Man Food: Learning About “Man, Food, Fire” at Harvard

Man Food heads to Harvard's Peabody Museum for an education in all things BBQ.

Above, Steven Raichlen lectures about bbq. Photo by Katie Barszcz.

Earlier this week, I took a break from the restaurant scene and headed to Harvard’s Peabody Museum to learn more about the history and origins of barbecue, at the aptly-titled “Man, Food, Fire: The Evolution of Barbecue.” The lecture, centered all all things smoked, marinated, basted, and charred, was led by barbecue icon Steven Raichlen. His bestselling books, including Planet Barbecue and The Barbecue Bible, exemplify the universality of great barbecue across the globe. Ahead, what I took away from the educational evening.

The lecture should have been called, “Wo-man, Food, Fire.”
As Raichlen kindly pointed out, the title to the lecture should have been changed to “Wo-Man, Food, Fire,” or at least “Mankind, Food, Fire.” The origins of barbecue date back to the times of Homo Erectus nearly two million years ago, and many countries in parts of Asia and Europe boast female pit masters.

Grilling ? Barbecue.
Grilling and barbecue are often grouped together, but they mean two very different things. For the uninitiated, grilling refers to high heat, quick cooking, and some serious meat caramelization (think burgers, hot dogs, and steaks). Barbecuing, meanwhile, means cooking low and slow over an indirect heat source for a long period of time, which is suited more for things like pork shoulder, brisket, and ribs. Either way, the concept of cooking meat (or veggies) over an open flame does indeed date back to pre-historic times, and while modern equipment has been updated through the years, the game itself has remained intact.

There’s more to barbecue than smoked meat.
While we’re used to traditional fare such as smoked chicken, pulled pork and brisket, people in different parts of the world are barbecuing things we’d never even think about, such as eggs, or a haggis-like dish in Greece. In South Africa, natives buy their meat from a local store that has grills out front for them to cook on; this is called barbecue Braai. We’re often limited to what we know, but Raichlen stressed that we ought to step out of our comfort zones and take inspiration from other parts of the world.

Jason Bond's post-lecture bbq. (Photo by Katie Barszcz).

We’re better at barbecue up north than you might think.
When asked about chefs that inspired him, Raichlen pointed to Cambridge’s own Chris Schlesinger, of East Coast Grill fame (though Schlesinger recently sold his stake in the restaurant), as a pioneer of barbecue in this country. Raichlen also mentioned Tremont 647 chef Andy Husbands as being at the forefront of great barbecue cooking (he also wrote the foreward for Husband’s new book Wicked Good Barbecue). The evening ended with a treat of barbecued items from local chef Jason Bond of Bondir, whose team prepared smoked salmon, baked beans, and pulled pork among other dishes. Cambridge Brewing Company concluded the event with a sampling of beers—the perfect complement to a night devoted to the great culinary pastime.


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