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Real Entertaining

Real Entertaining: Roast Pork on the Grill

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By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Picture friends sipping daiquiris and chatting as the final flourishes are made on a June supper for eight, to be served in a brightly appointed dining room or maybe al fresco. Conviviality is just a pretext for this gathering; the ulterior motive is, in actuality, to show off a newly acquired culinary skill.

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The first time an outdoor cook produces a perfectly roasted hunk of juicy, rub-crusted, smoke-kissed meat via indirect grilling, a world of possibilities opens wide. The discovery might not be as earth-shattering as, say, E=mc2, but don't try telling that to a grill enthusiast. Everything is relative.

The fact that the oven can be avoided is a boon in summertime, as guests still insist on hanging out in the kitchen despite every encouragement not to do so.

But there is more to this entertaining equation than just keeping things cool. Call it G=os2: Grill equals oven multiplied by smoke, squared. (Or rounded, for Weber fanatics like me.) The smoke emitted from damp wood chips atop smoldering briquettes in a grill-cum-oven adds a dimension of flavor and aroma that cannot be achieved in conventional ovens.

A new cookbook came my way as I was building this month's menu. Chipotle Grill-Roasted Rack of Pork is a pared-down, Southwesternized adaptation of a recipe from "Serious Barbecue," by chef Adam Perry Lang (Hyperion, 2009). The idea for dessert evolved from an afternoon spent in the home of McLean pastry chef David Guas, who previewed the Southern Snow machine that will be in service at his Bayou Bakery (opening in Clarendon this summer) by serving snowballs of shaved ice drenched in fresh strawberry syrup and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk. The latter flourish is a New Orleans thing, apparently, and now one of my things, absolutely.

Because few of us have such a contraption at our disposal, Strawberry-Lime Granita -- a frozen slush of strawberry puree, lime juice and simple syrup -- will close the show for our supper.

Side dishes of salsa-laced pinto beans and a slaw of red and white cabbage, sugar snaps, corn, cilantro, jalapeƱo pepper and toasted cumin seeds are in keeping with the dinner's Southwestern spirit. Even better, the sides may be prepared the day before to take the edge off the a-la-minute attention the Lang-inspired main course demands.

Before Lang devoted himself to all things barbecue, the chef's four-star career included stints at Le Cirque and Daniel in New York and at Guy Savoy in Paris. His recipes reflect a level of complexity, often including numerous multi-ingredient components. His recipe for "Get a Book" Whole Pork Shoulder, admittedly the most involved, calls for the preparation of an injection solution, a moisturizer, a seasoning blend, a wrapping mixture and a barbecue sauce. And it takes more than 14 hours to make.

So the rack of pork, not including the overnight brining, is practically fast food, requiring only about 80 minutes of indirect grilling at 300 degrees and a resting time of 15 minutes.

Let's get the terms straight. In direct grilling, items are placed directly over the heat source, cooked uncovered and turned during the process for even browning. In indirect grilling, the heat source is away from the food, usually and most effectively on both sides of it.

Oxygen fuels fire, so an open grill burns hotter than a closed one. Direct grilling is used for foods that generally take less than 25 minutes to cook. (Whole fish are exceptions; they would fall apart over high heat, and the oil in their skins would promote burning.) Roasts, ribs and braising meats such as brisket call for indirect grilling. So does poultry, whole and in parts; that's why the pieces that grill amateurs try to barbecue directly over charcoal catch fire, burn to a crisp on the outside and remain raw on the inside.

Adjusting vent openings on the bottom and top of the grill regulates the supply of air to the fire and therefore its temperature. Indirectly grilled items are cooked with the grill lid on. A drip pan under the meat catches drippings and helps direct the heat rising from the coals so it goes up to the lid and back down to circulate around the food being cooked; that is why there is no need to turn the food for even browning.


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