Steve Raichlen’s 'Project Smoke' Takes Barbecue to New Levels

Jeff O'Heir
·Editor
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Steven Raichlen covers the basics, like ribs, and more exotic dishes in “Project Smoke.” Photo: Richard Dallett, Maryland Public Television

Ready to take grilling to new heights? Barbecue expert and “Primal Grill” host Steven Raichlen is stoking the fire that will help light the way.

This past weekend, PBS launched “Project Smoke,” Raichlen’s new show devoted to the art of smoking. Each of the 13 30-minute episodes features recipes, ingredients, tools, tricks and techniques that aim to lead the audience on a smoke-filled journey to new flavors.

“Smoking is really hot right now,” Raichlen said, with no pun intended, since he’ll also be exploring cold-smoke techniques on the show. “People are comfortable with different methods of grilling and want to take it to the next level.”

Raichlen can take some credit for that. As host of “Primal Grill” and “Barbecue University,” the author of more than a dozen BBQ and grilling books, and the founder of barbecuebible.com, Raichlen has been educating the public about all things barbecue for more than 20 years. Smoking is the next course in that curriculum. “After decades of mastering grilling, people are diving into the deep waters of smoking,” he said.

As proof of the popularity, Raichlen points to the amount of smokers, smoking woods and pellets, and smoking gadgets that lines the shelves of Home Depot, Lowe’s and other mainstream retailers. The rise of quality BBQ joints throughout the country has also inspired the masses to replicate those smoky flavors in their backyards.

“I call smoke the umami of BBQ,” Raichlen said, as he was driving through New York to shoot the next episode of the show’s second season. “It enhances the intrinsic flavor of beef, pork, fish and vegetables the way umami does. Smoke has the ability to give food such a depth of flavor without denaturizing the original product.”

Video: MPT, YouTube

“Project Smoke” is a bit different than Raichlen’s other shows. This one is more of a TV show about the making of a TV show, Raichlen’s way of paying homage to the people behind the scenes. And, for the first time, he’ll focus on cooking naturally raised meat, such as grass-fed beef, heritage pork, organic poultry, and wild seafood, as well as locally sourced produce.

“It’s a very crunchy show. It boils down to a single message: What you eat and how it’s raised is as important as how it’s smoked,” he said. “We want to eat animals that are raised for their flavor, not mass consumption. Overall, that’s something that’s been missing from barbecue.”

To educate neophytes and maintain the interest of more advanced smokers, each episode of “Project Smoke” features a basic recipe, such as ribs, pulled pork, and brisket, as well as more complicated dishes, like jerk chicken smoked with the pimento wood of the Jamaican allspice tree or Chinese duck smoked with black tea, star anise and cinnamon sticks. Raichlen even smokes cocktails (the Smoky Mary) and desserts (cheese cake).

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Raichlen works the Big Green Egg, just one of the grills he’ll smoke with on the new show. Photo: MPT

Techniques include cold smoking (salmon), smoke roasting, rotisserie smoking, hay smoking (Raichlen promises a delicious hay-smoked burger), and smoking styles from different parts of the world. He’ll also show off all of the cool smokers you can build or buy, including barrel smokers, stick burners, ceramic cookers, charcoal- and wood-burning grills, stovetop smokers and handheld smoking devices.

“If you’re a beginner, you’ll learn how to smoke on every smoker and how to use every ingredient. If you’re more advanced, you’ll learn some tricks and dishes that aren’t part of your repertoire,” he said. “And if you’re a pro from the (Texas) Hill Country who already has it down, you’ll learn how they smoke in China and Italy.”

Check your local PBS listings for information on when you can catch the next episode of “Project Smoke.”

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Let us know your favorite smoking technique in the comments below.