Sitting down with Steven Raichlen, Chappy summer resident and a five-time James Beard Award-winner who also holds a degree in French literature, always lends itself to an interesting interview. The excitement of a new PBS show, “Project Smoke,” has fed Mr. Raichlen’s endless energy for the past months; 12-hour days are the usual, so on a leisurely afternoon we sat down at a local coffee shop to chat all things smoking, just in time for the barbecue-happy holiday we know as Independence Day.
“All barbecue is smoked, but not all smoking is barbecue” says Mr. Raichlen, known first and foremost as America’s Grill Master. His “Barbecue Bible Cookbook” series has been translated into 17 languages, and his TV shows include “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University,” as well as the French shows he hosts, “Le Maitre du Grill” and “La Tag BBQ.” His first love was the primal technique of grilling, which took him on the adventure of writing 30 cookbooks (he also published a novel called “Island Apart,” a great summer beach read based on Chappaquiddick and the Vineyard).
But grilling was the gateway to smoking, no pun intended. “In the incredibly hurried, fast-paced world we live in, smoking is all about patience, and gives you a chance to slow down,” says Mr. Raichlen, as he dives into the science and chemistry of this newfound love. He explains what happens with the variety of temperatures, the elements released during the “heat of the moment.” He continues to describe what each part adds to the overall item you are smoking, whether it’s creating that smoke ring or introducing essential flavors.
Ten years ago, it was all about the kind of smoker you used, the wood you were burning, the technique you were demonstrating. Nowadays, what your food eats and how it’s raised matters just as much as how you are smoking it. Mr. Raichlen puts a strong emphasis on grass-fed beef, heritage pork, organic poultry and produce, and wild seafood, and examines ingredient sourcing in “Project Smoke.” Some local favorites of Mr. Raichlen are Jefferson Monroe’s Good Farm chickens and Katama Bay oysters.
“Project Smoke” premieres on PBS July 4th weekend (check local listings) and runs weekly for 13 weeks, each show running for 30 minutes. The show will be the first ever television program dedicated to smoking, and was filmed in the gorgeous Arizona Sonoran Desert. “Project Smoke” showcases a variety of smoking techniques in all kinds of smokers, and promises to be a favorite this summer. Start honing your smoking skills by tackling his recipe for Barbecued Pork Belly this weekend.
“Project Smoke” Barbecued Pork Belly
Adapted from “Project Smoke”
Smoking time: 3 to 3½ hours
Serves 6 people
a 3-pound section of pork belly
For the rub:
2 Tbsps kosher salt
2 Tbsps sugar
2 Tbsps sweet paprika
1 Tbsp granulated garlic
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
½ Tbsp ground black pepper
½ Tbsp mustard powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
Remove the skin from the pork belly (if still on). Score both sides, cutting a 1-inch crosshatch pattern with cuts ¼ inch deep.
Make the rub: Place spices in a bowl and mix with your fingers. Sprinkle the rub over the top, bottom, and sides of the pork belly, rubbing it into the meat with your fingers.
Set up your smoker, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and preheat to 225℉. Add the wood as specified by the manufacturer.
Smoke the pork belly fat side up until bronzed with smoke and the internal temperature is 165°. This will take about 3 to 3½ hours. Cut crosswise (against the grain) into ½-inch-thick slices and serve.