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Tom Ryder gets grilled: a self-professed "barbecue geek" shares his backyard BBQ secrets.

To say that Tom Ryder takes barbecue seriously is an understatement. Our first conversation on the topic began with him cautioning me against tossing the terms "grilling" and "barbecuing" about indiscriminately when they are actually two very different things. Grilling, explains the former chairman of Reader's Digest Association, "is cooking directly over a hot fire for a brief period of time; while barbecuing involves cooking over indirect heat for a long period of time by using smoke as both a cooking and flavoring agent."

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He would know. This is a man who once spent a good chunk of a holiday weekend rigging up a contraption capable of slow-cooking an Easter ham at 150 degrees overnight. He has sampled barbecue in China and trekked through Texas in search of the state's best BBQ (his firsthand report is posted on RDLiving.com). If those chops alone don't qualify him as a grill-and-BBQ guru, other creds in the culinary circuit include serving as a judge at the famous Memphis in May barbecue competition and as chief food critic for The Cookhouse, a chain of four Connecticut restaurants owned and operated by Ryder's wife and son.

My plan was to draw upon this formidable BBQ background to provide would-be summer chefs a guide to the best gear for backyard cooking. That idea went up in smoke the very moment I attempted to grill Ryder about high-end grills featuring infrared technology. There was dead silence. "I don't know anything about that," he said finally. "To me, the most important gear is intelligence."

Bad backyard cooking, it turns out, has more to do with mental missteps than inadequate equipment--which brings us back to the difference between grilling and barbecuing. "The most common mistake in cooking over a fire is cooking over direct heat when you should not," says Ryder. "It burns the meat on the outside and leaves the inside raw."

Meat size and thickness are the determining factors in the direct vs. indirect question. Thick hamburgers, steaks, pork chops or even chicken should be placed away from the fire to cook, then browned over flames at the very end of the cooking period. "Some chefs prefer to brown on each side at the beginning," notes Ryder. "But that may seal in the juice and seal out the smoke, so I do it at the end."

Another bad move novices make is slathering the meat with sauce before slapping it on the grill--a surefire path to charred meat that's raw inside. "It's okay to cook a little bit in the sauce, but only if you brush it on at the very end and watch it closely," says Ryder, who says adding wet hickory chips to the fire, putting the meat off to the side away from the fire, and closing the grill for 10 or 15 minutes is a better bet for adding flavor. "Then grill it quickly the way you normally would because the meat will not have cooked very much."

The Ryder clan forgoes charcoal altogether and cooks over wood logs--hickory and oak--in a simple, non-gas grill, which is the set-up Tom Ryder heartily recommends. But for those of us who have already invested in gas grills, he suggests a workaround. "You can create some smoke in a gas grill by taking a double thickness of aluminum foil, putting some wet hickory chips in it, and placing that over the fire," he says. "They will begin to smolder and create smoke in your gas grill so that you can achieve part of the effect of cooking over wood." And, of course, you would cook over indirect heat by lighting only one burner of a two-burner grill and placing the meat on the unlit burner.

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Better yet, you can dispense with your chef's apron altogether and head for The Cookhouse, where pork shoulders are smoked over oak and hickory for 14 hours until "they're transformed into something truly magical." Now that's advice even this novice can handle.

RELATED ARTICLE: SUMMER RECIPES FROM RYDER

Pork Rub

Ingredients

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* 1/2 cup kosher salt

* 2 tbsp coarsely ground fresh black pepper

* 1 tbsp cayenne pepper

* 1/2 cup brown sugar

* 2 tbsp granulated garlic

* 1 tbsp granulated onion

* 1 tbsp dry mustard

* 1 tbsp cumin

* 2 tbsp chili powder

* 1 tbsp Chinese five-spice powder

Rub this well into ribs, pork tenderloin or pork shoulder, or sprinkle lightly on pork chops one hour or more before cooking.

Maque Choux

Ingredients

* 4 tbsp butter

* 1 cup chopped Vidalia onion

* 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper

* 1/8 cup chopped pickled jalapeno peppers

* 6 ears fresh corn (or 4 cups frozen kernels)

* 1 clove finely diced garlic

* 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

* 1 cup heavy cream (or half & half, milk or evaporated milk if you choose)

* 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro tabasco sauce to taste

* Sprinkle black pepper to taste

1. Melt butter over medium heat in a pan large enough to hold all ingredients. Add onions and bell pepper and saute for five minutes. Add jalapeno peppers and saute for five minutes more.

2. Remove corn kernels by carefully slicing down the cob to remove as much of the kernel as possible. Then scrape down the cob to remove the "corn milk." Add corn and corn milk to pan and saute for five minutes. Add garlic, salt and black pepper and saute for five minutes more.

3. Add the heavy cream and cilantro and heat until very warm, but not boiling. Taste, adjust seasonings and add Tabasco (optional).

RELATED ARTICLE: RYDER'S GUIDE TO THE BEST BBQ

Tom Ryder--aka "Fat Tommy"--weighs in on cooking and eating great barbecue.

* Favorite BBQ restaurants when not in Connecticut (where his wife and son run four The Cookhouse BBQ restaurants): Blue Smoke in New York City, "which also has the best hamburger in Manhattan"; the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Tex.; and Corky's in Memphis, Tenn.

* Best wood for smoking meat: Hickory. "It adds a deep, rich and smoky flavor that is not acrid."

* Favorite cut of meat to BBQ: Pork shoulder. "At The Cookhouse, we cook it for 14 to 16 hours over oak and hickory."

* Spices no cook should be without: Salt, pepper and Chinese five-spice powder

* Most common grilling mistake: "Slathering sauce on and throwing meat on the grill--it will burn and char the meat."

* Grill of choice: Any old-fashioned kettle grill will do.

* Gear: Clean hands. And, when grilling over an especially hot fire for a long period, "a mitt and some tools with length."

* Best test of "doneness": "Feel the space between your thumb and your index finger--that's the bounce of medium rare. For a more foolproof way, cut into it. Better to lose a little juice than to serve raw meat."
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Title Annotation:EXECUTIVE LIFE
Author:Pellet, Jennifer
Publication:Chief Executive (U.S.)
Date:Jun 1, 2007
Words:1132
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