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What’s new in barbecue?

Key barbecue trends include: wood fires; the spread of brisket; new exotic rubdowns; and a growing array of vegetarian and vegan options, like black bean burgers and grilled cauliflower steaks.

Barbecuing has a long history in Western culture, dating back to at least the 17th century when the word entered the English language via Spanish.

In fact, the Spanish word barbacoa is believed to be derived from barabicu, which is found in Caribbean Indian languages. Since then, barbecue (BBQ) culture has developed particularly in warm-weather English-speaking areas of the world like the South of the US (especially Texas), South Africa and Australia, where it’s known as ‘barbie’. 

The word ‘barbecue’ can refer to the cooking method itself, i.e. the way the food is cooked, or to a social event featuring this type of cooking. Barbecuing is usually done outdoors by roasting meat (or other foods) over wood or charcoal.

So what are the current trends?

One key trend noted by BBQ expert Steven Raichlen is that wood grilling has come into vogue and is more frequently to be found in the home, whereas, for many years, it took place primarily in restaurants.

BBQ aficionados can particularly appreciate the smoky flavour of steak, seafood, or vegetables seared over a wood fire. Wood grilling has entered the home, thanks to the proliferation of family-style wood-burning grills, like the new South African-inspired Kudu grill, Grillworks, the American Muscle Grill, and the high-end Hybrid Grill from Kalamazoo.

Brisket in the spotlight 

Brisket is a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of a cow or calf. Since the meat is essentially muscle, it must be cooked correctly to tenderise the connective tissue. It used to be that brisket was a specialty basically limited to Texas and Kansas City, according to Raichlen, who notes that it now has spread nationwide to Brooklyn, Chicago, Miami, and even to health – conscious Los Angeles.

Quick brisket

Normally brisket should be cooked for a long period at a low temperature – as much as a half day, which obviously poses a constraint for time-poor diners. So, Chef Mike Sim at Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong restaurant in New York’s Koreatown has found a way to speed up the process. He freezes a whole brisket and then slices it paper-thin with an electric meat cutter. The slices are then placed on a scorching hot table grill and are cooked for barely one minute per side.

The result is a meat with the rich beefy flavour of brisket, but offering the instant gratification of a minute steak.

New rubdowns

An important part of barbecuing is preparing the meat or other food before cooking it.  Classic American barbecue rubs (which typically include brown sugar, pepper and chili powder, for example) or herbes de Provence are giving way to more exotic concoctions from Africa and the Far East.

For instance,  Chef Michael Lewis of Kyu in Miami seasons his brisket with a Japanese spice blend called togarashi, the primary flavourings of which are peppercorns, dried chilis, citrus zest, hemp and sesame seeds, and crumbled nori seaweed. Another one is ‘ras al hanout’ from Morocco, which is made according to a recipe that varies from spice vendor to spice vendor, but generally features cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and paprika.

Meeting the vegetarian challenge

Given current trends towards healthy eating which has seen a steady rise in the number of vegetarians and even vegans (those on a vegetarian diet that excludes meat, eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients), one could think that barbecuing would be on the decline. In fact, barbecuing is adapting itself to these new dietary trends

Some BBQ options that should delight your veggie (and vegan) guests:

  • Black bean burgers that don’t fall apart and can even be made vegan;
  • Fresh mango kiwi salsa (vegan) - made with all raw ingredients, sweet & salty;
  • Vegetarian gastronomy vegetable foil packets (vegan)- a mix of vegetables is seasoned with a homemade spice mix and cooked in foil;
  • Jamaican jerk grilled eggplant recipe (vegan) -  skewers of eggplant marinated in a Jamaican jerk marinade and grilled for just a few minutes;
  • Grilled corn on the cob with herb butter (vegetarian);
  • “Damn delicious vegan potato salad” (vegan) – prepared without oil or mayonnaise;
  • Crispy halloumi Burgers (vegetarian) - coated halloumi cheese (semi-hard cheese made from a mixture of goat's and sheep's milk) slices in flour, shallow fry and assemble the burger;
  • Grilled Paneer salad (vegetarian) - Paneer cheese, sweet peppers, and onions are coated with a cilantro-mint chutney and then grilled;
  • Grilled vegetables and couscous salad (vegan) – balsamic-marinated vegetables, toasted couscous, and fresh herbs tossed in lemon vinaigrette;
  • Grilled cauliflower steaks (vegan) - lightly seasoned and then charred on the grill;
  • Maple tofu skewers with papaya salsa - crispy pieces of marinated tofu grilled with red peppers and onions and served with a sweet and sour papaya salsa;
  • Grilled romaine lettuce with tomatoes and basil (vegan) - a great side dish for a BBQ;
  • Vegetable kabobs (vegan) - grilled vegetable shish kabobs with onions, zucchini, bell peppers, pineapple and tofu;
  • Grilled avocado stuffed with veggie quinoa (vegan);
  • Grilled summer vegetable pasta salad (vegetarian) - zucchini, asparagus, corn, and yellow bell peppers are grilled and tossed with a fresh, lemony dressing;
  • Lentil carrot hot dog recipe (Vegan)- made with pureed veggies and lentils; and
  • Grilled vegetables and smashed chickpeas sandwich (vegetarian).

Bon Appetit!

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