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The Sustainable Grill

Acclaimed chef Barton Seaver is with us, taking his sustainable spin on cooking — heirloom veggies, humanely raised meats — to the grill.

Reprinted with permission from  Where There’s Smoke © 2013 by Barton Seaver, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. (Katie Stoops)

Reprinted with permission from Where There’s Smoke © 2013 by Barton Seaver, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. (Katie Stoops)

Fire up the grill on a beautiful summer evening, says my guest today, chef Barton Seaver, and you’re halfway to heaven.  It’s seasonal, it’s celebratory, it’s social – everything, he says, that food and cooking should be.

But Seaver isn’t just a chef.  He’s a conservationist.  And he’s talking these days about sustainable grilling.  The wood — hickory, oak, cherry.  The protein — way beyond beef.  The veggies — charred brussel sprouts, braised okra, grilled bok choy.  And don’t forget the griddled crab cakes.

This hour, On Point:  Sustainable grilling with chef Barton Seaver.

– Tom Ashbrook


Barton Seaver, author of “Where There’s Smoke: Simple, Sustainable, Delicious Grilling.” (@bartonseaver)

From Tom’s Reading List

Salt Lake City Weekly: Barbecue by the book — “As a leading authority on sustainable foods, here, Seaver turns his prowess to the grill, offering up advice on how to incorporate sustainability into our everyday culinary lives, and does it in delicious fashion with recipes such as wood-grilled snap peas with smoky aioli (yum!), chimichurri-marinated short ribs, grilled Pacific halibut with pistachio butter (double yum!) and smoked clams & mussels.”

Epicurious: Sustainable Grilling With Barton Seaver — “Seaver took some time to answer a few questions about how to get started grilling, why fall is his favorite time to grill, and gives some tips on how to grill seafood. And of course, shares several of his grilling recipes.”

Barton Seaver at On Point (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Barton Seaver at On Point (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Recipe: A Venerable Wine Spritzer 

For many people, the wine spritzer has become a beverage of ill repute, conjuring up memories of high-school encounters with Boone’s Farm or worse. But I think that wine is a great mixer when paired smartly with other ingredients. Get a good-quality wine, but don’t go overboard on a bottle that really should be enjoyed on it’s own. The recipe can also be made in big batches and served from a pitcher. Simply multiply the quantities by eight to use a full bottle of wine.

3 or 4 ice cubes

3 ounces dry Riesling wine (you can get some very nice bottles for about $9)

1 ½ ounces dry vermouth (I greatly prefer Dolin brand, but Noilly Prat is also good)

1 ounce club soda

1 sprig fresh basil or tarragon

Put the ice in a rocks glass; add the wine and vermouth. Stir to combine and chill. Add the soda and basil sprig and serve immediately.

Serves 1

Recipe: Ember- Roasted Squash Hummus

Ember- Roasted Squash Hummus (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ember- Roasted Squash Hummus (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

I first tried this dish when I was looking for an interesting vegan option to put on my menus. While my restaurants were certainly vegetarian/vegan friendly, the focus of the menu was anything but. I wanted to present some options that were more than the usual, but I kept coming back to hummus, because it is so delicious. So I tried a few different ways to make it, and this one was a winner. Any type of thick-skinned autumn squash will do in this recipe. My favorites are kabocha, butternut, Hubbard, and regular old pumpkin. I prefer to serve this with baguette slices, but it’s also good with toasted pita bread triangles or carrot and celery sticks.

Place the entire squash in the embers of a medium charcoal and wood fire after you have finished cooking another meal, or set up a small charcoal fire, place the squash on the grill grate rack directly above it, and cover the grill. The squash, depending on its size, will cook in 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours. It is done when the skin is charred and the squash deflates a little with light pressure. Let it cool for 20 minutes.

Cut the squash in half, then scoop out and discard the seeds, being careful not to remove too much of the flesh when you do this. Remove the flesh from the skin – scrape right down to the skin, because that is where all the sweet, awesome smoke flavor is! If some charred flakes get mixed in, that’s fine.

Place the flesh in a food processor. Add the tahini, lemon juice, and garlic if using. Purée the mixture until it is relatively smooth but there are still a few chunks. Season with a few pinches of salt and then, with the machine running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube. The mixture will begin to change color as the olive oil is incorporated. After you have added about 1 cup of the oil, stop the machine, scrape down the side, and taste the hummus. If you think it needs a little more salt, then go ahead and add it. The mixture should be thick at this point, close to a mayonnaise in texture. Turn the machine back on and add another cup of oil, then taste again. The hummus should have a balanced, sweet-sour-smoky- rich flavor. If it seems not quite right, or too thick, continue to add as much of the remaining oil as you need to get the right consistency.

