Pros: Two dozen interesting recipes for the most commonly grilled foods.
Cons: Confusing morass of drawings, icons, photos, and hand-drawn symbols. Instructions not always clear.
Reviewed by Brook Elliott
When it comes to grilling and barbecue three names stand out: Steven Raichlen, Bobby Flay, and Adam Perry Lang.
This is a tale about Lang, and his second book, BBQ 25.
BBQ 25 is Lang’s attempt at simplicity. As he says, “Less is often more. This is that book. This is the backbone of barbecue. In essence, I’ve streamlined the approach….”
This is a far cry from his first book, Serious Barbecue, in which he really pushed the envelope of open fire cookery. Serious Barbecue gave us recipes for such things as Lamb Tenderloins Glazed with Orange Blossom Honey & Thyme; Chuck Roast Crusted with Garlic Salt & Instant Coffee, and even a Crown Roast of Pork. Pretty sophisticated grilling. Compared to that, BBQ 25 is a giant step backwards, and is “all about the 25 recipes that you and I cook 95 percent of the time.”
Not that rearward progression is new to Lang. Indeed, his whole career can be described as doing it backwards. For instance, when most budding chef’s graduate from culinary school they start out in smaller restaurants, or as part of the anonymous brigade in huge hotel dining rooms. Nothing, in other words, that will make them particularly visible. Not Lang. He started culinary life working directly for chefs with names like Boulud and Savoy and Meneau.
So, after being formally trained in classic French cuisine, and after working in some of the finest restaurants in the world, he decided to shuck it all and become a cowboy cook instead; applying his training and creativity to, of all things, barbecue, on a private ranch down in Texas.
As we saw with Serious Barbecue, Lang can handle the sophisticated aspects of open-flame cooking. The question is, can he do the same with simple stuff? The answer is a qualified “maybe.” Let’s first look at the book itself.
BBQ 25 is not so much a cookbook as a how-to manual, laid out as if it were a scrapbook. Each of the heavy, plastic-coated pages is a confusing morass of photos, drawings, icons, and “hand-drawn” circles, arrows and notations, most of which are unnecessary and many of which are confusing. So, for starters, instead of clarifying they obfuscate, and create chaos instead of simplicity.
A big deal is made about tools required and techniques used, both of which are presented as icons at the front of the book, and repeated, ad nauseum, with every recipe. Yet, when what is perhaps an unfamiliar term or technique is used, he doesn’t explain it. For instance, his recipe for Whole Chicken calls for spatchcocking/butterflying the bird. But nowhere does he say what that means. So, while he tells us, over and over again that we can apply a basting sauce with either a regular brush or one made with a bunch of herbs, he neglects telling us how to prep the chicken for this “simple” recipe.
I would have to say, too, that there is nothing particularly simple about any of the recipes. I mean, is there anything as simple as grilling vegetables? You brush them with a little oil of choice, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and maybe some other herbs, and pop them over the coals. Lang, however, defines “simple” a bit differently. His Grilled Vegetables require a marinade using 13 ingredients, and a garnish that uses six.
Hot dogs are equally complex. First you warm them in a broth made with five ingredients, then transfer them to a buttered griddle pan to color them up. They are then served nestled in a bed of “fortified” sauerkraut that uses eight ingredients in addition to the kraut, all of which has to be cooked together along with some of the broth from the dogs. Tasty? Perhaps so. But also rather complicated for something as plebeian as a hot dog. Nor, for that matter, does preparing them this way add anything that you wouldn’t get using the same approach on the kitchen stove.
I’m not saying these approaches don’t produce great tasting food. Only that they are neither basic nor simple; which is what the book promises. In fact, they are overly complex and fussy. What’s more, because of the scrapbooking tone of the book, it’s easy to misread the actual recipes because the chaotic layout gets in the way.
