When he arrived at his home on Chappaquiddick in time to prepare for a Fourth of July barbecue, Steven Raichlen hadn’t slept in his own bed for more than three nights since April. He was returning here after a twenty-one-city tour promoting his latest grilling and barbecue cookbook, Raichlen on Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs (Workman Publishing, 2006). But the work was not over. There was a story with a Boston Globe food writer, three radio interviews, and a holiday barbecue with family (and a crew of two photographers and a writer from this magazine).

Since first writing The Barbecue! Bible (unless otherwise noted, the books mentioned here are printed by Workman Publishing) in 1998 after traveling 200,000 miles on the world’s barbecue trail, Steven has followed with seven grilling and barbecue books including How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques (2001) and BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America (2003), which have sold a combined 3.5 million copies. He has been called “The Gladiator of Grilling” by Oprah, “The Michael Jordan of Barbecue” by Howard Stern, and “The Elvis of Barbecue.” He has even taken on an “iron chef” in the top-tier TV cooking show. In 2003, he defeated iron chef Roksbura Michiba in a barbecue battle on Japanese television. A year later, he competed against six chefs, including Bobby Flay and Jacques Pepin, in another barbecue battle, which he also won. He demystifies grilling and barbecuing on his own PBS television show Barbecue University with Steven Raichlen and offers three-day intensive, hands-on grilling and barbecue seminars for $3,000 at his Barbecue University at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. (He’s also been called the man who gave barbecue an education.)

Steven first came to Martha’s Vineyard when he worked for Boston Magazine as a restaurant critic from 1980 to 1990. “Every summer, we’d do a story on where to eat and stay on the Cape and the Islands. That’s how I came to know and love the Vineyard,” he says. With his wife Barbara, who works as a restaurant publicist, they bought land on Chappaquiddick in 1995 and moved into their house in 2001. They live six months of the year here, and the other half outside Miami in Coconut Grove.

When you open the sliding doors to his Chappy porch overlooking a quiet, secluded yard, a lineup of five grills in all shapes and sizes draws your eye immediately. (Another ten grills reside downstairs.)

Over the next two hours, Steven would work all five porch grills like a conductor overseeing an orchestra. There were oysters, corn, and sweet potatoes, littleneck clams, chicken, lamb, and fish, all of which would come together in a succession of courses for a culinary July Fourth finale. Everything on the menu, except for the champagne sangria and Zinfandel, would be grilled outside – even a fresh blueberry crisp.

Steven wanted a truly Vineyard celebration for this Fourth, and bought Island bluefish and oysters, whole chickens from the FARM Institute in Katama, as well as a whole lamb that he then brought to the Stop and Shop to be butchered. The previous day, Steven, along with the crew at his house, went clamming in Katama Bay and secured the littleneck clams. “We smoked the big ones last night and made clam dip,” Steven says. “And I’m sorry it’s gone.”

About Martha’s Vineyard, he says, “There’s so much good food here. I think what we love about the Vineyard, as opposed to a lot of resort places, is it’s still got an agricultural quality.”

Today’s preparation begins with the lamb ribs, since they need to turn slowly on a spit roaster in the stainless steel Vieluxe grill. Lamb ribs correspond to spare ribs on a hog, Steven explains. In his ribs 101 book about all aspects of barbecuing beef and pork ribs, he also wanted to introduce people to lamb ribs, which he says are currently off the radar, “but totally amazing and fabulous.” After marinating the lamb ribs in a tandoori mixture of yogurt and spices such as cumin and cardamom, he threads them onto the spit, pulls the top down, and lets the heat of the gas grill begin its work.

“In the United States,” Steven explains, “traditional barbecue is all about smoke, but in Asia, it’s about [high heat]. So if you work on a gas grill, Asian recipes are actually great recipes to do. You’re not sacrificing the smoke.”

True barbecue, Steven explains, is an indirect method (the food is not on top of the fire). It’s done at low heat (225 to 275 degrees) in the presence of lots of wood and smoke. Barbecued foods tend to be big, tough, or fatty, like brisket, ribs, pork shoulders, and whole turkeys. Grilling, on the other hand, is a quick, high-heat cooking method done directly over the fire. Grilled foods tend to be small, tender, and/or quick cooking, like steaks, fish, and vegetables.