This is the best if it is left to chill for a couple of hours before serving, but it can be served right away. Before presenting it to your guests, check the flavor balance one more time and adjust if necessary with more salt and/or lemon juice.
Spoon the hummus into a large bowl and garnish it with a few gratings or nutmeg using a Microplane or nutmeg grater and a pinch of the pepper. Serve with baguette slices.

1 medium autumn squash (2 to 3 pounds)

1 cup tahini (sesame paste; available in most grocery stores)

Juice of 2 lemons

1 clove garlic, grated on a Microplane or very finely minced (optional)

Kosher salt

2 to 3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly grated nutmeg

Espelette pepper or crushed red pepper

1 small baguette, sliced on this bias ½ inch thick.

Serves 4 to 8

Recipe: Zucchini with Dried Tomatoes and Mint

Zucchini with Dried Tomatoes and Mint (WBUR/Jesse Costa)

Zucchini with Dried Tomatoes and Mint (WBUR/Jesse Costa)

This is one of the most satisfying and easy-to-prepare dishes if you have the dried tomatoes on hand. Zucchini is a vegetable that plays very nicely with others. What I love so much about it is that zucchini works with an amazing range of flavors and can express itself differently, depending on how it’s cooked and what it’s partnered with. In this dish, I tend to slightly undercook the zucchini so that it retains a slight bite and displays a hint of bitterness, which balances well with the sweet/smoky flavor.

1 ½ pound zucchini, ends trimmed

2 tablespoons oil from smoke-dried tomatoes (see page 281)

Kosher salt

3 smoke-dried tomatoes

1 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Leaves from 8 sprigs fresh mint, torn

Cut each zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut each half into 1-inch triangle-shaped chuncks. Toss the zucchini with the tomato oil and season it lightly with salt.

Place the zucchini in a grill basket directly over the coals of a small fire (see page 15) flavored with a few wood chips and cook for 5 minutes without moving. Gently toss the zucchini pieces and cook for another 2 minutes, then remove them from the grill.

Slice the dried tomatoes into thin strips. Toss the still-warm zucchini with the tomatoes, vinegar, and mint. Season with a pinch of salt and serve immediately.
Serves 4

Recipe: Grill-Roasted Chicken

Grill-roasted chicken. (WBUR/Jesse Costa)

Grill-roasted chicken. (WBUR/Jesse Costa)

Smaller birds are easier to manage on the grill in terms of ensuring doneness, plus I like serving a half bird to each guest. The brine is an important component of this recipe and replaces the need to season the birds before cooking. Drizzling the chickens with lemon-infused oil for the last few minutes of cooking adds an incredible scent that really enlivens the meat.

The choice of wood for this is key, as too strong a flavor will mask the delicate nature of a pasture-raised bird. Will it taste as good if heavily smoked with mesquite or hickory? Sure it will. But it won’t taste much like chicken. I have recently come to really appreciate the smokey flavor citrus wood generates. Another delicious option is to make a wood fire of oak or maple, in which the wood is providing more heat than aromatic smoke, then add dried fennel stalks about the grate so that they smolder alongside the chicken. Or add the dried stalks of  end-of-the-season basil plants. They impart a wonderful musky basil flavor that is perfect with chicken, though the smoke they generate cane sometimes smell like the parking lot at a Grateful Dead concert.

Two 2-pound young chickens, or one 3 ½ to 4-pound bird.

2 recipes of Poultry Brine (page 262)

3 tablespoons brightly flavored olive oil (I greatly prefer Meyer lemon-infused olive oil, see Infused Oils, page 273)

Place chickens in large bowl or pot and pour in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
Drain the brine. Place the chickens on a baking sheet and dry them with a desk fan for an hour to form a tacky layer on the skin surface; this is called a pellicle, and it’s what the smoke flavor will stick to. You can also dry them overnight, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

Build a large fire in the grill (page 15). When it has died down to embers, add the flavoring wood chips or stalks. Place the chickens on the grill away from the coals, with the legs closer to the fire. Cover the grill and choke the airflow to a sliver. Cook for 30 minutes, adding more wood chips if necessary to keep a billowing smoke going. Check the bird with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the leg against the bone. It should register between 135 and 140 degrees F. Rotate the birds so that the breasts are closer to the fire. Cover the grill and cook for another 10 minutes. Uncover the grill and drizzle the birds with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then cover and cook until the thermometer registers 160 degrees F, about another 5 minutes.

