Sat 23 May 2009 5:51 pm
Julie Reinhardt’s bio says she’s “ready to talk pork butt with the most macho grillmaster.”
Really, though, she’s here to talk with the least macho audience, the women who have historically been the weaker half of the backyard family barbecue and grill. Here Reinhardt is with She-Smoke: A Backyard Barbecue Book
a thoroughly practical, well-researched new guide that manages to be fun but not patronizing.
It is, as advertised, a casually-styled, from-the-ground-up primer for those who don’t know their low from their slow. It explains how to turn on a gas grill (the book covers grilling as well as barbecuing), reviews the different regional styles of barbecue, and diagrams how to break down a chicken (the latter Reinhardt admits only learning at age 30, “out of sheer embarassment that I couldn’t do it.”) But Reinhardt’s expertise and enthusiasm comes through clearly enough to also satisfy ‘cuers who lick their chops at chapter headings like “Texas Beef Brisket: An In-Depth Study,” and would consider digging a pit for the salmon bake recipe she includes in honor of family summers on the Washington coast.
We talked with Reinhardt, co-owner of Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ in Ballard, just named one of the best barbecue spots in the West, for your Memorial Day mealtime pleasure. And if you’re planning your own barbecue this weekend, consider entering her contest (video above) to win prizes and fight hunger by creating “the largest virtual BBQ in the world.”
“I love the idea that barbecue brings people together,” said Reinhardt, a Seattle native with Alabama roots. We tend to think of “barbecue” as a noun, as a piece of smoked pork, say, but she loves the broader term that includes the event as well as the food. For her, it’s about the “down-home togetherness” of the cuisine and its history and roots.
Here are a few highlights from our talk and from the book.
On her research: “I was trying to answer the question, why women don’t cook on the grill. Some do (and Reinhardt profiles some female ‘cue-masters in the book), but in general there are a lot of women who don’t. There are amazing home cooks who can do magic with an oven, but they won’t go outside.”
On testing her recipes and teaching techniques: “Part of what helped me was, I gathered a posse of B-girls, women from all cooking levels. Some were chefs, some were complete novices. I would send out a batch of recipes and say, take your pick, do the recipe how I’ve asked, and give me your feedback. Especially from the novices, it was wonderful. I would hear things like, “My fire went out.” I would say, “Did you put more charcoal on the fire?” “No, it didn’t say to do that.” “Oh, OK, you don’t know that.” It really helped me understand the gaps when I tried to explain something. Then, the chefs had different kinds of feedback, (e.g.) “Too much salt!” It was more about the recipe.”
On some of her top grilling tips: #1 is “GET YOUR SH– TOGETHER,” she wrote, a grilling version of mise en place. “Have everything you need at your fingertips, prepared ahead of time, because once that meat, vegetable, fruit or pizza hits the heat, you do not have time to run into the kitchen for forgotten items. When grilling, you often have only a few minutes between “done” and “dried-out tire.” #2: Clean out your ashes before you begin. #8: “Keep in mind that a spatula is not an apple press. In other words, don’t press down on foods on the grill. This just squeezes the juices out, juices you want in your food.”
On buying quality meat: It matters. No feedlots need apply. (At the restaurant, they use Painted Hills.) “I’m no scientist, but if a scientific study can’t find a problem with feeding cows plastic pot scrubbers or old unsellable gum still in the wrapper, and can even recommend these two items as a substitute for roughage in a cow’s diet, then there is something either wrong with their methodology or they have an incorrect definition of acceptable,” Reinhardt wrote. “Come on! While these may seem more absurd examples of what commercial feedlot cattle have been fed, they are actually more benign than the loads of chemicals, antibiotics, and questionable ingredients being pumped into our animals to grow them big and fast.”
On admitting she thinks using an electric smoker is OK: “I’m going to get stung by that, I’m sure. But you know what? It’s great. I love the flavor of charcoal, but, gosh, we just don’t all have time every time. I want smoked food more often than I can stand in front of the grill with a baby.” Reinhardt once threw a party and did a side-by-side taste test of pork butt smoked with charcoal versus an electric smoker. Her conclusion: “There is a difference in taste,” but not the “vast, planetary-style chasm” those in “the barbecue religion” would suggest.
On her inspirations for learning how to explain cooking basics: “Julia Child, she is so good with techniques and her pictures. And, my husband has taught me so much. He’s an amazingly patient, gentle teacher.”
On why her restaurant is named “Smokin’ Pete’s”: “We went through a million names. Smokin’ Julie’s just doesn’t have a ring to it.” (Their business partner at the time was named Pete, and it was also the nickname of her husband Eric’s grandfather.)
On writing a book “for women” that isn’t patronizing, and how we would have known a woman wrote the book the second we saw a Big Green Egg referred to as “an insulated barbecue womb”: “The barbecue world can have a lot of macho. I really wanted to make it a complete opposite, I wanted to make it a female book. I didn’t really have to try (to make it accessible), this is my conversational style. I made a point of making it something that wouldn’t be intimidating to someone. Even I, I’ve been in food forever, and I own a barbecue restaurant, and even I can get intimidated by some book that says ‘This is the only way (to do something.)’ I really wanted to make it inviting and gentle as far as letting people ask any question.”
Looking for more? Reinhardt’s “She-Smoke” blog is here. The book’s release party, co-sponsored by Ballard’s Secret Garden Books, will be at Smokin’ Pete’s at 6:30 p.m. June 1. (Everyone’s welcome, but RSVP to julierbq AT q.com.) Listen for her June 8th on Martha Stewart Living Radio, or watch her do a cooking demo at 7 p.m. June 9 at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.