Next up could be called one of Steven’s signature grilling dishes – beer-can chicken. “It’s the dish that built this house,” he offers. A whole chicken cooks upright, with an open can of beer inside, carefully balanced on a grill. “I didn’t invent it, but I brought it from the backwoods of barbecue to the modern era and American mainstream,” he says. “I did it on the Today show and Good Morning America and wrote an article about it for The New York Times.” And he wrote the essential guide, Beer-Can Chicken: And 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill, in 2002. “Before that it was bubbas who had had a lot to drink – who else would possibly think of this?”

Actually, this technique has a three-fold benefit, he explains: “The steaming beer keeps the chicken moist inside. In the upright position, the fat cooks out, so it’s actually a crispier bird. Third, is the eye-pop, jaw-drop factor – the wow power.” (After this day of barbecue immersion, I tried the beer-can chicken at home. Though a tenuous balancing act on the grill, it provided both entertainment and a good eat.)

To aid those attempting beer-can grilling, Steven invented a stainless steel beer-can roaster, shaped like a can, to hold any flavorful liquid like wine or a fuller-flavored beer, and with a stable base to balance the upright chicken.

This isn’t his only innovation. He patented a square-shaped chimney starter that can hold up to seven pounds of charcoal and lights more quickly than most round starters; a pair of illuminated barbecue tongs fitted with a tiny flashlight to light up the grill at night; and my favorite innovation, a wood-chip soaker for smoking meat and fish on the grill. No more straining a mess of wet wood chips in a pasta strainer in my kitchen sink before wrapping them in fork-pricked tinfoil packages.

“You do not need any of this fancy equipment,” he’s quick to add. It’s mostly about the ancient art of cooking over an open fire. “Cooking on fire was an evolutionary force. The reason our face looks the way it does instead of like an ape’s is because we cook food, so barbecue really lies at the essence and soul of who we are.”

For his next food project (he’s working on a novel too), Steven will head back out to the world’s barbecue trail with Barbara to research grilling and barbecue customs on at least five continents for Planet Barbecue, a book and TV series. “What turns me on is the anthropology, sociology, history, and geography – the story of grilling as a manifestation of cultures.”

Steven did not begin his cooking career in a restaurant and does not refer to himself as a chef, but as an author and teacher. He earned a degree in French literature from Reed College and received a fellowship to study medieval cooking in Europe. He then trained at the European cooking schools Le Cordon Bleu and LaVarenne.

“There are far better pit masters that can smoke a pig and grill a steak much better than me,” Steven says. “I think the two things I bring to the field that nobody else does is I know how to take a body of knowledge and break it down into understandable steps – which is what I did in How to Grill – and I think I bring this cultural perspective.”

He fires up his largest grill next, a thirty-six-inch Ranch Weber, with natural wood charcoal. This is a full fourteen inches larger than the conventional Weber, so you can imagine how handy it comes in. On it goes the lemon-tarragon chicken prepared by his stepson Jake, a thirty-four-year-old New York City chef who served as second in command with Steven in the Japanese iron chef challenge. The grill easily has enough room for the fish, next on the agenda.

Steven places the bluefish fillets on rectangular cedar planks, then lightly dusts the fish with his paprika-based spice rub and “paints” them with a maple mustard. Steven says he’s aiming for three levels of flavor to fulfill a mandate to create a bluefish dish Jake would enjoy. “Jake thinks he hates bluefish – I’m trying to make a convert here,” he says.

“There are two great challenges when people cook fish,” Steven acknowledges. “One is that it tends to stick to the grill grate. The other is that it tends to fall apart when you turn it over – so by cooking it on a wood plank, you avoid those problems.”

The aromatic wood planks – a style used first by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest – also introduce an additional smoky flavor. Later, Jake was indeed a convert. “That’s coming from a devout carnivore,” Jake says. “The freshness of the fish, the mustard in the glaze, and the smoke from the plank all came together great.”

Steven checks on the sweet potatoes nestled in burning coals and brushes fresh corn with garlic-parsley butter. He keeps an eye on the chicken and lamb and checks in with Jake, who’s about to start grilling oysters.

Another fire is built in the Grillery (“the coolest toy in my collection”), a small rectangular grill that burns wood and is outfitted with a flywheel that raises and lowers the grill to a desired height over the fire. Steven uses thick sticks cut from former merlot wine barrels, an idea he got while watching French wine makers grill over grapevine trimmings. “People always ask, gas or charcoal? For me, it’s wood.” The clams begin to cook over burning remnants of wine barrels and as they open, get bathed in a mix of tomatoes, wine, garlic, and parsley bubbling in a cast iron skillet. There’s absolutely no doubt how flavorful these will taste. As we stand amid the swirl of smells and smoke around us, everyone’s anticipation for the meal rises.