Remove the birds from the grill and let them rest for 15 minutes. Section the birds into legs and breasts and drizzle them with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe: Escarole with Nectarines and Ricotta Salata

Most recipes for escarole involve cooking it down for a long period of time over low heat to turn its bitterness into a mellow and sweet flavor. But a good-quality, young head of this lettuce can make for a sublime salad if balanced with a sweet component. In this recipe, it is grilled nectarines, which have a smoky, caramelized sweetness but also maintain some of their piercing acidity. The walnuts add a nice textural component, and the ricotta salata provides a salty punctuation.

Ricotta salata is a salted and pressed version of ricotta cheese. Both fresh goat cheese and feta cheese share its characteristics and can be substituted.

4 nectarines, pitted and cut into quarters

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt

1 head escarole, trimmed of heavy stems and cut crosswise into 1-inch-wide strips

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Juice of 1 orange

1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)

3 ounces ricotta salata

Freshly ground black pepper

Toss the nectarines with a little of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Grill the fruit directly over the coals of a small fi re (see page 15) until they begin to soften and caramelize, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the escarole, walnuts, orange juice, and remaining olive oil. Season to taste with salt and toss to combine. Taste the salad. If it is too bitter for you, add the maple syrup and toss to combine.

Arrange the grilled nectarines around the rim of a platter and place the salad in the middle. Crumble the ricotta over the salad, add a few grinds of black pepper, and serve.

Recipe: Grilled Spiced Olives

Olives are underappreciated in this country. I think that we have been culinarily numbed by the canned black olives of pizza fame and the not-so-good green olives that populate cheap cocktail bars. But olives, in all their seemingly infinite varieties, are among the most dynamic and interesting snacks available to start a meal. I particularly like to marinate them with spices and then grill them to accentuate their flavor. In this recipe, I use some of the marinating spices to create smoke that will infuse the olives as they heat through on the grill.

Mix the olives, orange zest and juice, fennel seeds, thyme, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Let marinate for at least a day at room temperature.

Remove the cinnamon stick and thyme sprigs (but reserve them) and put the olives in a grill basket. Cook them directly over the coals of a small charcoal and fruitwood fire until they begin to sizzle and caramelize. Move the basket away from the heat, add the cinnamon stick and thyme sprigs to the fire, and cover the grill, letting the smoke infuse the olives with the flavor of the cinnamon and thyme for about 5 minutes.

Transfer olives to a bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

2 cups mixed olives

1 orange, zest removed in large strips using a vegetable peeler, then juiced

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 stick cinnamon

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Serves 4

Recipes reprinted with permission from Where There’s Smoke © 2013 by Barton Seaver, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • StilllHere

    Please ask Barton, under oath, if in the last 30 years he has ever used a bad word or been insensitive.  Did he ever spell shiitake incorrectly?

    • nj_v2

      ^ Sets a new low for trolling inanity, difficult as it is for this handle given its dismal posting history.

      • JobExperience

         Maybe it’s par for the course on a topic that presents unlimited outdoor burning of propane as sustainable. Likewise, considering population and Greenhouse balance, no mass meat production can be considered sustainable. That leaves us eating salad I suppose. Deceit of the public mind is at the center of this book pimping. (shades of Paula Deen’s recipes for obese diabetics?)
        The (H)onery Debaiter (in stillhere guise) refers to temperamental chefs who may have racist tendencies. Fair enough, sniping but not insane.

        • nj_v2

          Unlike StilllaTroll, you attempt—though unsuccessfully—to make relevant, serious points.

          You invoke “unlimited,” though that’s not evident anywhere.

          You invoke “mass meat production,” yet meat can be grown sustainably. 

          You invoke “propane,” yet the excerpts mention wood, which is renewable.

          You invoke “may have,” when all available evidence indicates that the racism in question was deeply internalized and expressed explicitly, repeatedly. 

          You invoke insane, yet the word i used was inane

          But thanks for playing.

