Few cooking techniques have ignited more debate than the art of barbecue, in which fish or meat is transformed into succulent, flavor-transfixed morsels by being slowly smoked at low temperature in a closed pit. There are endless tussles among traditionalists in the ‘cue world over equipment, dry rubs, wet mops and super-secret brines. Still, one part of the process remains a constant: time. The best barbecue, infused with spice and smoke, cannot be rushed. And therein lies the rub.
Some take the opportunity to while away the afternoon, supervising the snail’s-pace progress of a slab of ribs, as a God-given right. But these days, it’s often hard to find the time to let nature take its course with a succulent salmon filet. Or you might just want to be able to enjoy your own dinner party without having to be tethered to the grill. It’s certainly not traditional, but a bit of modern-day technology might be just what a time-pressed barbecue fanatic needs.
How the iGrill works
If you fit that description, a new grilling accessory called iGrill is a lifesaver and a time-saver. An Apple iPad or iPhone accessory with a built-in app, iGrill is a special type of digital thermometer that lets you remotely keep track of oven and food temperature.
Each year I host a smoked fish smackdown, so I decided this was the perfect time to put the iGrill to the test. Naturally, the nerd in me approached the whole thing with a great deal of enthusiasm. My partner, the “pit master,” was, shall we say, politely skeptical. Yet on one of those 100-degree days when our offset smoker box was registering 154 degrees before we got the fire started, babysitting a couple of slabs of steelhead trout while they slow-smoked outside seemed wrongheaded. Especially when the party and the guests were staying cool indoors.
Once we synced up the wireless Bluetooth connection, my iPad and I stayed inside with the rest of the party guests while I monitored time and temperature from afar (the device has a 200-foot range). Two hours later, even the pit master admitted the advantage. He did occasionally have to go outside and stoke the tiny fire to keep the temperature consistent, but the whole process was made infinitely easier by overseeing it from at a cool distance, with an even cooler glass of wine.
The annual barbecue battle was staged between a savory, fennel-infused crusted trout and the satin texture of the maple-glazed version. The long, slow smoke process made them both melt-in-your-mouth tender. While I favored the sweeter of the two, the guests called it a draw.
Sweet & Savory Smoked Steelhead Trout
With lakes and rivers around the country starting to pulse with salmon, steelhead and trout, it’s a perfect time to slow-smoke the catch of the day.
¾ pound dark brown sugar
¼ pound kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup orange juice
8 cups water
2½ pounds steelhead trout filets
extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel pollen
1. Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
2. Place trout filets in a deep dish and cover with the brine. If trout are frozen, allow the filets to defrost directly in the brine. Cover the dish and refrigerate from 2 to 8 hours, based on flavor intensity desired.
3. Preheat the smoker to 180 degrees. Depending on the type of smoker used, temperature may fluctuate between 160 degrees and 210 degrees during cooking, but it’s best to keep it as constant as possible.
4. Spray cooking rack with non-stick vegetable oil. Remove filets from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the filets dry, place skin-side down on the rack and apply a thin coat of extra virgin olive oil to the flesh side of both filets.
5. Rub one filet with 1 tablespoon of fennel pollen. Reserve the maple syrup for the other filet.
6. Monitor smoker and fish temperature until internal meat temperature reaches 150 degrees, or approximately 1½ hours. A telltale sign of doneness is a harmless white substance called albumen that will start to release from the fish.
7. Remove from the smoker and transfer both filets to a plate. While warm, brush the unseasoned filet with maple syrup, coating once or twice until it is absorbed. Serve both at room temperature.
Top photo: The iGrill accessory for iPad/iPhone. Credit: Caroline J. Beck