Grill master Steven Raichlen left behind sunny Miami on Saturday for cold, windy, snowy State College. But he made the trip for a very worthy cause. The star of PBS’s Primal Grill and Barbecue University hosted WPSU’s 19th annual Connoisseur’s Dinner and Auction.
Raichlen brought his knowledge of the world’s barbecue trail – from whole roasted lamb in Argentina to kangaroo kebabs in Australia – to central Pennsylvania. And before the main event that night, he cooked for a live audience at WPSU studios. Nick and I were honored to attend as guests.
Raichlen moved between the studio’s kitchen set equipped with electric griddles to the sidewalk outside where he had set up two charcoal grills. With help from my colleagues and several volunteers, he demonstrated five courses and served samples of each.
We started with a South African grilled cheese sandwich that included aged cheddar, mango chutney, onions, and tomatoes. It was sweet and pungent and tasted faintly of the charcoal over which it was cooked.
Next up was a shrimp kebab simply spritzed with extra-virgin olive oil and dry Spanish white wine and finished with sea salt. Alongside the shrimp, Raichlen served Cambodian corn (off the cob) sautéed in a sauce of coconut milk, palm sugar, and pandanus leaf. (You could also substitute heavy cream, brown sugar, and bay leaves.)
Then came the moment we were all waiting for: the caveman T-bone steak. Raichlen took three 2-inch cuts of meat and seasoned them liberally with coarse salt and black pepper. Then he carried them outside and threw them directly onto the hot charcoals. No grate needed.
They cooked to medium-rare quite fast, then he brushed off the ash from both sides of the meat before parading it back inside. The smell was intoxicating – if you’re into rustic meat cooked over a fire, which I am. On top, he added a hefty scoop of sauce made from garlic, jalapenos, and cilantro.
The meat was tender on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside with an undeniable smoky flavor, and the sauce added the perfect layer of heat.
Since we had all already been served our pre-prepared plates of meat, the three T-bones posed pretty for the camera. Until someone said, “Steven, you should auction them off!” Brilliant idea!
Each steak went for over $100, with all proceeds benefiting WPSU, of course. I’m not sure if any of the cuts of meat made it past the studio doors, though. I know that at least one was devoured in true caveman fashion – no utensils necessary.
Finally, Raichlen grilled a whole pineapple coated in cinnamon, sugar, and clove. The Brazilian dessert was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and was the perfect, sweet ending to a delightful morning.
Before guests left, they lined up to buy copies of Raichlen’s latest book, Planet Barbecue, and have them signed by the grill master himself. We brought our own book from home – Beer-Can Chicken – another worthwhile purchase from Raichlen’s collection.
Later that day, Raichlen prepared another feast for locals. It included Singaporean beef sates with peanut sauce, American planked salmon with juniper berries, Uruguayan filets mignon wrapped in bacon with a Scotch whiskey mushroom sauce, and Catalan crème brûlée. Sadly, we did not attend the dinner (we hosted our own dinner party instead), but I heard it was a huge success.
Thank you to Steven Raichlen for spending the weekend with us. And a big thank you to the supporters who helped to raise over $50,000 for WPSU! The biggest auction item – the tie JoePa wore for his 400th win – brought in $10,000 alone.
Please consider making a donation to your own public broadcasting station because your support is more important now than ever. (Learn more at 170millionamericans.org) I would thank you all with a caveman T-bone steak, if I could!
(All photos provided by Greg Petersen.)