For years Steven Raichlen has been one of the go-to meat men and masters of fire in the country, and with his latest book, The Brisket Chronicles, he adds another protein to his repertoire. Brisket has a reputation for difficulty as well as deliciousness, and Raichlen shows you how to minimize the former while achieving great flavor.
His list of accolades already include numerous best-selling books such as Project Smoke, The Barbecue Bible and How To Grill, as well as a handful of television shows like Primal Grill, Barbecue University and Project Fire. Outdoor cooking season is the time to get your grilling game in gear, and Raichlen's latest tome is a great way to start. Recipes include mouth-watering items such as kung pao pastrami, smoky brisket cheese pockets, Vietnamese crispy brisket salad and so much more. Pick up a copy and meet Raichlen at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at BookBar, 4280 Tennyson Street, for a public signing and meaty discussion.
We talked to Raichlen about the popularity of beef brisket, the allure of fire and smoke — and even his amazing head of hair.
Westword: Why was this the right time to write a brisket book?
Steven Raichlen: Barbecued brisket has never been hotter. Think Aaron Franklin, Billy Durney, John Lewis, etc. However, brisket is responsible for Jewish pastrami, Irish corned beef, Montreal smoked meat, Cuban vaca frita, Italian bollito misto and Vietnamese pho. I wanted to bring all the world manifestations of brisket together in a single book.
How is brisket different from other types of grill items?
It’d be tough as shoe leather if you tried to grill it like a steak. So it takes special techniques, like smoking low and slow or freezing and slicing paper thin, to turn it into something wondrous.
What do you like best about barbecuing?
The theatrics. The flavor. The way everyone comes together around a grill. No one gathers around the oven to watch a loaf of bread bake. Light the grill and it’s a party.
We love how diverse your recipes are. How did you go about sourcing ideas and content?
The first thing I do whenever I write a new book is pack a suitcase. To write The Brisket Chronicles, I crisscrossed the U.S. and circumnavigated the world.
How long have you been a brisket master, and how did you get started with the meat?
Brisket was probably the first solid food I ate, it was a staple at Friday night family dinners. I’ve eaten it in every country I’ve lived in or visited and throughout my life. I tasted my first barbecue brisket at Bodacious Bar-B-Q in Longview, Texas, in 1979.
While researching for your book, did you learn anything new?
That would fill a book in itself. Among the many surprises I found was that the first mention of brisket, “bru-kette,” in the English language, was in 1450. The first recipe for brisket, published in 1769, seven years before we became a country, contained bacon, oysters, red wine and nutmeg. Corned beef takes its name for the barleycorn-sized salt crystals with which it was cured. Pastrami takes its name for a Middle Eastern spiced meat called basturma. And, the Leroy & Lewis food truck in Austin, Texas, serves brisket chocolate chip cookies. Really. You’ll find the recipe in The Brisket Chronicles.
Are you familiar with the Denver barbecue scene?
Not so much, unfortunately, but in the past I’ve enjoyed bison burgers and bison ribs.
Anything in the book that will surprise most brisket lovers?
Koreans have figured out a way to grill brisket in less than a minute.
What's next for Steven Raichlen?
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A new TV series, Project Fire, which launches on PBS on July 4th — shhh. And a book on vegetable grilling, but don’t tell my hard-core carnivore friends.
Finally, inquiring minds want to know: How do you keep up your awesome hair?
A very elaborate styling routine: I wash it and “comb” it with my fingers. Haven’t owned a hairbrush for years.
If you're looking for great brisket in Denver (beyond your own kitchen after following Raichlen's recipes), see our list of the ten best places for barbecue in Denver.