Steven Raichlen’s seriously savory barbecue tips


The MV Times talked with Steven Raichlen, global grilling authority, seasonal Chappaquiddick resident and author of the novel “Island Apart” (out in paperback this month). He shared his do’s and don’ts of great grilling.

What are the absolutely essential tools for great barbecue? In terms of general, all-purpose grilling for gas or charcoal, there are three tools you can’t do without. First is a long, stiff-handled brush for cleaning grill grates. Next would be a long-handled spring-loaded tongs for turning meat. Do not stab meat with a barbecue fork!

Full disclosure: I manufacture some of the tools I’ll mention. In my line, ( I have a set of lighted tongs. Usually, when you stand at a grill in the evening, the light is behind you and it’s really hard to see. The tongs show you what you’re doing.

The third thing to have is an instant read heat thermometer. You’ll want to check doneness of a meat like prime rib, but last night we did a plank salmon and inserted the thermometer to test it.

Some other tools I’d recommend is a chimney starter for a charcoal grill. It enables you to light coals without squirting them with petroleum, and they are all lighted evenly. Another tool for charcoal is a charcoal hoe, so you can rake out coals to create a three-zone fire.

Are there tools that are good for particular types of grilling? Yes, some are good for only one dish. One would be a rib rack that enables you to cook four racks of ribs on one grill, or cedar planks for fish, or a jalapeno pepper roaster for making poppers. You only use it once, but it is useful. Another is a shellfish rack. It enables you to grill clams and oysters on the half shell, and holds the shells steady so you don’t lose the juices. We did that last night — smoked some Katama Bay oysters, and boy — they were gorgeous and delicious.

What’s the best way to prepare for grilling?

One of my mantras is keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated. So the way you prep the grill is important. Once you have a hot grill, brush it with the stiff wire brush. Then lubricate it by dipping a tightly coiled paper towel in oil and wipe it across the grate.

What are essential grilling ingredients? If you were stuck on Chappy for two weeks, what would you stockpile for the grill? First, a good salt. I like a coarse crystal sea salt, ground pepper, extra virgin olive oil, lemons (preferably Meyer). With those, you can cook just about anything. Beyond that, a basic barbecue rib is very important. I’ll give you my formula: salt, pepper, paprika and brown sugar in equal parts.

Some other essentials would be woodchips or chunks to generate smoke. Fresh herbs.

Anything not good for grilling? One of my slogans is you can grill just about anything. If it’s good baked or fried or sauteed, it’ll taste better grilled. I would have said “sushi,” but these days, sushi chefs will take a blow torch to the top. That’s live fire cooking, which I call barbecue. Ice cream? There’s a grilled coconut ice cream!

I do like to focus on what’s local. I’d say that fragile fish are harder to grill — flounder or what we call sole (not Dover sole). You can grill that in a basket, but those flimsy fishes are better served by pan frying.

And what are the best things to grill?

Boy, that’s like answering “Who are your favorite children?” Lamb chops, veal, but even tough meats like pork shoulder, done slowly. I love fish on the grill. There’s nothing like it for bringing out the briney succulence. Vegetables are fantastic on the grill. The beauty is you carmelize the plant which makes the grilled veggie supernaturally sweet and gives it a smoky flavor.

What are some must do’s and don’t’s for grilling?

Many. One common mistake at the grill is people let the fire control them rather than them controlling the fire. One of the first steps to becoming a good griller is learning how to control the fire. The picture of the guy who throws chicken on a raging fire and hopes they’ll cook right…that just takes the religion out of it.

Another mistake is overcrowding the grill. Use the 30% rule. So, one third of the grill is food, so you have room to maneuver, move the food that is cooking too quickly to a safety zone away from flames, to let flames die down.

What’s your apron say?

I never wear an apron. Personal choice. I don’t wear mitts either, though I do believe it’s good to have a long-sleeve heavy-duty set of suede gloves. You are working with hot food.

Any favorite complementary dishes for barbecue?

