BBQ chef extraordinaire and all around good guy, Steven Raichlen, just published his Barbecue trends for 2019 (Part I). His article is worth a full read, but in short he predicts we’ll see the following:
- “Brisket Where You Least Expect It” He says brisket is expanding outside its regional roots and is becoming more widely available throughout the U.S. as an American BBQ staple.
- “Grills Go Green” Raichlen says gone are the days of BBQ only involving meat, noting some great restaurants are paving the way for tasty vegetarian and vegan barbecue.
- “Wood Grilling Comes Home” Raichlen says wood-fire cooking is trending up. My friend @livefirecook is all over this and I’ve been lucky to cook many dishes over open fire with him over the years.
- “New Rubs From Around Planet BBQ” American BBQ chefs are straying further away from the traditional, go-to American rubs and experimenting more with international flavors.
- “Brisket in a Hurry” Raichlen sees emerging methods of brisket cooking that take minutes instead of hours or days.
I’m digging all his thinking here, but I’m especially nodding my head at #2 and #4.
Good Meatless BBQ = the Right Spices & Technique
Raichlen’s #2 prediction, “Grills Go Green” speaks strongly to me because I’ve been trying to perfect meatless BBQ and breakdown non-meat BBQ stereotypes for a few years now. As more people move to a plant-based diet or just try to eat less meat in general, I agree this meatless BBQ trend is only going to rise.
My meatless BBQ path started five years ago when I met my girlfriend, who happens to be a vegetarian. I quickly became obsessed with sharing my favorite BBQ dishes with her by adapting them into vegetarian versions.
From smoked pulled oyster mushroom sandwiches to Thanksgiving’s smoked “turkey” pictured below, the results have been fantastic. Vegetarians and meat eaters alike have given my meatless versions two BBQ-stained thumbs up. (Side note: it’s fun surprising skeptical carnivores that meatless can be delicious!)
My meatless BBQ experiments have gone very wrong at times, and I’ve learned a lot.
The biggest lesson I have is great spices are the foundation of great BBQ, and in vegan or vegetarian BBQ this is even more important. You need to rely heavily on quality spices to emulate meaty flavors.
Some of the blends I recommend for meatless BBQ are Finger Lickin’ Chicken, Sweet and Sassy Pork and Sizzling Steak.
Secondly, the techniques you use BBQing meat are similar techniques you’ll use with vegetarian dishes, but meatless recipes often require adding an additional step to ensure palatable texture.
For example, for my smoked turkey this year, I brined it overnight in salt water with organic aromatic spices (juniper, garlic, allspice, clove, mustard, and coriander) then rubbed it with a special (no-longer available) Thanksgiving version of our popular Finger Lickin’ Chicken blend. I then slow-smoked it with cherry and oak wood for 8 hours.
For the turkey seitan, I used the same aromatic brining spices when I steamed it for an hour before sending it off to the smoker. This steaming is a necessary step to pre-cook the seitan, and gives it a moist “meaty” texture with a satisfying pull and chew. I learned this step was critical because I previously pre-cooked seitan ribs in an oven before smoking and they came out dry, stringy and leathery. With meatless BBQ, if the texture is off, it’s not going to taste good. Moisture is your friend.
After the steam and before the smoke, I rubbed the seitan loaf down with the same Thanksgiving blend I used on the turkey, then popped it into the smoker for 40 minutes (seitan really soaks up smoke and a longer smoke time leads to bitterness, so you can’t overdo it).
In the end, meat eaters and vegans had virtually the same experience of a delicious smoked meal, and all ended up with smiles on their faces.
Exploring Beyond Traditional American BBQ Flavors
Now, onto my favorite prediction of Raichlen’s, #4 “New Rubs From Around Planet BBQ”. I love that more people are experimenting with global flavors in their BBQ.
One of my best selling blends is Ras El Hanout, which is specifically mentioned Raichlen’s prediction of American BBQ going more global. I’ve personally had many customers order this spice with BBQ in mind, and it’s only been growing in popularity.
Ras El Hanout roughly translates to “The Head of the Shop”, with spice merchants each making their own version to highlight the quality of the spices they sell. I make my organic Ras El Hanout blend in the spirit of a Moroccan bizarre. Most blends have at least 20 ingredients, and I have 26, with each spice and herb working together to highlight the other, all while building a deep and colorful flavor profile. It’s nice to see more American BBQs getting familiar with this ancient mosaic spice blend.
Some other international BBQ spices I see getting popular in the USA include Piri Piri, a popular live fire dish that has origins in Portugal, Mozambique and South Africa. Nando’s put this firmly on the map in the USA, and I’ve seen a big uptick in the sales of my Piri Piri mix.
Additionally, Baharat is a newcomer to the American barbecue scene, but this Middle Eastern staple is a really simple bridge. It has the sweet and savory combination that we are accustomed to, although it uses cardamom and cinnamon to achieve the sweet flavors as opposed to sugar. I’ve been saying for a longtime, “anything you can kabob, you can baharat”, and this year I’ve noticed a lot more people purchasing this amazingly versatile spice blend.
I could go on and on about how excited I am to see home chefs and BBQ lovers experimenting more with international spice blends and spices. From grains of paradise, to cubeb, Jamaican jerk, and Ethiopian berbere, there are so many flavors this planet gives us. It’s an exciting time for BBQ!
A final note, Steven Raichlen is one of my biggest culinary influences. I’ve owned and operated Pinch Spice Market for six years now, but I made my first real spice blend 15 years ago with inspiration from his renown book, The BBQ Bible. That book and his PBS show BBQ University have taught me to explore the full world of BBQ, which eventually led me to found Pinch Spice Market.
I am forever grateful for the knowledge he has and shares. If you don’t follow him already, I highly suggest you do.