          • JobExperience

             I assert that meat is not sustainable when 9 billion consumers are considered. (Don’t bring up synthetic meat. That’s truly insane.)
            The wood you mention is blocks and chips suspended above a gas flame.
            We have no laws against grilling as far as I know. It’s unlimited if you can afford it. Propane is used by almost all American grillers. We have stores loaded with these stupid stoves. Only a few are tuned for natural gas, another greenhouse source. I suppose you know how charcoal is produced but if you don’t you need to find out.
            The qualification “may have” refers to this particular guest.
            We can agree that the examined poster is usually inane and that racism borders on insanity.

          • nj_v2

            You’ll do better when you eschew your assumptions. I’m vegetarian, mostly (nothing that used to walk).

            Even allowing for your dubious objections, is grilling any worse than any other cooking method?

            Unless one is eating raw foods, or cooking with a solar oven, there’s some environmental consequence.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            the story of charcoal is interesting. 
            The Kingsford Company was formed by Henry Ford and E.G. Kingsford during the early 1920s. Charcoal was developed from Ford Motor Company’s factory waste wood scrap. The Kingsford Company was formed when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford’s, brokered the site selection for Ford’s new charcoal manufacturing plant. The company, originally called Ford Charcoal, was renamed in E.G.’s honor.
            using factory wood scraps seems like good recycling to me

        • jefe68

          How so? The recipes are healthy, look tasty and one does not have to use propane to grill. Of course you could say any fuel is not sustainable, but then one would have to stop cooking altogether.

          That said I do see your point on one level.
          Sustainable has become this buzz word and this kind of cooking is for those with a decent budget for food. 

          Maybe it should be called “Grilling for trendy people who want the illusion of sustainability”… 

          • JobExperience

            Fair enough today…. but rationing is on the way.
            (Grilling behavior leads to propane patio heaters.)

        • Eliza_Bee

          See “Cows Save the Plant: and other improbable ways of restoring soil to heal the earth” by Judith D. Schwartz.

          And jefe68, the ubiquitous accusation of elitism against those who seek out fresh, whole foods is really getting old.  Eating whole foods is important for health–I’ve always made it a priority in my budget and also sweated to grow my own when possible.

          The shame lies in our expectation for cheap food–food that doesn’t reflect what it costs in medical bills, environmental damage, and suffering of food animals.

          • jefe68

            So do I. But it’s very expensive to eat good fresh food. 
            My entire front yard is planted with vegetables and herbs, for the record.  

            The shame lies in how the cost of fresh food has risen while the cost of junk food has fallen due to the nature of farm subsidies.
            That’s what you should be interested in changing not bitching at me for being critical of food snobbery.

            You seem like one of those food fanatics who take all the joy out of food. You know the type who when invited over suck all the air out of a party.

          • Eliza_Bee

            I suspect we are pretty much on the same wavelength and am sorry to see a fellow gardener dishing out personal insults.  Learn something new everyday.

          • StilllHere

            Personal insults take all the joy out of discussion boards.

          • HonestDebate1

            My neighbors and I frequently share in the abundance of our gardens and we all seem to have different bumper crops. Farmer’s markets are great and we have them every weekend during the season in my town. I love to fish and the freezer is full. I don’t hunt but I have friends that do and keep me in venison. I trade them trout. But add to that couponing (my wife’s a freak) and watching for sales when things are in season. Canning, drying and freezing can get you through the off season. 

            I guess my point is eating well does not have to cost a ton of money especially when one compares it to eating out. It does take some time and it helps to seek out like minded friends.

            I love coming in from the lake with a stringer of fish, strolling through the garden to harvest a couple bags of vegetables and eating for free. Right now the blackberries are everywhere…big swollen sweet ones… desert!

            I also have friends who are avid foragers for mushrooms and all kinds of greens, nuts and berries. I know one guy who doesn’t even work he just forages and plants trees every year. He’s a big believer in hazel nuts and plums. This year he put in 2 fifty foot rows of asparagus which he expects to produce for 20 years. I realize everyone can’t do this but he hasn’t a dime sand eats like a king.

          • Eliza_Bee

            Agree 100% that eating well doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.  In my younger days, I ate well on a low income.  It does take know-how and time.

            My concern is that foods should be priced to reflect their true cost and value.  If you hunt, fish, and grow your own food you probably have some idea of what food is worth.

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            a hundred years ago people spent 16% on food and 8% on healthcare. we spend 8% on food and 16% on healthcare. coincidence?

          • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

            nothing is more satisfying than realizing your organic dinner has zero food miles, negative carbon footprint and is free

      • jefe68

        And the troll has 2 likes, what does that say.

        • nj_v2

          Just that the forum’s right-wing clown posse hangs together.