When you are at the Raichlen house, everything you eat will be cooked on the grill. Appetizer, main dish, side, vegetable. But in terms of pure complements, it depends what part of the world you are grilling in. In North America, potatoes. Italy, polenta. Southeast Asia, rice. It’s hard to go wrong with salad.

Didn’t a Stanford White-designed house on Chappy burn down after someone left a grill going on a wooden porch? Any precautions you’d advise for grillers? I didn’t hear that! Well, one thing endemic to the Vineyard is a lot of grills on wooden decks. Diversitec is a pad you can put on your deck and you can drop live embers on it. But it’s always good, no matter what, to have a fire extinguisher nearby. I actually hose down my deck before grilling on it. Another thing to remember is that even if you think your grill is out, even the next morning there will be live hot embers burning. I recommend closing the vents on the charcoal grill to extinguish the fire.

What about marshmallows?

That’s one of the great foods you can burn. Like eggplants — you render the flesh smokey. Makes great babaganoush.

Try this at Home — Recipes from Steven Raichlen

Spain: Grilled Gazpacho

Direct grilling. Serves 8 as a first course.

Gazpacho is Spain’s culinary lifeblood, a refreshing puree of vegetables that blurs the distinction between soup and salad. Grilling adds a smoky dimension that transforms this warm-weather soup from the realm of refreshing to unforgettable. If you are using a food processor, puree the vegetables first, then add the liquids.

Special equipment: 2 long bamboo skewers and an aluminum foil shield


4 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium-size red onion, peeled and quartered(leave the root end on)
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 slices (each ¾ inch) country-style white bread or French bread
5 medium-size ripe tomatoes (about 2½; pounds)
1 medium-size red bell pepper
1 medium-size green bell pepper
1 medium-size cucumber, peeled
¼ cup mixed chopped fresh herbs, such as basil,oregano, tarragon, and/or flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste
½; to 1 cup cold water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Finely chop the scallion greens and set aside for garnish. Thread the scallion whites crosswise on a skewer and add the garlic cloves. Thread the onion quarters on a second skewer. Lightly brush the scallion whites, garlic, and onion quarters with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

2. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

3. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the skewered vegetables on the hot grate with the aluminum foil shield under the ends of the -skewers. Grill, turning with tongs, until nicely browned, 4 to 8 minutes in all. Transfer the vegetables to a plate to cool. Add the bread slices to the grill grate and grill until darkly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Set the bread aside. Grill the tomatoes and bell peppers until the skins are nicely charred, about 8 to 12 minutes in all for the tomatoes, 16 to 20 minutes for the peppers. Transfer the tomatoes and bell peppers to a platter to cool. Using a paring knife, scrape the charred skins and burned bits off the tomatoes, onion, and bell peppers (don’t worry about removing every last bit). Core and seed the peppers.

4. Cut the scallion whites, garlic, onion, toast, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumber into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces in a blender or food processor, adding the tomatoes first, along with the mixed herbs, wine vinegar, and the remaining olive oil. Process to a smooth puree. Thin the gazpacho to pourable consistency with cold water as needed, and season with salt and black pepper to taste.

5. The gazpacho can be served now, but it will taste even better if you chill it for an hour or so to allow the flavors to blend. Just before serving, taste for seasoning, adding more vinegar and/or salt as necessary. To serve, ladle the gazpacho into bowls and sprinkle the chopped scallion greens on top.


Maine Blueberry Crumble

Indirect grilling. Serves 8.

Each of us has his obsessions. My wife Barbara’s are the tiny, sweet, incredibly fragrant low bush blueberries harvested in Maine at the end of July and the beginning of August. Mine, of course, is the grill.

Now, marriage is a study in the art of compromise, so I created a blueberry crumble that would satisfy Barbara’s passion for blueberries and mine for live fire cooking. A gentle whiff of wood smoke brings out the delicate flavor of the blueberries.


