Chef Michael Symon has put multiple cities such as Cleveland and Detroit squarely on the culinary map with his restaurants Lola Bistro, Angeline, Roast, Bar Symon, and B Spot Burgers. His latest restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ, stemmed from a lifelong obsession with live-fire cooking. In preparing for his BBQ restaurant, Symon traveled across the country, from Carolina to Memphis to Kansas City and Texas, sampling barbecue and smoked meats from some of the best pitmasters. Playing with Fire is a culmination of recipes inspired by his culinary travels. The book and Mabel’s BBQ, are Symon’s take on barbecue, but with his own Cleveland twist.
As a nation of immigrants, it’s difficult to pinpoint what precisely American food is. But the one thing we can agree on is that, as Americans, we love barbecue. And summer is all about enjoying the warm weather, gathering with friends and family, firing up the grill or smoker, and moving the eating outside. The smell of sizzling barbecue wafting through the air is one of the quintessential aromas of summer.
Michael Symon’s Playing with Fire will walk you through the essentials of preparing food with fire, from grills to smokers to live-fire contraptions, anything from cinder-block pits to fireplace cooking. As Symon writes, “Barbecue is a feeling, not a formula.” Many factors play a role in terms of cooking with fire, from the type of wood to the intensity of fire to the size and shape of the protein. Like anything else, it takes practice to become a true pitmaster. But, even grilling hobbyists can reap all the delicious benefits while honing their skills.
While a good portion of the book is dedicated to how to successfully smoke and barbecue pork, beef, chicken, seafood, and lamb, there is also a smattering of recipes devoted to preparing vegetables on the grill or in the smoker, from smoked green beans to smoked tomatoes and onions to smoky eggplant dip and fireplace potatoes. There’s also an assortment of salads and sides, such as poppy seed coleslaw, sauerkraut, and shaved carrot salad, that you can pair with any number of grilled or smoked recipes in his book — for those looking for a healthy balance.
Of course, you can’t have a summer barbecue without grilled corn. Grilling corn adds that perfect smoky element. Just be sure to soak the ears of corn overnight in salted water in order to prevent the husks from going up in flames. Symon takes grilled corn a step further and turns it into a fun and festive salad. The grilled corn is removed from its husk and tossed with cherry tomatoes, avocado, and herbs. A good amount of lime juice adds a pleasing brightness, and minced fresh jalapeno adds a welcome subtle kick of heat. This simple salad is a perfect addition to any outdoor summer gathering and is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
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Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad
When corn and tomatoes are at their absolute peak, this salad tastes like summer in a bowl. It goes great with pretty much any meat or fish you pull off the grill or out of the smoker. If you have any leftovers, gently heat them up and toss with pasta for an easy and amazing vegetarian meal.
4 ears sweet corn, unhusked
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, minced
Zest and juice of 3 limes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
6 scallions, thinly sliced
¾ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Soak the corn in its husks in heavily salted water overnight in the refrigerator, keeping the ears submerged below the surface with a plate weighed down with a heavy can.
2. Prepare and preheat your lump charcoal grill to medium-low.
3. Put the corn, still in its husks, on the grill, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix to combine the garlic, jalapeño, and a large pinch of salt. Add the lime zest, lime juice, and olive oil and whisk to combine. Add the avocado, tomatoes, scallions, and cilantro and toss gently to combine.
5. Remove the corn from the grill. When cool enough to handle, peel back the husks, discard the silk, and slice the kernels off the cobs directly into the bowl with a knife. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
Images and recipes courtesy of Clarkson Potter, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2018 by Michael Symon from Playing with Fire.