Why We Grill

Will New York Food Writers Please Shut Up About Outdoor Cooking

August in New York is miserable. The combination of the heat, humidity, and that distinctive New York smell makes city life unbearable. New Yorkers who aren’t fortunate enough to escape for the month tend to fall into a rotten mood. This heat-induced anger leads to the backlash against anything good and wholesome in the world. Particularly those activities enjoyed outdoors. 

This increased moodiness leads to articles like, “An Instant Pot Is Better Than a Grill, Say Top Cooks—Even for Burgers.” This piece recently appeared on Bloomberg’s website, authored by Bloomberg food editor Kate Krader. Every year its something like this, but it generally boils down to, “it’s too hot to grill!” This gripe, of course, coming from the same people who say it’s too cold to grill from November through March.

Ironically, the publications that push the ‘grilling is bad’ articles in August are the same ones selling clickbait about the best grills, grilling recipes, and outdoor cooking tips in May. 

Let the Madness Begin

So what are we talking about here? What are these people cooking in an Instant Pot that beats the grill? Let’s pick this apart a little because this is where it gets particularly crazy. 

The primary “Top Chef” for this article is Melissa Clark, New York Times food columnist and Instant Pot cookbook author. I have to ask, is there a bias here? Melissa Clark is a well-respected cookbook author and New York Times favorite. She might be best known for coauthoring Paula Deen’s ‘Southern Cooking Bible.’ The follow up to that book was canceled, and Melissa Clark has since distanced herself from Paula. 

So how does Clark suggest we cook ribs? Just roll them up, throw them in the Instant Pot, and you will have better ribs than those cooked on a grill. Because you know, grills burn ribs. Of course, we don’t hear about the types of grills these Top Chefs are using. To use a grill in New York City, it has to be 10 feet from any structure. Generally, they don’t let you grill in the parks or the middle of streets, so unless you are a millionaire, grilling is done indoor or on vacation. No wonder they burn their ribs. 

As for the idea that an Instant pot adds more flavor than a grill (or smoker), well, the article goes on to say that with an Instant Pot your ribs won’t be too smoky. Also, in an Instant Pot, you can cook ribs in 25 minutes versus 4 to 6 hours. It seems like someone is missing the entire point of outdoor cooking and barbecue in general.

Should Pulled Pork Taste Like Pickles?

Other Top Chef Bruce Weinstein suggests cooking Instant Pot Pulled Pork in a pickle brine for that authentic barbecue flavor. Melissa Clark agrees and suggests that the only way to get ‘fall off the bone pulled pork’ (what?) is using a magic pressure cooker. According to them, a grill certainly can’t do it. 

Weinstein and Clark do, however, disagree on burgers. Even our mistress of the Instant Pot can’t defend serving a pressure-cooked burger patty. Weinstein, coauthor of ‘The Great Big Pressure Cooker Book’ seems to think that a burger is nothing more than the toppings. As long as it’s got kimchi on it, it’s a good burger. 

Instant  Pot food is for an increasingly impatient, instant world. The problem with articles like this and the wrongheaded thinking that goes into them, is that the authors have no idea why we grill or smoke foods. They don’t get it. Why would anyone get up at four in the morning to fire up the smoker so they can have brisket for dinner? Why do we stand over raging fires in the middle of August to cook for friends and family?

It’s Not About Convenience

According to them, grilling and smoking are inconvenient. There is no set it and forget it button; grilling is done outside, rain or shine, cold or hot. We don’t grill because it’s convenient. We do it because it takes time and preparation and skill. It is about the process as much as it is about the result. We grill because we care. We care about our food, our friends and families. We cook outdoor because we respect the tradition and that magic that happens when the smoke and the fire and the food come together. 

So next time you see one of these ridiculous articles suggesting that there is a better barbecue to be had in a countertop appliance, don’t click. Don’t pick it up. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath, and just remember, there will always be people like Krader, Clark, and Weinstein who just don’t get it. 

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