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Friday, July 25, 2014

Two well-known authors make an argument against marinades in their new book

Considering that pigs are known to wallow in their own slop, it’s only reasonable that your pork is clean before it hits the grill. However, that doesn’t mean it needs to take a bath.

As I wrote in an earlier column about a barbecue boot camp, successful pitmasters aren’t too keen on using marinades. Despite what Martha Stewart says, marinades frequently are not “a good thing.”

Acclaimed authors Chris Schlesinger and JohnWilloughby have dedicated an entire book to flavorful grilled food sans the liquid.

“Lately it seems, cooking has become very complicated. Brine this. Marinade that. Make a sauce that takes three days. It seems like you have to take a week off to throw a dinner party,” they write in their introduction to “The Big-Flavor Grill: No-Marinade, No-Hassle Recipes (Ten Speed Press).”

“One of the very best things about grilling is that it is a supremely simple process. Or at least it should be simple. Because when you get down to it, all you really need is a fire, a grid and a few bricks to hold up that grid,” they add. “We believe grilling is about proper technique and the flavors are created through that technique. Fancy equipment and complicated strategies are just distractions.”

In their latest book together, the James Beard Award winners highlight “the geographical model,’ which they acquired from their travels through the tropics. Simply defined, it is a technique “in which one flavor after another – sour, sweet, bitter, hot, aromatic, earthy – is laid out for your taste buds in rapid succession.”

Each flavor complements the other while remaining true to its own taste.

In barbecue parlance, we often call these flavors “rubs.” However, in “The Big-Flavor Grill,” Schlesinger and Willoughby also apply this concept to vegetables with flavorful results. Chapters are dedicated to steaks, lamb, pork, chicken and shrimp and fish. Chris’ nephew Tom Schlesinger applies a “mixologist’s” approach to cocktails in closing chapter.

Their first book together, “The Thrill of the Grill (1990),” was my first barbecue cookbook and remains relevant today. You’ll never see them on “Barbecue Pitmasters,” as they aren’t “bubbas.” Schlesinger is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and Willoughby graduated from Harvard and is executive editor of Cook’s Illustrated and held the same post at Gourmet magazine.

I appreciate the simplicity of their technique. My first attempts at barbecue many years ago included marinating the meat in fruit juices and even cheap bourbon – it seemed a good idea at the time. But now even injecting the meat seems excessive at times, although it still is a good way to introduce flavor and preserve moisture internally.

But Schlesinger and Willoughby suggest keeping it even simpler than that and offer the point that you can apply flavor to your food when it is hot, just off the grill. While the book does feature photographs by Ed Anderson, it uses simple diagrams to guide you along as you prepare each recipe.

This is not a barbecue book, but sometimes it’s good to prepare your food “hot and fast” too.

Schlesinger and Willoughby are correct in observing that marinades don’t penetrate into meats and other proteins and that they only tenderize the surface of what you are preparing.

Adding to the debate over marinades is a recent research study suggesting that there may be health benefits to using marinades, that they could lower your cancer risk.

The study, published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, found that marinate meat in pilsner beer or black beer lower levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The substances develop when meats are cooked at extremely high temperatures.

The scientists at the University of Porto in Portugal attributed much of this effect to the antioxidant activity of the beer, which is highest in dark beers such as stouts. To the scientists, marinades act as a healthful barrier.

To me, it seems a like waste of good beer.

I wonder what Schlesinger and Willoughby and my friend Chris Marks might think of the study. What do you think? I welcome your comments.

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