3 pints blueberries
3⁄4 cup flour
1 ⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 ounces biscotti or gingersnaps, coarsely crumbled (1 ⁄2 cup crumbs)
1 ⁄2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick)
cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pinch salt
Vanilla ice cream (optional), for serving


You’ll Also Need:

One 8-by-10-inch aluminum foil pan; cooking oil spray;1 cup wood chips or chunks (preferably apple), soaked for 1 hour in water to cover, then drained. Pick through the blueberries, removing any stems, leaves, or bruised berries. Mrs. Raichlen would rinse and drain them — I don’t bother. Place the berries in a large nonreactive mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the flour and the granulated sugar, lemon zest, and lemon juice and gently toss to mix.

Spoon the blueberry mixture into the aluminum foil pan after lightly spraying it with cooking oil.

Place the biscotti, brown sugar, and the remaining 1/2 cup of flour in a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until a coarse powder forms. Add the butter and salt, then pulse until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Spoon the topping over the blueberry filling.

Set up the grill for indirect grilling (see page 23 for gas or page 22 for charcoal) and preheat to medium-high. If using a gas grill, place all of the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch (see page 24) and run the grill on high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium-high. If using a charcoal grill, preheat it to medium-high, then toss all of the wood chips or chunks on the coals.

When ready to cook, place the pan with the blueberries in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat, and cover the grill. Cook the crumble until the filling is bubbling and the topping is browned, about 40 minutes.

Serve the crumble hot or warm, ideally with vanilla ice cream.

Variation: For an outrageously delicious twist on this crumble, replace half of the blueberries (3 cups) with diced ripe peaches. Tips: There are blueberries, and then there are blueberries. To enjoy this dish at its very best, you must use wild blueberries that have been combed from low bushes and sold at farm stands at the height of summer. You can make a perfectly tasty crumble with regular blueberries— just don’t try serving it to Mrs. Raichlen.


Martha’s Vineyard Oysters Smoked on the Half Shell

Permit me a moment of hometown chauvinism. The best smoked oysters in the world are served right here on my Island summer home: Martha’s Vineyard. More precisely, you can find them at the Water Street restaurant at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. The Water Street chef has the good sense to start with superlative shellfish from Katama Bay and smoke roast them with nothing more than a pat of sweet butter. The smoky, briny succulent result is barbecue bliss on a half shell. Makes 12 oysters; serves 2 to 3 as an appetizer, 1 to 2 as a light main course

12 large oysters in the shell
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
Crusty bread, for serving

You’ll also need:

An oyster knife for shucking the oysters;1½; cups hickory, oak, or apple wood chipsor chunks, soaked for 1 hour in waterto cover, then drained; a shellfish rack (optional; see Just the Facts, this page)

Advance preparation

None; the beauty of this preparation is its spontaneity.

1. Set up the grill for indirect grilling, place a drip pan in the center, and preheat the grill to medium-high. For the best results, use a charcoal grill. If you are using a gas grill, add the wood chips or chunks to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate (see page 603).

2. Just before grilling, shuck the oysters, discarding the top shells (see Note). Swipe the knife under the oysters to loosen them from the bottom shells. Take pains not to spill the juices. Arrange the oysters in a shellfish rack, if using, and place a piece of butter on top of each oyster.

3. When ready to cook, if you are using a charcoal grill, toss the wood chips or chunks on the coals. Place the oysters on the shellfish rack, if using, in the center of the grate over the drip pan and away from the heat, and cover the grill. Grill the oysters until the butter is melted and the oysters are just barely cooked, 5 to 10 minutes or to taste (I like them warm but still raw in the center). Serve the oysters with crusty bread, grilled, if desired.

note: To shuck an oyster, insert the tip of a shucking knife into the hinge of the bivalve (the narrow end, where the shells are connected). Gently twist the blade to pry the shells apart. Then, slide the blade under the top shell to cut the muscle. Then, slide the blade under the oyster to loosen it from the shell.

