Steven Raichlen, the James Beard Award-winning author of the best-selling "Barbecue Bible" cookbooks and host of the TV cooking series "Primal Grill" and "Barbecue University," has turned his attention to smoking.
Raichlen's new series, "Project Smoke," is produced by Maryland Public Television and premieres at 1 p.m. July 4, just in time for grilling -- or rather, smoking -- season.
Raichlen, 62, who grew up in the Sudbrook area of Baltimore County and graduated from Milford Mill High School, explained the essential difference: "All barbecue is smoked, but not all smoking is barbecue."
Raichlen now lives part of the year in Coconut Grove, Fla., and the other part on Martha's Vineyard, where he was when he spoke to us about smoking, crabs and cheesecake.
You moved away from Baltimore after high school. How does Baltimore fit into your food story?
I moved away to go to college in 1971, but I get back to Baltimore at least once a year. I have very formative food memories from here. I get asked often what my last meal would be. It's Maryland steamed crabs. That's the greatest meal on the planet. Our family's favorite crab house was Obrycki's, but we also went often to Bo Brooks and Gunning's.
A crab feast is a communal dining activity. Is that the same of barbecuing, or smoking?
You would never fire up a smoker to feed one person. A smoked meal is always shared with friends, family and community. I think that's really important, actually. Smoking is slow, it can't be hurried. We live in an age of such accelerated attention. Your phone buzzes with a new text every two minutes. In general, smoking is measured in hours and half-days.
What do people get wrong about smoking, as opposed to grilling?
Smoking and grilling are related but different. Smoking is cooking something next to the fire. Grilling is over the fire. There are two basic styles of smoking. The cold-smoking method is used for Norwegian smoked salmon and Virginia ham. Hot-smoking is for things like brisket, ribs and pork shoulder. But then there are what I call "micro-regions" of smoking, methods like smoking while spit roasting and smoking on the embers, where you lay peppers or eggplant directly on the embers.
I wanted to ask you about start-up costs and degree of difficulty with smoking.
That's a big part of "Project Smoke." We'll be showing you how to do stove-stop smoking, and smoking with an electric grill. Smoking isn't always about meat. There's an amazing broad continuum of smoked foods. We'll be showing methods and recipes for gazpacho, cocktails and dessert.
What's one of the smoked desserts we'll be seeing?
We're doing a smoked cheesecake. Smoke is like the umami of barbecue because it brings out flavors that you wouldn't expect. When you taste the smoked cheesecake, you say, "I never thought about cheesecake that way." It's one of the reasons why I say that smoking is the new grilling.