Barbecue and grill
Grill and barbecue are not at all the same thing. With grilling technique, we designate a cooking method used for the first time perhaps one million seven hundred thousand years ago. Once fire was discovered and tamed, it didn’t take long for Homo erectus to understand the benefits of meat roasted directly over lively flames. And barbecue? That was born much later. The etymology goes back to the term, barbacoa, a word that Christopher Columbus’ men may have heard for the first time in the Caribbean in 1492 by the Taino population, rulers of the island that’s currently divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Taino called barbacoa the wooden grill on which food covered with leaves was normally cooked. This was the ancestor of the modern barbecue, which today consists precisely of "two metal hemispheres that produce a closed but ventilated cooking chamber, inside which are slowly cooked foods using embers or an indirect heat source," reads the introduction of Barbecue Surprise, a cult manual edited by Magi&Co and published in May 2016 by Accademia dei Signori del Barbecue.
To start with, we have asked 5 Italian butchers to tell us what barbecue means to them.
MICHELE VARVARA (of Macelleria Varvara fratellidicarne, Altamura - BA)
The widespread concept of barbecue in Italy is a model uncritically imported from the Anglo-American one, in which mainly foreign meats are cooked using an Anglo-Saxon lexicon: brisket, pulled pork... Not to mention the habit of glazing meat cuts with a variety of sauces. This original model has little to do with Italian meat cuts, which tend to be leaner, with different textures and less marbling, plus boasting a less resistant fat layer and that therefore should use less invasive cooking techniques, a lighter hand and exclusively wood-embers. A cooking method, in short, that’s at the service of the meat itself, leaves qualities intact and respecting delicacy.
ROBERTO LIBERATI (of Bottega Liberati, Rome)
I have always seen the fire-grilling, since childhood, as an important and apparently simple convivial moment. Now that I am trying my hand at this cooking method, I realize the implied difficulties. The basic recipe for a proper cooking on the grill? Either wood- or coal-stoked, what’s important is quality. I prefer grilling larger cuts of meat, but always of the highest quality. Should the meat contain more fat? Yes, but to a certain point. Better to have a leaner but better-quality meat, than a fattier but pumped with hormones (like most of the commonly sold meats). It is useful to calculate if the day is more or less windy and where the wind is coming from. Also, calculate the amount of coals to use before you start cooking. And then prefer indirect cooking with long cooking time: any meat cooked like this will give you better results. On seasoning before or after cooking, it wise to let each decide on their own, bearing in mind that the higher the quality of the product, the less it needs to be seasoned.
FRANCO CAZZAMALI (of Macelleria Cazzamali, Romanengo - CR)
There is a lot of interest in the bbq – especially the Weber-type with a lid – even by those who have never approached cooking meat. Many people, after watching TV programs feel like experts, asking me for meat cuts without really knowing them: for example, brisket or pastrami which are essentially the same cut, but treated differently, same goes for asado and flank steak. This growing interest in the bbq creates the opportunity to open a dialogue with consumers based on trust, such as those who want to learn more while respecting the work of others, including farmers and butchers. When buying at the butcher, just like it happens at the fishmonger, consumers should purchase what’s available that day. Nature has its cycles and quantities. Don’t ask for a specific cut of meat for the bbq, rather state your preferences, what animal you want, and then listen to us butchers on how to work the available cuts. All parts of the animal are good when grilled, even tripe. You need to know more about the meat, the type of heat (wood or gas) and then you need to study a lot.
GIAN PIETRO DAMINI (of Damini Macelleria e affini, Arzignano - VI)
We should choose the butcher before the meat: if we rely on someone who works with conscience and ethics, that person will also be interested in educating and giving advice on the product, the environment and, ultimately you, the customer. For a good bbq quality, healthy meat is key. Additionally, the meat should be left as clean and pure as possible: no sauces or spices, just good meat to be cooked. Any type of grill you choose will be fine, be respectful of temperature. We do not ravage the meat with temperature shock, this is very important. And then we pay great attention: beef does not forgive the slightest mistake.
MICHELANGELO MASONI (of Macelleria Masoni, Viareggio - LU)
Lately it seems we cannot live without it. More and more bbq lovers come to me in search of delicacies cut to perfection. Hardworking homemakers, these self-appointed grill gurus come looking for Boston Butt or Saint Louis… that’s globalization! Not to mention the brines and marinades: with honey, molasses and various other concoctions, and the related smoking for days and days. If I think of the barbecue by associating it to a special day, enjoying meat in the open air and in good company, I say yes. If I have to think of it as an alternative cooking method to the cast iron pan, I am still very perplexed. Above all I’m against the cumbersome process of standardization in the meat market that risks nullifying the sacrifice of farmers and my research.