Whether it is a person’s first cookout, first smoked brisket, or their hundredth, it should be a great experience. It should work. My goal is to make that experience as successful as possible, every time. Satisfaction with all things Barbecue & Grilling is part of the outdoor experience. It is about friends and family, and I hope to provide down to earth, real-world instruction, and recipes that make that experience go smoothly. It means getting the right equipment, knowing how to use it, and knowing how to take it to the next level.
Derrick Riches has written about Barbecue & Grilling online for the last two decades. As one of the most popular destinations for outdoor cooking information, he has answered thousands of questions, written hundreds of articles, and explored barbecue in its broadest definition. During this time he has traveled the world, grilled on almost every conceivable type of cooking equipment and judged the best barbecue in the world.
Sabrina Baksh is a cookbook author, recipe developer, food stylist, and self-taught food photographer. Sabrina’s work appears in a variety of online and print venues, including 2015’s The Biggest Black Book Ever from Esquire, Kebabs 75 Recipes for Grilling, and The Rotisserie Grilling cookbook. She has traveled both nationally and internationally exploring flavors, cultures, and food history. Sabrina holds a graduate degree in History, which proves indispensable in drawing connections between foodways and traditions. Very passionate about food and cooking, Sabrina takes great joy in the creative process.
Sabrina Baksh provides original recipe development, food styling, photography, and editing for derrickriches.com.
My Father Invented Barbecue
I was born and raised in the Mountain West. We hunted, camped, and fished. Trout caught from the lakes or streams were quickly cleaned and suspended over a campfire. We cooked burgers, hot dogs, marshmallows, and all those things that tended to make their way over live fires. A 1930’s era Coleman camp stove cooked breakfasts of bacon, eggs, and hash browns. At an early age, I mastered making toast over that ever-present campfire. Outdoor cooking wasn’t anything unique. It was just something we did in those days and in those places.
My earliest memory of a backyard grill was one of those brazier style charcoal units. It was rusted and red, round and just deep enough to hold a couple of layers of charcoal. The cooking grate spun around to lift and lower it over the fire. I remember the lighter fluid and watching it whoosh with flames on hot summer days. I remember the burgers and dogs, and though I know there were steaks, I didn’t get one. When I was little, and hot dogs were about the best thing I could eat.
When I was about six, our neighbor moved away. Even though we lived nearly a thousand miles from the ocean, he was an active duty Commander in the Navy. He was an aviator, and a few decades after he moved away, I found out that he had perished in a helicopter accident in Montana. Before being our neighbor, this man, whose name I don’t remember, was stationed in Japan. As a high-ranking naval officer, I imagine he lived pretty well. When he moved, he left us something. It was big, incredibly heavy, green, and made of some sort of pottery. He had picked it up in Japan and smuggled it to the states on an aircraft carrier. He did have clout in the Navy. Though, moving a few hundred pounds of green pottery across miles of ocean, was definitely above his pay grade.
Anyway, it arrived. Our neighbor decided that he wasn’t going to take it with him on his new assignment. So, when he moved away, he left it to us. Several older brothers worked to move it from our neighbor’s home to a small concrete slab attached to the back of our house. That is where it would sit for the next decade before the pottery material disintegrated into a state that made it useless. It was during this decade, however, that my father invented barbecue.
We didn’t know what to call the strange green thing on the back porch. My parents called it a Hibachi. If there had been a name on it, perhaps stamped on one of the cast iron parts, it has rusted and worn away. Whatever it was, it did amazing things. I remember sneaking bacon out of the refrigerator on early mornings after a cookout and putting it on this “hibachi.” It would still be warm, and with the vents opened, it would heat right up. So, while I played, the bacon would cook.
We had, what I would come to know later as a Kamado Grill. It was something equally adept at hot and fast grilling, as it was at low and slow smoking. It also happened that we lived on a large piece of land that was once an orchard a century before. There was a cherry tree in particular that featured strongly in my childhood. It was considerably taller than our house, and I spent much of my summer up high in its branches. There were other cherry trees as well like peach, apricot, and apple. All venerable trees that shed branches in the winters and were seemingly always in need of pruning. This meant a large amount of wood, fruitwood for burning.
My father was extravagant with extravagant things and frugal with mundane things. He would order expensive liquors at restaurants, but when sugar prices surged in the seventies, he switched to honey in his coffee. He also thought it foolish to spend money on charcoal if there was wood lying around the yard. So small branches were broken up to fuel the “hibachi.”
