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Despite being frequently confused, any diehard professional knows that grilling and barbecuing are no more alike than prosecco and champagne, or chalk and cheese for that matter.
This was further reiterated by Steven Raichlen, the author of 30 books on the subject of barbecuing and grilling translated into 17 languages, during the second European Championship dedicated to US-style barbecuing for team participation: 18 determined teams from all over Europe gathered in the region of Veneto on the historical premises of the Bonaventura Maschio Distillery (in Treviso province) where the event was hosted. They were joined by Gian Franco Lo Cascio from Turin, the number one Italian expert in this complex branch of cooking, who was there to coordinate the event and to explain its secrets and techniques.
Grill or barbecue, what's the difference?
Grilling involves rapidly cooking small pieces of meat over a direct heat. Barbecuing, on the other hand, is all about slowly cooking large pieces of meat over a charcoal or wood fire at a low temperature (even for as long as 20 hours). This method produces a dish whose final flavour is smoky, the characteristic taste of barbecued food.
3 elements for a perfect barbecue
Whether international competitions or a garden feast for sharing with the neighbours, there are three essential elements to preparing the perfect barbecue: the outer crust, the succulence and texture of the meat and, finally, its smoky flavour. As well as its appearance, of course.
1. The delicious outer surface is obtained by coating the meat with a mixture of liquid elements, spices, alcohol and herbs. The secret underlying this process is to trigger the famous "Maillard reaction" we are so familiar with, which has already been explained in detail on these pages, and whose effect is that of caramelising the meat.
2. The succulence of the meat is the way it tends to melt in the mouth once the crisp and savoury outer surface has been penetrated. This depends on the amount of moisture, the skill in dosing the cooking time and the presence of connective tissue. The tenderness of the meat is also very important: this depends on how much the tissue gives way when the fat melts, leaving the remaining flesh perfectly tender and moist.
3. Finally, the smoked effect, which is the characteristic flavour of barbecued food: many teams have jealously guarded secrets regarding the type of wood used.
During barbecue contests, the teams may compete with each other in one or more categories. Here are just some of them:
- Brisket: a smoked beef brisket joint, a meat cut that is often underestimated.
- Pork: Boston Pork is a cut comprising part of the shoulder and the shoulder butt.
- Ribs, the mythical smoked pork ribs served in the style of Kansas City, that is to say, coated with sauces, or Memphis-style with a mixture of dry spices.
- Barrel Smoke or Chefs’ Choice: an extremely popular category involving the participation of numerous teams, in which it is mandatory to smoke the meat with barrel wood.
Pairings with drinks and beverages
The most traditional and popular choice is beer but, if you wish to try some novel pairings with cocktails and beverages when you have your next barbecue, follow the advice of Italian bartender Michele Di Carlo who, during the two-day event, presented recipes created specifically for accompanying grilled meat.
One example is the BB Prime cocktail, made from “Prime Uve Bianche” Bonaventura Maschio aquavit, Pratum bitters, Chinò Sanpellegrino, a stick of liquorice, blackcurrants, raspberries and a sprig of rosemary.
Or what about a Red Forest: elderberry syrup, S.Pellegrino sparkling water, Prime Uve Bianche aquavit and raspberries. Or, yet another alternative, the German teams' favourite called A Fuego Lento: Prime Uve, cucumber skin and Sanpellegrino Bitter Orange.