        • HonestDebate1

          So do you.

          • jefe68

            I’m not making an inane comment.

          • StilllHere

            He’s referring to himself, he’s twisted that way.

  • HonestDebate1

    Those baseball bat size Zucchini’s that always seem to get missed are great on the grill. 1″ thick slices with a bit of Kikkoman and olive oil, mmmmm.

    • JobExperience

      Do you skin your zucchini bats or do you eat the fur?
      Wingrats from sustainable organic bat farms are safer due to rabies vaccine, but beware those freerange species. You could get whitenose fever. Keep the wings out of the flame tips lest they ignite. Do your neighbors appreciate the aroma?Yours is an acquired taste. I suggest cooking  over utility pole and railroad tie chips because creosote is stronger than soy sauce and olive oil.

    • nj_v2

      Smaller is always better when it comes to squash. More tender, fewer (or no) seeds. Baseball bats go to the compost. Life’s too short to eat woody zucchini.

      • HonestDebate1

        Yes eat them when they’re small if you can. But around here we get a few rains and bam, they’re huge but not necessarily woody. Waste not want not.

        • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

          the big ones make good zucchini bread also

  • nj_v2

    (edit: Disqus post-placement fail. Damn this thing!)

    • JobExperience

       We all hate it when that happens.
      Maybe they do it to diffuse our discussions.

  • John

    I currently live in Brazil and barbecue (churrasco) is huge here. One of their most common dessert bbq items is simple and delicious. Simply put a banana still contained in the peel on the grill until it is almost black on all sides. Then take it off, cut it open, sprinkle some cinnamon on it and you have a super easy bbq dessert. 

    • John

      Cool! First comment I’ve made thats been read on air!

  • AC

    why on earth are you airing this before lunch? i think i’m going to overeat today…..!
    no thanks to you!

    • HonestDebate1

      Oh go ahead and indulge yourself.

  • ash

    Where can you get things like peach wood chips? And how do you know that a wood product is reliable and flavorful? Is there a brand you could reccomend?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lisa.anamasi Lisa Anamasi

    At the end of a meal, while the coals are still very hot, I love to cut up some pineapple or mango and toss them on the grille for yummy summer dessert.  Are there more sustainable fruit suggestions you might have?

  • peglegjoe52

    Freeze Tofu, cook frozen 1/2 blocks Tofu in the Microwave for about 5 minutes. Sqeeze out water between 2 dinner plates. Allow to cool. Slice, soak in your choice of sauce then BBQ. When you freeze, then zap Tofu it changes the structure to a firm bread like substance capable of soaking up liquid like a sponge.

  • hartford sam

    can anyone share the recipe for “poultry brine” . should I brine an 8 1/2 lb turkey breast with skin on and then cook on a grill/smoker ?

    • HonestDebate1

      Brine turkey works great on the smoker. I always leave the skin on. The salt water carries whatever flavorings you put with it into the bird. Here’s Alton:


      I’ve also noticed with fish that soy sauce penetrates the meat differently that other liquids, it’s kind of brine like. I tried mixing lemon juice and soy sauce and it lemons up the fish nicely.

      • hartford sam


  • ianway

    I missed where the “sustainability” label fits into this.  Isn’t charcoal grilling fundamentally unhealthy?  And then there’s this:  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/recycled/2010/07/the_great_barbecue_debate.html

    • jefe68

      If you do it all the time yes.
      But once a week would not be considered a health risk.

    • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

      human beings somehow survived cooking over and proximity to wood fires for a while

  • Kevinbn

    Best recipe for the Striped Bass I caught  on Suday

    • HonestDebate1

      Congrats, the Stripers have eluded me this year for the most part. If it’s big enough (5 or 6 pounds and up) I filet them but leave the skin on and grill them skin side down until almost done then paint a little olive oil on top and flip them over for just a minute or two. It’s nothing fancy but they work great on the grill. 

      You can also gut the fish and stuff the cavity with citrus and herbs then wrap it in tin foil and grill away.

  • Potter

    I feel validated. I make my grill on an hibachi starting with paper and twigs. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

    the difference between using charcoal or gas in terms of co2 is that the charcoal has co2 that comes from the atmosphere and the gas has co2 that comes from an oil well. charcoal is much more sustainable in terms of co2 release

    • HonestDebate1

      Or one could just use an electric oven powered by coal. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/futo.buddy Futo Buddy

        perhaps we could use more biogas for grilling. cook the cows with their own farts!

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