Of course, there were no instructions, and in those days, no internet to search for them. Though this style of grill is pretty intuitive when it comes to basic casts, and Dad had little trouble working out its various nuances. Yes, he built fires with lighter fluid. Perhaps this accelerated the disintegration of the ceramic, but this was how you made cookout fires in those days, and no one questioned the benefits of good old hydrocarbons. So armed with one of the most versatile and advanced charcoal grills of all time, and nearly an acre of good fruitwood, my father explored.
It didn’t take him long to figure out that limiting the airflow, limited the temperature. Soon enough, steaks, burgers, and hot dogs were replaced by whole chickens, large roasts, and whatever else was a reasonable price at the grocery store. No, there were no pizzas on this grill. No bread got baked here, but large cuts of beef and pork slow roasted in a clean, fruitwood smoke until tender and delicious. By the time the firebox of our happy green “hibachi” had broken apart, and the grill could no longer hold temperature, barbecue had been invented. The experiments were all done, and a shiny new Weber Gas Grill showed up on the deck under our enormous cherry tree.
Years went by, and I didn’t give that old “hibachi” another thought. While Dad’s experiments had been delicious, I had moved on to eating pizza and burgers with my friends. He was busily working on the perfect Yorkshire pudding.
During college, I was invited to spend a couple of weeks with a family friend at his home somewhere in the middle of Texas. This friend was a serious Texan. He believed that everything in Texas was, in fact, bigger and better, and I have never set him straight on his point. Don’t you bother arguing with me, opinions are my own and irrefutable. He had invited me to stay with him because he was hell-bent on sharing the love of his home state with anyone who would buy a plane ticket.
My friend, who at that time lived in a small town halfway between Austin and San Antonio, knew of my deprived upbringing in regards to Southern, particularly central Texas barbecue. It was a straight drive from the airport to a wooden building in the town of Fredericksburg, for a plate of smoked brisket, sausage, and all the usual sides. It was my first experience with real, traditional barbecue, and yet it was oddly familiar. The cuts were different, the seasonings were new, but the fundamentals were the same. I became interested in barbecue, but when I returned home, I was on my own to explore in a virtual vacuum. Life went on. Occasionally I grilled, and sometimes I explored smoke flavors, but it wasn’t a significant part of my life.
Half a decade after my illuminating journey to Central Texas, and underpaid in the IT world. I had a powerful computer and unlimited internet access, which was a substantial benefit in the late nineties. I also had a large amount of time on my hands while I sat at a desk monitoring computer servers. It was in January of 1997 that I found a Yahoo! jobs listing for a position with an internet startup, then called The Mining Company. Yes, a strange name. From the description, the duties seemed to be centered around doing some website management in the area of Barbecues & Grilling. I had been building websites for years, and I knew something about grilling and barbecue, though not nearly as much as I was about to learn. I applied, and they hired me for the position. In April of that year, this startup went live, and I was one of about 160 website managers up and running.
In those days, Yahoo! was the internet. They dominated, and The Mining Company was there to turn Yahoo! ‘s automated directory (this is before Google and web search companies,) into a human-powered system. My task, as the Barbecues & Grilling “Guide” was to add deep links into the systems directory, annotate as I went, and write weekly articles. Half a dozen articles into the process, I was searching for grilling books at the local library, trying to learn all the things I should have known before applying for the job. I learned as quickly as I could, but what I found out was that most people needed basic information about what kind of grill or smoker to buy. Things I knew very little about, and since most grill makers in those days didn’t have websites, I spent hours at hardware, department, and patio stores asking questions and picking apart grills as much as the sales personnel would allow. Years passed.
As the Barbecue site I authored gained in popularity, ultimately becoming the most trafficked in the world, I gained influence across the industry. I have been invited to tour dozens of factories, attended the most prestigious cooking events, crossed the country, and traveled around the world. If it was cooked over a live fire, I have eaten it. I have cooked on $25,000 grills and $100,000 outdoor kitchens. On cobbled together apparatuses made of spare parts and welded together in barns and back alleys. I have cooked over every fuel imaginable. This ‘job’ afforded me opportunities I would never have imagined. I also met a lot of incredible people. As one of the very few ‘media’ people in barbecue, I have had the honor of eating the entries that won world championships and hung out with the people who made it.
It has been a strange and wonderful journey that I hope will never end.