The Cooking Channel’s Roger Mooking may be from Canada but he knows his way around a barbeque grill. The host of The Cooking Channel’s popular show “Man Fire Food,” he goes all around the world showing people how to cook with fire. He’s been known to grill even in the harsh Toronto winters simply by putting his grill on the patio, rushing out to turn the meat he’s grilling and then heading back inside. What can you say – the man loves to grill. This Fourth of July holiday, you’ll probably be poised in front of a grill, tongs in hand, trying to show off your skills to your family and friends. We asked Mooking for his take on barbeques and how to get your grill on.
What is it about barbecue? Why do people all over the world love cooking with fire?
There’s something just intrinsically human and primal about starting a fire. If I start a fire in the backyard, my neighbor’s going to come over with a guitar. My other neighbor is going to bring some marshmallows and some things to make s’mores. When you’re around a fire, mosquitoes are less likely to come around you. When you put a hunk of meat or vegetables on there and you have a feast, it’s a very multipurpose thing and it keeps everybody warm. Back in the day people used to smoke meats to preserve the life of the meat, because there were no refrigerators, so you would smoke and cure and hang meat. There’s a functional aspect that kind of developed into a social thing, so I think it’s all those things combined.
What is it a about barbequing and manhood that seems to go together? There must be some female barbeque experts out there, but if you can’t get your grill on as a man, you should probably turn in your man card. Can you explain that? Men want to be the provider of the family. So there’s something about cooking in the outdoors that helps them be that provider. There’s something about starting a fire that makes you feel like you’re doing something good for the household. Something manly like camping and beating your chest. It all goes hand in hand.
What does cooking with fire do as far as enhancing the flavor of food?
There’s many ways to do it. You can go under direct heat and it gives you that grill, that char flavor that are really good with vegetables, meat and fish. Or you can do indirect heat, whether you’re using a smoke box or indirect smoker to boost the flavor of the meat. I’ve seen people smoke with cherry wood, oak, mesquite, you name it. Anythiing that has leaves on it, people will try to smoke with. We were in Hawaii and the guy was using fresh green guava wood. In Jamaica, they use the pimento wood and what they call a sweet wood and they put the meat right on top of the wood and underneath are the coals. So the meat is steaming over this flavored wood and it just adds a unique flavor.
We’ve got the Fourth of July coming up, so all those men will be out in their backyards on their grills. What’s the secret to good barbecue? It’s important to get the best quality meat that you can. Get that, make sure you get a good marinade on it. I like to use some olive oil, and some herbs and garlic and let it infuse inside of that meat. Or you can use a dry rub method, get some salt and pepper and spice and bay leaves and you grind those all up and you crust it on there. I like to let it sit for 24 hours because the salt and sugar will help to permeate the meat and season it but also open it up so those spices can get into it. So it partially cures it and then you can start hittin’ it on the grill. A lot of people put the meat on the hottest part of the grill, right over the fire, and they start burning it before it even cooks. You want the right technique for what you want to do. If you want a brisket, you want indirect heat. Let it go long and slow because you want to make sure that that meat and and the collagen breaks down properly so its fork tender.
Do you need one of those expensive stainless steel grills or can you get you a little Weber and still get your grill on?
Absolutely. Those large grills are for when you’re cooking for a large quantity of people and you need a bigger grill. You can even dig a hole in the ground or make a fire pit on the beach.
What’s cooking on the next “Man Fire Food?”
We’re on the fourth week of “Man Fire Food” and this week we went out to Napa, California. It’s so beautiful out there. We had this Mexican chef and he made some incredible lamb and duck over a spit. It was crazy. We’ve been to Hawaii this season, to Martha’s Vineyard, to Texas, Jamaica so we’re expanding what “Man Fire Food” is and showing more cultures and techniques.
In your experience, who’s got the best barbeque?
If you’re talking whole hog barbeque, we hung out with this guy Rodney Smith in Hemingway in the Carolinas. He’s been doing the same recipe that’s been in his family for generations. I’ve had lots of whole hog barbeque and that was [ridiculous]. He uses some citrus, some spices and he uses a mop, literally a mop, to wipe that thing down. It was crazy.