Editors' pick

The Art of the Grill

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Editorial Review

Learn to grill like a pro at BLT Steak

By Kris Coronado
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 15, 2011

It's an hour into the grill and barbecue class at BLT Steak when something shocking occurs: "I'm sorry to all of those filet mignon lovers out there: That's a steak I never eat," says BLT chef Victor Albisu as he rubs seasoning on a 10-pound Kobe beef brisket. "It's got no flavor. I'll probably sell 70 of 'em tonight. I won't eat it. I don't think it's got any redeeming qualities to it. I've got teeth and I can chew. I don't mind chewing a little bit more to get more flavor."

This honest quip is just one of many Albisu delivers during his cooking series at the high-end Washington steakhouse. On this Saturday afternoon, Albisu stands behind a white-clothed table holding flat grills over gas flames. Thirteen students -- ranging from 20-something couples to middle-aged men -- sit before him, soaking up his every word. In a one-hour tutorial, Albisu takes his audience through a mouth-watering array of grill-worthy options, all provided in a recipe handbook for each student. He stirs and warms a guava marinade for pork ribs, whisks an avocado aioli to accompany barbecue shrimp and creates a light smoke when he sizzles balsamic beef short ribs.

For Albisu -- who essentially grew up in his mother's Falls Church butcher shop -- meat's flavor is more important than its texture. "The muscles in any animal that work the hardest are going to be the most flavorful," he says. "They're also going to be the toughest. Hands down." Give him pork jowls or cow tongue any day.

It is Albisu's unpretentious approach that has kept Potomac real estate developer Greg Keats coming back to these sessions since Albisu started them three years ago. "I'm open to whatever he's going to show us," says the 48-year-old, whose eyes light up when recalling a fried provolone recipe Albisu made last year. "Whatever he shows us, there's always something that's like, ‘Wow, it's so simple and so easy, and I can do that.' It translates things you can do in the kitchen at home."

After Albisu's demonstration concludes, the class is far from finished. It's time to taste what has been taught. Students move to two large tables in the empty restaurant (BLT is closed for lunch on weekends). For the next two hours, students enjoy a five-course-meal -- including beer and wine -- that features the recipes discussed earlier.

Pacing is key, warns Keats, who is the only one to leave one of the restaurant's signature flaky Gruyere popovers uneaten. "I know how much food is coming," he says. He's onto something: The plates of ribs and tender brisket are meaty and flavorful. It's comical when Albisu brings an extra dish of ribs to the table -- as if your belly has space.

Peter and Philip Bautista, brothers from Arlington who are first-timers at the class, are planning to sign up for one of the next courses. At the moment, Philip admits he and his sibling have a small problem.

"We're in trouble," says the 29-year-old as he polishes off a short rib. "It's our sister's birthday, and she wanted to go to Fogo de Chao tonight." He smiles sheepishly. "I don't have room."