Our NYT Files: Grilling Turns Back to an Ancient Fuel: Wood

Our NYT Files: Grilling Turns Back to an Ancient Fuel: Wood

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By Steven Raichlen
The New York Times

Our NYT Files: Grilling Turns Back to an Ancient Fuel: Wood


When the Miami restaurateur Michael Schwartz opened his South American-inspired restaurant, Amara at Paraiso, in January, he made a wood-burning Jade grill the focal point of the kitchen.

When Curtis Stone, the Australian butcher turned chef and TV host, opened Gwen in Los Angeles, he installed not one, but two wood-burning grills — an Argentinian fire pit and a Uruguayan-style braseiro — alongside a charcoal-burning Josper oven.

And when Missy Robbins conceived her Brooklyn restaurant, Lilia, she situated the hearth — complete with a Grillworks wood-burning grill — on the path to the dining room. “People gather around it the way they would at a fireplace in someone’s home,” she said.

The world’s oldest cooking method has become one of its newest culinary quests. While there’s nothing novel about wood-burning grills in restaurants (Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters have used them for decades), what is new is the zeal of the chefs using them, the variety of equipment now available, and the growing number of American home cooks who are forsaking gas and charcoal to master the ancient art of grilling over a wood fire in their backyards.

One such convert is Marco Birch, a Manhattan financier by day and ardent wood griller on weekends. “We discovered parrilla grilling during a bike trip to Argentina,” he recalled. “The sparks and flames grabbed our attention; the unique earthy smoke flavor of the meat sealed the deal.”