May is Grilling Month at Food Republic, where we are offering pro tips from chefs and other well-known grilling gods.
Before opening his acclaimed Dallas barbecue restaurant Smoke, Tim Byres cooked in the United States embassy in Belgium and at the posh Rosewood’s Mansion on Turtle Creek. But it was a calling for “back to basics” cooking that yielded his acclaimed Oak Cliff’s barbecue pit, which he opened with partners in 2009. And just yesterday Byres released his first book, which tackles everything from shucking an oyster to dressing a rabbit. Barbecue, however, is the focus, with tutorials and whole-hog smoking and building a backyard grill out of an oil drum. Tim Byres is a card-carrying Grilling God, which is why we tracked him down at last weekend’s Austin Food & Wine Festival.
Do you use charcoal or gas at home?
I’ll do charcoal at home most of the time, but I would prefer real firewood. This spring we’re talking about building a little fire pit grill at our house, almost like one of those Argentinian things.
You say firewood, but could it be any kind of wood?
Hard woods. Hickory, oak or whatever you have around.
What is the biggest mistake a home griller can make?
Probably not trusting themselves. This is one of those things where you kind of have to learn to have a relationship with what’s going on. There’s no “turn it to 350 and come back in an hour and a half.” I think the other thing is just to have patience, especially if you’re smoking something for a long time. Have fun with it! You’re going to burn some things every now and then, but if you can hold your hand over the fire for a few seconds without burning yourself, that’s good to go for grilling steaks and searing fish.
What’s your favorite cut of meat?
Strip steak is nice and easy.
What about drinking during the barbecue process at home?
Everybody goes with beer. I don’t really drink anymore, so I’m a fan of lemonade and iced tea. Rose’s lime and watermelon juice is pretty awesome.
Do you mess with vegetables on the grill?
For sure. With the grilling thing, you deal with this abrasive flavor. This charred, smoky meat. You want to balance that well with acidity and crunchy and fresh. I do a lot of pickles and light-grilled vegetables. You almost want them still a bit raw in the center so there is some crunch to them.
What’s the most useful piece of gear you can have as a home griller?
A charcoal chimney. It’s so easy to set it and do it. You throw a couple of logs on and you have this awesome fire. Sometimes, those sauté pans are kind of cool. I don’t know what they call them but they are perforated and you grill vegetables with them so they don’t fall through the cracks.
Do you ever do Memphis in May or any of that competitive stuff?
No, no, we don’t do any competitive stuff. I’m going to the Big Apple Block Party this summer. I’ll be working with Pat Martin. He’s a friend who I’ve met through some of these things. We just take it as it comes!