As summer grilling season begins, Roger Mooking is back on a new season of Man Fire Food. During a recent interview, he shares some cooking secrets that can better your grilling game.
While kitchen might be filled with gadgets, fire is the original way to cook. On the Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food, Roger Mooking entices foodies with some bold, flavorful and creative ways to cook with those mesmerizing flames. From the gigantic smokers to unusual fire pits, this exploration of cooking with fire could inspire some creative cooking in your backyard.
Heading into its ninth season, Man Fire Food has explored a variety of ways that people cook with fire. While fire might be the common component, the dishes that are kissed by the flame have varied flavors. From the subtle layers of smoke to the charred bark from a grill, fire can create some intriguing flavor profiles.
As summer nears, many home cooks get excited to uncover the grill and light the flame. Although there is some primitive calling to this cooking method, it is more than just throwing some chicken or steak on a grill. For many people, cooking over a flame is an art that takes years to master.
Over the previous seasons, Mooking has explored all types of cuisines and cultures that employ cooking over a flame. While the flavors vary, the tradition and attention to craft is a common theme. From bringing a piece of culture and history to the table to passing on traditions within a family, the stories behind the food are as important as the dish served.
Ahead of the Man Fire Food Season 9 premiere, I spoke with Roger Mooking about cooking with fire. Since he has learned many tips from the masters, he graciously shared some insight on making the next fire cooking experience a flavorful one.
Below is a transcript of that conversation.
Cristine Struble: Cooking with fire is one of the oldest methods of cooking, why does that cooking method remain so popular?
Roger Mooking – Mostly because it works, but also because it forces you to slow down and be mindful and adaptive. Cooking with fire is like meditation cooking, except that you still have to react to changing conditions like wind, ambient temperature, flare ups, etc…it is a moving mediation and very satisfying to cook something perfectly when the variables are seemingly against you.
CS: It seems that almost every culture has an iconic dish/recipe that is cooked over an open flame, why do you think that cooking over fire is such an important cooking method?
RM – Live fire cooking is our first human cooking method. Prior to being able to build and control a fire mankind ate raw foods like berries, seeds and nuts. I believe there is a primal connection to cooking with a live fire that is undeniable, plus being around a fire is hypnotizing; so perhaps we are hypnotized primates.
CS: Fire can enhance a flavor of a dish, what are some dishes and/or recipes tend to highlight the flavor that cooking over an open flame can offer?
RM – Of course, cooking meats over an open flame is vastly different than cooking in an oven, as the fat holds the smoke particularly well. Grilling vegetables allow you get a blistered char on the outside while still cooking the vegetable all the way through to its desired doneness, which is a different type of charred flavor that can be achieved in a pan or a broiler of your oven.
CS: For some cooks, like the pit masters, cooking with fire is as much ritual as it is cooking method. Why do you think that those long hours stoking the flame impact the flavors in the food?
RM – One wouldn’t wear underwear made of sandpaper. Well, you simply cannot achieve all the myriad complexities of a properly smoked Brisket without the ritual, techniques and science that is taking place by the smoking and roasting process. Steaming, curing, poaching, boiling, simmering, or other cooking methods would not achieve the same result for that particular food. Using the proper technique for the proper recipe / dish is essential. This is not to say that boiling a brisket is wrong but if you want a deep dark bark, smoky flavor and jiggling melted connective tissue all at the same time then you have to use specific techniques to achieve that.
CS: As many home cooks go into summer grilling season, what are some simple tips to help the home cook gain confidence cooking with fire?
RM – Have a hose nearby so you can work safely, don’t underestimate this for confidence and safety. Make sure to not add sugary sauces nor glazes too early in the cooking process as those sugars on the surface will want to burn before the food is fully cooked. Tie your hair back if you have long hair, that goes back to confidence to work safely. Don’t underestimate the value of long tongs to keep a safe distance from the cooking surface while still fiddling with what you’re cooking.
With my hair tied back, a set of long tongs and brisket ready to put on the smoker, I am ready to light the fire and enjoy the long ritual ahead. I would like to thank Roger Mooking to taking the time to share his insight.
Man Fire Food airs on the Cooking Channel. The Season 9 premiere airs on Wednesday, May 20 at 9 p.m. Additional six new episodes are part of the new season and will air on Wednesdays starting at 9 p.m. with additional airings throughout the week.
Are you master of the flame? What is your best recipe to cook with fire?