Since cooking over fire in your backyard started winning respect in the 1980s, the cookbook industry has released a forest of grilling tomes. Most repeat the same tips and techniques contained in the booklet that comes with a Weber charcoal kettle grill.
"Charred & Scruffed: Bold new techniques for flavor on and off the grill" challenges the orthodoxy of grilling technique with innovations that promise to add more than a new marinade to your next grilling session.
Want the best crust on your meat? How about laying it right on red-hot chunks of hardwood charcoal that's been blown clean of ash with a hair dryer? "Instead of a long process of building up the crust," writes Adam Perry Lang, "this alternative superheats any melting fat, basting ingredients and juices and penetrates the meat with a blast of aromatized steam."
Sure, you might have to knock off bits of charcoal, but when it comes to "clinching," as Lang calls it, fans say the flavor is worth the effort.
Lang cooked at top kitchens like Le Cirque and Daniel before switching his focus to barbecue and becoming a top finalist. He later opened Daisy May's BBQ in Manhattan, and wrote a best-selling cookbook, "Serious Barbecue."
His innovations aren't just I-bet-you-never-thought-of this stunts. They're refined, flavor-driven techniques for the moderately ambitious. "Spackling" is applying a finishing paste built around the concentrated flavor of ingredients like dehydrated roasted red peppers.
Scruffing is essentially roughing up the smooth surfaces of cuts of meat or other proteins to make it easier for flavors to penetrate and stick.
Lang captures the warm, savory juices that escape to the cutting board when a large piece of finished meat is sliced for serving. He adds olive oil or vinegar, fresh herbs and spices, chops it all together, and turns the sliced meat in the mixture before serving.
Lang's book also shines with side dishes and accompaniments. He groups them by the effects cooks want to achieve: "Melting, Creamy and Comfortable," like creamed corn with chives and chiles; "Crisp, Fresh and Sprightly," with mango cilantro salad; and "Crispy Bits," like chicken skin cooked under a brick.
Follow Lang's instructions to prepare his "man steak" and you'll re-educate yourself on best grilling practices. Apply seasoning blend, and rub it in with moist hands to form a "meat paste." Flip it frequently on a hot grill, and forget about classic grill marks. It's good if it sticks. Clean and oil the grate for a second cooking stage that includes applying tangy baste with an herb brush.
Serve in a board sauce with a sprinkle of salt, and you might say there's more to learn about grilling steak after all.
Charred & Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang
266 pages, $24.95