It helps to grill the oysters in a shellfishrack, which holds the bivalves level so you can grill them without spilling the juices. Two models are the Great Grate ( and my own shellfish rack (


Grilled Swordfish with Garlic Caper Butter

Here’s a dish close to home and near to my heart, for during swordfish season, Barbara and I make it as often as possible. And whenever I’m traveling for Planet Barbecue, the mere thought of it makes me homesick. We’re talking quick — thirty minutes max from start to finish — but the flame-charred fish and tart, salty fried caper sauce explode right off the plate. Use the freshest swordfish you can find, and I’d rather see you substitute another, fresher fish than using swordfish that looks tired or old (prepared this way, tuna or salmon steaks would be great). serves 4

For the fish

4 swordfish steaks (each at least 1 inch thick and 6 to 8 ounces)
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground or cracked black peppercorns
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 lemons, 1 cut in wedges, for serving

For the sauce

4 tablespoons (½; stick) unsalted butter
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons drained capers

You’ll also need: Unsoaked oak or other hardwood logs, orchips, or chunks.

Advance preparation: None.

1. Prepare the fish: Rinse the swordfish steaks and blot them dry with paper towels. Place the swordfish in a nonreactive baking dish and very generously season it on both sides with salt and pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over both sides of the fish, rubbing it and the salt and pepper onto the fish with your fingertips. Cut the whole lemon in half and squeeze the juice over the fish, turning to coat both sides. Let the fish marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 15 minutes.

2. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high.

3. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Drain the swordfish. Ideally, you’ll grill over a wood fire (see page 603 for instructions). Alternatively, you can use wood chips or chunks to add a smoke flavor. If you are using a charcoal grill, toss the wood chips or chunks on the coals. If you are using a gas grill, add the wood chips or chunks, if desired, to the smoker box or place them in a smoker pouch under the grate (see page 603). (You want a light wood flavor—that’s why you don’t soak the wood.) Arrange the swordfish on the hot grate at a diagonal to the bars. Grill the fish until cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. When done, the swordfish will break into firm flakes when pressed with a finger. If desired, give each swordfish steak a quarter turn after 1A minutes to create a handsome crosshatch of grill marks. Transfer the steaks to a platter and cover them loosely with aluminum foil to keep warm.

4. Make the sauce (you can start it while the fish is on the grill): Melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the garlic and capers and cook over high heat until the garlic begins to brown and the capers are crisp, about 2 minutes. Immediately pour the sauce over the swordfish steaks and serve at once, with the lemon wedges.


Trinidad: Grilled Corn with Shadon Beni Butter

Direct grilling. Serves 8.

Despite the wide use of charcoal as a cooking fuel, Trinidadians aren’t particularly keen on grilling. One exception is corn. Stroll through Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain at dusk and you’ll find large crowds at the corn vendors lining up for crackling crisp ears of a mature variety of corn most Americans would consider too large, old, and dried out to eat. But it’s these very defects that make the corn so munchable and delicious.

Traditionally, the cooked ears are brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Inspired by a popular Trinidadian herb, I’ve come up with a more interesting topping: shadon beni butter. Shadon beni (literally false cilantro) is a dark green, thumb-shaped, sawtooth-edged herb with a taste similar to cilantro. It’s generally sold in North America by its Hispanic name, culantro (look for it in Hispanic and West Indian markets). But don’t despair if you can’t find shadon beni: cilantro makes an equally delicious butter. By the way, you can use shadon beni butter as a great topping for other simply grilled vegetables and seafood.

8 ears of corn (the larger and older, the better)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 scallions, both white and green parts, trimmed and minced
1 clove garlic, minced

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Shuck the corn and set it aside while you prepare the shadon beni butter.

2. Place the butter, culantro, scallions, and garlic in a food processor and process until smooth. Season the butter with pepper to taste and transfer it to a bowl. Alternatively, if the herbs and garlic are very finely minced, you can stir them right into the butter in a bowl.

3. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

4. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the corn on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until nicely browned all over, 8 to 12 minutes. As the corn cooks, brush it occasionally with the shadon beni butter.

For more information, visit Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue Bible.

Leroux at Home usually carries some of Raichlen’s cookbooks and products. 62 Main St., Vineyard Haven, 508-693-0300;