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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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Dr. BBQ Aims To Be A Food Network ‘Grill Master’ on “Chopped” [Table Conversations With Ray Lampe]

Posted Jun 25, 2012 by Jeff Houck

Updated Jun 25, 2012 at 12:16 PM

Ray Lampe photo by Grant Thompson


Food Network just announced a five-week, grilling-themed season of its popular show “Chopped” that will start at 10 p.m. July 22.

Among the contestants on the first episode will be St. Petersburg resident Ray Lampe.

Better known as “Dr. BBQ,” Lampe will face off in the Arizona desert at Old Tucson Studios against Jennifer and Tom Duncan of Arizona and Galen Zamarra of New York City. Celebrity judges for the episode are Amanda Freitag, Marc Murphy, Aarón Sánchez.

Food Network’s description of the episode:

One chef from each preceding duel makes it to the final fiery face-off, and when the dust clears, the greatest grilling pro of all walks away with a $50,000 grand prize.  In the appetizer round, the first four grill masters are faced with preparing a dish using cookies and yak steaks. Then, a giant surprise awaits the competitors in the entrée basket, and in the dessert duel, chocolate meets fruit for a showdown not to be missed.

Mmmm, yak steaks. If anyone can figure it out, Ray can.

I say that because Lampe just released a new book, “Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue,” (Chronicle, $22.95). The premise: No matter what equipment or situation, you can still make great ‘cue. Even if its yak on the grill.

I recently recorded a Table Conversations podcast with Ray during which we chatted about the book and about barbecue and grilling - and the difference between the two.

“The truth is, you can make barbecue on anything,” he says.

An excerpt from our chat:

The word barbecue is a confusing word to some people. You can have barbecue without using a barbecue. How do you keep things straight in the book?

It is a confusing situation, just straight grilling and barbecuing, a lot of guys want to take that fight. I’ve never been one to take that fight up. If you want to grill a burger and call it barbecue, I’m not going to fight about it. I know the difference and I’ll be happy to teach you if you want.

I go to Canada and everything is called a barbecue. It’s a gas grill.

Slow Fire by Ray LampeThis book doesn’t include any grilling recipes or anything like that. Everything in the book is cooked under 250 degrees, which is real slow, smoking barbecue. It was kind of a challenge coming up with a whole book of barbecue recipes. Sandy got tired of it. While we were testing, everything tasted like smoky food. I had a Cookshack out in the back, I had my Egg and a Weber grill and a ProQ smoker with a water pan in it. I wouldn’t cook over 250 degrees. I’m making fajitas, I’m making tri-tip. I’m making prime rib. These are things I would probably want to cook at a higher temp. but I wanted to create these recipes for smoking. This book is just about smoking. If you’re looking at how to grill a steak, this ain’t the book.

When I started, the thing I learned was how crucial the choice of wood was and how the flavor can depend on that choice. How do you mix and match depending on what proteins you’re cooking?

I did a nice chart in the book because that question comes up a lot. People think more smoke and heavy smoke would be better. Hickory is the classic. Mesquite gets talked about a lot but doesn’t get used a lot by real barbecue guys because it’s so strong. It’s got a really cool name, which is why everybody likes that. The milder woods, apple and cherry, the fruit woods are a much better place to start. You may find you want a stronger smoke for a brisket or pork shoulder or bigger cuts of beef. You’ll want to think about hickory or oak. Pecan is somewhere in the middle. I learned a long time ago from somebody, don’t be afraid to blend a little bit. A little bit of hickory and a little bit of cherry is a nice combination. The cherry has a light smoke and gives a great color, but hickory has that classic barbecue flavor. Without a little bit of that, it’s hard to get it perfect for me.

I had to back down after getting so enthusiastic about the smoke. My son was, like, “Dad this is too smoky.” I realized I was overdosing it with the smoke. A little goes a long way. And you’re not sure what everyone’s tolerance at the table is.

If people are telling you that your food is too smoky, it is.

For more about Ray, go online to his web site.

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