrant and lightly browned. Lightly crush them using a pestle or the back of a smaller frying pan.
    2. Place the yogurt in a small bowl. Stir in the seeds, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and oil. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until needed.

    To make Carrots:

    1. Set up your grill for indirect grilling, and heat to medium-high.
    2. Arrange the carrots in a single layer on a large, disposable aluminum foil pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
    3. Set the pan on the grill grate away from direct heat. Add wood chunks or chips to the coals. Close the grill lid.
    4. Smoke-roast the carrots until almost tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Move the pan directly over the fire, and grill until the carrots are brown and crusty, about 5 to 10 more minutes, turning often with tongs to ensure even browning.
    5. Place a spoonful of Spice-Scented Yogurt on individual plates, and arrange carrots on top. Sprinkle with thyme, if desired.

    Salt Slab Chocolate Brownie S’mores

    I give you the richest, most decadently chocolaty s’more of all. Picture this: You start with your favorite chocolate brownie. You top it with a bar of 70 or 80 percent pure cocoa chocolate. You use fine artisanal marshmallows, preferably ones that come in rectangles large enough to cover the brownies, and in flavors such as vanilla or orange. For extra flavor, you’ll add thinly slivered mint leaves. Finally, you smoke-roast the s’mores on a fire-heated salt slab, salt being the secret ingredient used by pastry chefs to bring out a dessert’s sweetness, while paradoxically, not making it taste sugary.

    A dessert this simple lives or dies by the quality of the ingredients. So, instead of buying the cheap brand of marshmallows from your youth, splurge and buy gourmet marshmallows.

    Don’t make these in cold weather. Hot salt slabs have been known to crack or explode when exposed to cold air.

    Photo by Matthew Benson

    Yield: 6 servings

    Method: Salt slab grilling/indirect grilling. First grilled over charcoal or gas, and then grilled on a salt slab with 1 cup unsoaked wood chips.

    • 6 fresh mint leaves, rolled and thinly slivered, optional
    • 6 chocolate brownies (3 by 4 inches each)
    • 6 squares (2 by 3 inches each) super premium chocolate bar
    • 6 rectangular marshmallows (2 by 3 inches each) or conventional marshmallows, cut in half lengthwise
    • Flaky salt, for serving, optional
    1. Brush or scrape the grill grate clean; there’s no need to oil it. Set up your grill for indirect grilling, and heat slowly to medium-high. Gradually heat the salt slab at the same time.
    2. Lay the slivered mint leaves atop the brownies. Top each with a square of chocolate and a marshmallow.
    3. Arrange the brownies on the hot salt slab. Add the wood chips to the coals or smoker box, and close the lid.
    4. Smoke-roast until the marshmallows are sizzling and browned, about 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer them to plates or bowls, or serve them right off the salt slab, topped with a sprinkling of flaky salt, if desired.

    Direct vs. Indirect Grilling

    Direct Grilling: This is the simplest, most straightforward, and most widely practiced method of grilling, and it’s what most people use when they fire up the grill. In a nutshell, you cook small, tender, quick-cooking foods directly over a hot fire.

    Indirect Grilling: For indirect grilling, you cook the food next to (not directly over) the fire, or between two fires. This method is the choice for grilling larger cuts that direct grilling can’t handle, such as whole chickens or pork loins, and fatty cuts such as whole ducks or pork shoulders. Indirect grilling is usually done with the lid closed.

    Steven Raichlen hosts “Project Smoke” and “Primal Grill” on PBS. This is an excerpt from his book Project Fire (Workman Publishing).

    Project Fire

    Where there’s smoke there’s fire! And where there’s fire, there’s Steven Raichlen. Following the breakout success of Project Smoke, the New York Times best-seller that brought Raichlen’s Barbecue! Bible series to a new generation, comes Project Fire: a stunning, full-color celebration of the best of contemporary grilling from America’s master of live-fire cooking.

    From breakfast (Bacon and Egg Quesadilla) to cocktails (Grilled Sangria), from veggies (Caveman Cabbage and Smoke-Roasted Carrots) to dessert (Grilled “Piña Colada” and Cedar-Planked Pears with Amaretti and Mascarpone), Project Fire offers a radically righteous new take on live-fire cooking from the man who reinvented modern American grilling.

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