Grilling God: Bryan Voltaggio

Much like Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, Bryan Voltaggio had a significant kitchen career before becoming sort of insanely famous while appearing on the reality cooking show in 2009. For those who didn't watch what happened, he finished runner-up in a memorable season that placed him against the eventual winner — his baby brother, Michael.

Bryan has gone on to open a series of highly successful restaurant in the Washington D.C. area, including the high-minded Volt in Frederick, Maryland and a slightly more casual restaurant called Range, which serves an extensive menu of crudos, sausages and exciting things cooked over wood (beef heart with chimichuri; grilled octopus with green garlic). It is because of this grill — and because Bryan is one of the coolest cats around — that we thought it would be pertinent to get in touch to talk all about the backyard BBQ.

Do you prefer working with gas or charcoal?

I prefer working on charcoal and/or hardwood. At Range, we use oak that burns longer and has a great aroma. If using charcoal, I am looking for Japanese bincho-tan charcoal — which has different grades, the white being most expensive, yet lasts the longest (sometimes up to two hours). I use a mix of bincho-tan white charcoal, aramaru and some dry flavorful woods, like mesquite, or applewood for fresh flavor and aroma.

What is the biggest mistake the home griller can make?

To not get an even, preheated grill. Some people think just go out, turn the gas on and get the grill hot for a few minutes. Of course, gas and charcoal/wood are two different animals. With gas, you can rely on the thermometer a bit, however it is reading the air temperature of the grill and not each inch of the grate. You need to get your grill to temp, then wait some time to ensure the racks or grates are ready to sear the meat or vegetables. If not, you are left with food that is stuck, and steaming.

What is your favorite cut of meat to grill?

My favorite cuts vary. With beef I am very much into skirt steaks and hanger. You can impart all kinds of added flavor with marinades — they help to tenderize the meat and also help you to achieve a really great crust of browning on the outside of the meat, ultimately leaving this really great full-of-beefy flavor in the interior. These cuts also retain great moisture and texture when grilled. With pork I am really into slowly smoking shoulders and bellies on the grill. Now this takes brining, or overnight dry rubs, which can sometimes require days of preparation, but the results are really worth it. With fish I love to grill wild striped bass during the Maryland season. Nothing like fish caught in the morning with a party on the deck at night.

OK, please defend vegetables on the grill. Because it sometimes needs defending...

Yes, especially if you are working with wood. There is nothing like charring onions in the embers of the fire, or roasting mushrooms slowly with garlic and herbs over a low flame. I always look at the grill for when I'm planning a meal for family and friends at my home. If I'm going to grill, then most of the meal is on the grill, besides some classic side dishes.

What do you like to drink with your grilled meat?

Beer. I actually brewed a beer two seasons with Flying Dog in Frederick, MD called Backyard Ale. It was tailored for the backyard BBQ.

What's the most epic barbecue you have ever thrown, or been to?

Every year my friend Thomas, who is a contractor, invites all of his clients over for a pig picking party. I supply and roast the pig over a barrel-style — which is slit in two barrels. On one I roast the pig which brines for days in one of my restaurants. The other is for whole chickens, which simply gets a dry rub. Of course there are sides and desserts to feed an army. However, this goes down every year as the party to be at!

Do you mess with veggie burgers?

Look, I am sorry, but if you are that hard up for a burger — eat a burger. If you are trying to fit in with the burger crowd, it does not work on my deck. Now, respectfully, for those who don't eat meat, grill some great fresh vegetables that you can marinate. Or make a great sandwich. Don't bastardize our Great American Classic. I mean the entire world says hamburger when you mention American food. Leave it alone!

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