Even as the clams cook, Steven tests one of his next equipment prototypes – a tray to hold the shellfish upright so the liquid won’t spill out in the tussle of grilling. “When those fluids mix with the wine mixture, that is where it’s going to taste exceedingly delicious. So you guys are going to be guinea pigs.”


Steven is also constantly developing and testing recipes, keeping on a schedule of a book nearly every year. He’s now up to twenty-seven cookbooks, including a number written before The Barbecue! Bible series, such as Miami Spice: The New Florida Cuisine (1993); The Caribbean Pantry Cookbook:
Condiments and Seasonings from the Land of Spice and Sun
(Artisan, 1995); and Steven Raichlen’s Healthy Latin Cooking: 200 Sizzling Recipes from Mexico, Cuba, Caribbean, Brazil, and Beyond (Rodale Books, 1998). “That’s a great point of frustration for my poor wife. We have certain classics we love, but I’m always doing new stuff,” he says.

“This is what I’m good at,” he explains. “Most other things in my life, I’m not good at. I can’t remember people’s names and faces, but I do remember everything I’ve eaten.”

And surely, others don’t forget the food he’s prepared.

When the savory food comes off the grills, Steven slips the blueberry crisp onto a grill to get “smoke roasted.”

“Can you grill a bowl of cereal?” a guest asks as everyone sits down.

“He’d find a way,” Jake responds.

“Steven loves a challenge,” his wife adds.

For barbecue blogs, recipes, tips, tools, the Raichlen brand spice rubs and barbecue sauces, and his monthly newsletter, Up in Smoke, visit Steven Raichlen’s website barbecuebible.com.

Beer-can chicken

Source: How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques (Workman Publishing, 2001)

Method: Indirect grilling

Serves: 2 to 4

• 1 can (12 ounces) beer
• 1 chicken (about 3 1/2 pounds)
• 2 tablespoons Basic Barbecue Rub (see recipe that follows), or your favorite commercial rub

You’ll also need: 2 cups wood chips or chunks (preferably apple or hickory), soaked for 1 hour in a half can of beer plus water to cover, then drained.

1. Pop the top off the beer can. Using a church key–style can opener, make a few more holes in the top of the can. Pour out half the beer into the soaking water of the wood chips. Set the can of beer aside.

2. Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium. If using a charcoal grill, place a large drip pan in the center. If using a gas grill, place all the wood chips or chunks in the smoker box or in a smoker pouch, and preheat to high until you see smoke, then reduce the heat to medium.

3. Remove the package of giblets from the body cavity of the chicken, and set aside for another use. Remove and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities. Rinse the chicken, inside and out, under cold running water and then drain and blot dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the rub inside the body and neck cavities of the chicken. Rub the bird all over on the outside with 2 teaspoons of the rub. If you have the patience, you can put some rub under the skin.

4. Spoon the remaining 2 teaspoons of rub through the holes of the beer can. Don’t worry if it foams up; this is normal. Insert the beer can into the body cavity of the chicken and spread out the legs to form a sort of tripod. Tuck the wing tips behind the chicken’s back.

5. When ready to cook, if using a charcoal grill, toss all the wood chips on the coals. Stand the chicken up in the center of the hot grate, over the drip pan and away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook the chicken until the skin is a dark golden brown and very crisp and the meat is cooked through (about 170 degrees on an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thigh), 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. If using a charcoal grill, you’ll need to add 12 fresh coals per side after 1 hour.

6. Using tongs, very carefully transfer the chicken in its upright position on the beer can to a platter and present it to your guests. Let rest 5 minutes, then carefully remove the chicken from the beer can. Take care not to spill the hot beer or otherwise burn yourself. (Normally, I discard the beer, but some people like to save it for making barbecue sauce.) Quarter or carve the chicken and serve.

Basic barbecue rub

Source: How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques (Workman Publishing, 2001)

Yield: Makes about 1 cup

• 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1/4 cup sweet paprika
• 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
• 3 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
• 1 tablespoon hickory-smoked salt or more coarse salt (kosher or sea)
• 2 teaspoons garlic powder
• 2 teaspoons onion powder
• 2 teaspoons celery seeds
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to mix. (Use your fingers or a small whisk to break up any lumps.) Store the rub in an airtight container away from heat or light; it will keep for at least six months.

