In this letter to Bob Hart, I encourage him to question whether what he is saying is fact or fiction. I’ve had no reply, so my suspicion is, he may not care.
You may have realised in my previous post Bob Hart gets cranky at me, that Mr Hart didn’t really address many of the issues I’d brought up in regards to ‘Playing with fire’, an article printed widely throughout the Fairfax outlets. If Mr Hart is an educator, wouldn’t he want to impart correct and useful information? When I pointed out some of the flaws, rather than address the points, he chose to insult me. More than that, he has insulted his audience by not caring whether what he spruiks is indeed, fact or fiction.
May I start by thanking you for your time to respond to me. By all accounts, it appears you have a rather busy schedule, which makes me all the more grateful.
The point of my blog post and my seeking your response is simple; I believe there is a lot of myth and lore around barbecue and not all of it correct or helpful and I was hoping that you could shed some light onto why you think this may be the case.
I appreciate, sir, that you may have a refined palate. But I stand by my statement of non-plausibility. I don’t get down to Melbourne very often and I certainly wouldn’t invite myself upon you. However, my invitation is genuine. If you happened to be in Sydney at any time in the future, I invite you to participate with me in a double-blinded test, to see if we can indeed taste firelighters. Until that point we may only think we can taste them, or maybe not. If I am wrong I will happily eat both my words and our fouled steak.
Mr Hart, to suggest that using a thermometer to cook steaks is only for those in need of counselling, is a little unfair don’t you think? How many Australians get to their barbecue 2 or 3 times a year? I’d suggest the majority. These people don’t need counselling, they need good advice and assistance. The most reliable assistance a novice can have is a thermometer. With that one tool in hand they can serve you steak to your liking every single time, without practice. Time and heat are variable, but when a steak is at temperature…that’s consistent. And I believe consistency is what produces good barbecue.
In regards to smoking wood, I agree with you, that trying to smoke on a gas grill is more than a little defeatist. But if, like most Australians, that is what you have…that is what you have. I think we both agree you can’t put chips, soaked or not, onto a gas flame. I myself only cook on charcoal and use chunks. In regards to soaking chips though, what is it that you believe happens by adding wet chips to charcoal and how is that different to dry chips? I have done a bunch of tests on this. I mentioned in my post that I have tested that hickory does not soak up water and I think you agree(?). In weight, the difference was only about 1%. I have also tested putting small amounts of chips; dry, soaked and wrapped in foil, onto hot coals to see if there was a difference in smoke times. There were times on very hot coals that when I added dry chips, they burst into flames soon after adding them and therefore not much smoke. The same happened to the soaked chips, with the same amount of coals, not long after. The wrapped chips however, smouldered away producing smoke. It is not the application of water that produces more smoke, it’s being able to control the volatile compounds from igniting. If you’d like to see, I’d be happy to share this information with you. In any case, I mostly add wood at lower temperatures where dry chips smoulder just fine and I recommend people use chunks anyway. My belief is that soaking chips is barbecue lore, not based on anything factual and is an unnecessary waste of time.
I’ll admit, I thought the choice of including, as a rule, to always add a water pan had to be an editor’s decision. I specifically asked how steaks and chops could possibly fall under that ‘rule’ because of course, as you clarified, they are grilled. I hold the editor responsible for advising the public to always use a water pan.
In response to whether I think protein is another word for meat? My point was precisely that it’s not. Conversely, nor did I insinuate that wagyu is NOT protein! Merely to call meat…or cheese…or fish, protein does not do it justice. That aside my opinion of your barbecue definition is neither here nor there, it is only opinion, but mostly likely unfairly critical. I’m sure you can agree though, that once again the editor has got this wrong by labelling it a rule. You asked me to make sure I read things more carefully, Mr Hart. May I give the same advice to you.
On that point, you have criticised one of my recipes that uses chicken breast. You assume I don’t recommend people cook with thighs or Maryland. Well, of course I do! But this post was about boneless skinless chicken breast. If you had read the post at all you would have noted how awful I think poorly cooked boneless skinless chicken breasts can be. But some people like them and what I am offering are some tips to make them better for the rest of us. If you have not cooked a chicken breast that is moist and full of flavour, then that is on you.
Thank you again, Mr Hart, for taking the time to read this. I hope you can see that I am coming from a place of passion for good barbecue and I believe it can be the small details that make all the difference.
A thick skulled Sydneysider,