After trying a couple of these recipes, I also have to suggest that Perry Lang either get a new watch, cut back on his cooking times, or invest in a more accurate grill thermometer because his time/temperatures lead to dried out meat. What’s the point of brining large cuts (something that he’s fascinated with, by the way) if you then overcook them?
The first dish I tried was the previously mentioned Whole Chicken (Spatchcock/Butterflied). Let me admit, up front, that I am not a big fan of brining. Sure, I know all the supposed benefits. But to me brining produces overly-salty food that overcomes any of the up sides. But, for the sake of accuracy, I went along with the drill.
As expected, the brine produced a rather salty chicken. But there was a bigger problem. Following Lang’s instructions there is no way the chicken will come off the grill with anything but a soggy, oily skin. At no time during the 90 minute cooking time is the bird turned so the skin faces the heat. And I don’t know a grilling technique more basic than that.
Ninety minutes is, it should go without saying, too long to cook a chicken on the grill, even on indirect heat. So what I wound up with is an expensive to make, overcooked chicken with all but inedible skin. First tightening and crisping the skin over direct heat would have gone a long way towards making this a better dish, as would cooking it for a shorter time.
A similar problem arose with his Boneless Pork Loin/Bone-In Rib Rack recipe. We’re talking about a loin that’s only 2 ½ pounds, and, had I not used a remote thermometer it would have overcooked using the time/temperature he recommends. I also have to question his method of applying the glaze, which is unnecessarily cumbersome. Has Lang never heard of a pastry brush? Or even a spoon?
Frankly, having seen Adam Perry Lang at work, I don’t believe the problems of the book represent him as a grill master. Rather, it’s the manner in which his vision is presented. How much of that is the author’s choice, and how much the publisher’s, is anybody’s guess.
I have to conclude that, despite all the implications, BBQ 25 is not about basics, nor is it a book for beginners. Rather, it’s an interesting (albeit confusing) way for an experienced backyard griller to expand his repertoire. If that describes you, the book is worthwhile. And, at twenty bucks, affordable enough. Just make sure you interpret what’s in the book with what you already know about live-fire cooking, and adjust accordingly.
Boneless Pork Loin/Bone-In Rib Rack
Two 2 ½-lb boneless pork loin roasts
Ingredients for brine:
5 tbls sea salt or kosher salt
5 tbls light brown sugar
1 tbls freshly ground black pepper
2 tbls grated or finely chopped sweet white onion
10 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbls paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic salt
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch fresh rosemary
6 cups cold water
Canola oil or vegetable oil
Ingredients for spice glaze:
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tbls paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ cup honey
2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tbls freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbls chopped fresh chives
6 tbls olive oil
2 tbls finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Sea salt and Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine ingredients and spread on cutting board before cutting meat
To increase the surface area of the meat for seasoning, score the fatty side at ¼-inch intervals, making ¼-inch deep cuts, in a crosshatch pattern.
Combine all the brine ingredients in a large bowl or resealable plastic bag. Mix and crush the ingredients with your hands, directly or through the bag, squeezing them to release the maximum flavor. Transfer half the brine to a second large bowl or plastic bag.
Put the meat in the brine and let stand to absorb the flavors for at least three hours, and up to 24 hours. If brining for longer than three hours, refrigerate the pork.
Approximately 1 ½ hours.
Prepare a grill for indirect cooking: the temperature should be 325F. Drain the meat and dry with paper towels. Glisten with canola oil.
Put the meat on the well-oiled preheated grill and cook, covered, with the addition of wood of your choice (I prefer fruit woods when available), for 45 minutes.
Transfer the meat to a tray.
Meanwhile, combine all the spice glaze ingredients in a sealable plastic bag. Cut off a bottom corner of the bag of glaze and drizzle the glaze over the pork, turning it to coat completely.
Return the pork to the grill and cook for 45 minutes to tighten the glaze and kiss the meat with smoke (you can check the temp with an instant-read thermometer if that is more comfortable; they should register 160F).
Pour the board dressing onto a cutting board and slice the meat, turning to coat each slice.