Bluefish on a board with maple-mustard glaze

Adapted from: Beer-Can Chicken: And 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill (Workman Publishing, 2002)

Method: Plank grilling

Serves: 4
• 2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
• 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
• 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
• 2 teaspoons brown sugar
• 1 1/2 pounds bluefish (1 to 2 fillets), skin on
• 1/3 cup maple-flavored mustard (see Note)
• 1/3 cup granulated maple sugar or brown sugar
You’ll also need: 1 cedar plank, about 6 by 12 inches (see Note), soaked for 2 hours in water to cover – a rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan works well for soaking; weight with a water-filled zip-top bag.

1. Make the rub: In a small bowl, with a whisk or your fingers, combine the salt, pepper, paprika, and brown sugar.

2. Arrange the fillets on the pre-soaked plank. Sprinkle the rub over the fish.

Carefully spread the mustard over the top and sides of the bluefish. With your fingers, break up any lumps in the maple sugar (or brown sugar, if you are using). Sprinkle it evenly over the top of the bluefish.

3. Set up the grill for indirect grilling and preheat to medium-high. When ready to cook, place the bluefish (on its plank) in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat, and cover the grill. Cook the bluefish until it is cooked through and the maple-mustard glaze is a deep golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. To test for doneness, insert an instant-read meat thermometer through the side: The internal temperature should be about 135 degrees. Another test is to insert a slender metal skewer in the side of the fillet for 20 seconds; it should come out very hot to the touch. Transfer the plank and fish to a heat-proof platter, and slice the fish crosswise into serving portions. Serve the bluefish right off the plank.
Note: If you cannot find maple-flavored mustard, combine 1/3 cup of good-quality Dijon mustard with 2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup. Cedar planks are available at grill and cookware shops or at Steven’s web store at www.grilling4all.com. If you purchase them from a lumberyard or hardware store, make sure they are untreated.

Grilled clams with garlic, wine, and chorizo

Adapted from: BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America (Workman Publishing, 2003)

Method: Direct grilling

Serves: 6 to 8 as an appetizer, or 4 as a main course

• 3 to 4 pounds littleneck clams
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/2 pound cooked chorizo, diced (see Note)
• 1 large ripe red tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
• 2 cups dry white wine
• 1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
• Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
• Crusty bread for serving

You’ll also need:
• 1 large disposable aluminum drip pan
• 1 seafood rack (optional; see Note)

1. Sort the clams, discarding any with cracked shells, or any open shells that fail to close when the shell is tapped. Scrub the clams with a stiff brush under cold running water to remove any grit. Drain in a colander, then blot dry with paper towels.

2. Set up the grill for direct grilling using a three-zone fire; preheat one zone to high, one zone to medium, and one zone to low.

3. When ready to cook, place the butter in the large aluminum drip pan and melt it over the high zone of the fire. Add the garlic and chorizo, and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and let it come to a boil, then move the pan so that it straddles the medium and low zones.

4. Arrange the clams directly on the grill grate or on the seafood rack, if using, over the hot zone of the fire, rounded sides down. As soon as the shells pop wide open (about 4 to 6 minutes), use tongs to transfer the grilled clams (try to keep from spilling the juices) to the aluminum pan. (Discard any clams that fail to open.) Toss the clams with the chorizo mixture, adding the parsley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Transfer the clams and sauce to bowls and serve at once with crusty bread. Provide an empty bowl for the shells.

Note: This recipe calls for Spanish chorizo, which has been cured like salami. (Mexican chorizo is more like raw sausage, and must be cooked thoroughly.) A seafood rack is a rack designed to prevent shellfish like clams and oysters from spilling their juices while on the grill. It is sometimes available at grilling supply stores, or through www.grilling4all.com.

Grilled corn with garlic-tarragon butter

Adapted from: How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques (Workman Publishing, 2001)

Method: Direct grilling

Serves: 2 to 4 (makes 4 ears)

• 4 ears sweet corn in their husks
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, at room temperature
• 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and black pepper

1. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

2. Fashion the husk of each ear of corn into a handle: Strip back the husk, leaving it attached at the stem end. Remove the corn silk. Tie the husk at the bottom with string or a strip of husk to form a handle.

3. Place the butter, tarragon, and garlic in a mixing bowl and whisk or beat until smooth and creamy.

4. When ready to cook, lightly brush each ear of corn with a little of the garlic-tarragon butter and arrange on the hot grate, positioning the ears in such a way that the husks are away from the fire. Grill the corn until the kernels are handsomely browned all over, 8 to 12 minutes in all, turning as needed,
brushing with the remaining butter, and seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Remove the corn from the grill and serve at once.