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Cookbook review: Steven Raichlen's 'Project Smoke' is a great reference for summer cooking

Posted June 1

"PROJECT SMOKE: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana, Plus 100 Irresistible Recipes From Classic to Adventurous," by Steven Raichlen, Workman, $22.95, 293 pages

In the past, barbecue enthusiasts were required to spend large sums of money to build their own smokehouses or purchase barbecue at local restaurants. And by the mid-1980s, wood pellets were being used as an alternative fuel source for heating homes across the U.S.

American companies began to explore the options for using those same pellets for cooking on a grill in place of traditional propane and charcoal. More than 30 years later, these smokers are affordable for in-home use and are made by more than 20 companies in what has become a multimillion-dollar-per-year industry.

While this industry continues to grow, many beginners are still apprehensive about the skill needed to become an experienced “pitmaster.” Steven Raichlen has written more than 25 books about barbecue and cooking. His newest book, "Project Smoke: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana," serves up excellent tips for amateur pit bosses or those with dreams of competing for grand championships.

Raichlen describes smoker types and moves seamlessly into an explanation of wood types and what flavors those woods give the food. He also gives a brief description of tools and cooking techniques to help perfect your meal.

In addition to the seven steps outlined at the beginning of the book, Raichlen provides 100 recipes for everything from smoked salsa to prime rib, chicken to veggies. This book delivers delicious recipes for beginners as well as options for those who are more adventurous or advanced in skill level.

*****

CHERRY-SMOKED STRIP STEAK

Yield: Makes 1 really thick steak, enough to serve 2 or 3

Method: Reverse searing

Prep time: 5 minutes

Smoking time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Grilling time: 4 to 6 minutes

Fuel: I like cherry for smoking this steak, but any hardwood will do. You’ll need enough hardwood chunks or chips (soaked and drained if using the latter) for 1 hour of smoking.

Gear: A remote digital thermometer or instant-read thermometer so you can monitor the internal temperature during smoking and grilling

Shop: Reverse searing works best with really thick steaks: 2- to 3-inch-thick strip steak, porterhouse, rib steak and sirloin steak

What else: This steak works best on a charcoal-burning grill or smoker, like a kettle grill or offset barrel smoker with a grill grate over the firebox. That enables you to smoke low and slow, then sear over a hot fire. Otherwise, you’ll need to start the steak in a smoker and finish it on a grill.

Steak is one cut of beef you don’t normally smoke. It requires a hot fire to sear the exterior while keeping the inside sanguine and juicy. But there is a way to smoke a steak low and slow, and if you’re fortunate enough to start with a monster-thick strip or rib eye, this is one of the best methods I know for bringing its interior to a luscious 135°F medium-rare while achieving a sizzling dark crust. You guessed it — reverse searing (you slow-smoke the steak first to cook it through, then rest it, then finally sizzle it over a hot fire to sear the crust).

1 thick (2- to 3-inch) boneless strip steak, rib steak or sirloin (1½ to 1¾ pounds)

Coarse salt (sea or kosher) and cracked or freshly ground black pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil

1. If using a charcoal kettle grill, light 10 to 12 pieces of charcoal (preferably natural lump charcoal) in a chimney starter. When ready, place the charcoal in one side basket or on one side of the bottom grate. Adjust the top and bottom vents to heat your grill to 225 to 250 F.

2. Meanwhile, very generously season the steak on the top, bottom and sides with salt and pepper. Insert the thermometer probe through the side of the steak, deep into the center.

3. Add the wood to the coals. Place the steak on the grate as far away from the fire as possible. Cover the grill and smoke the steak until the internal temperature reaches 110 F. This will take 45 minutes to 1 hour.

4. Remove the steak from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, add 10 to 15 fresh coals to the bed of embers and build a hot fire in your grill, readjusting the vents as needed.

6. Lightly brush or drizzle the steak on both sides with olive oil. Place it on the grate over the fire and direct grill until the top and bottom are sizzling and darkly crusted and the internal temperature on an instant-read thermometer reaches 120 to 125 F for rare to 130 to 135 F for medium-rare (2 to 3 minutes per side, 4 to 6 minutes in all), turning with tongs. If you like, give the steak a quarter-turn on each side halfway through searing to lay on a crosshatch of grill marks. For really thick steaks, grill the edges, too.

7. Serve hot off the grill. I like to cut the steak on the diagonal into ¼-inch-thick slices. I wouldn’t say no to an additional drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

— "Project Smoke," by Steven Raichlen

Landon Walters studied history and political science at Salt Lake Community College. He is an avid sports fan and loves writing. Email: mavericksoccer_22@hotmail.com

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