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Culinary term of the day – various cooking methods pt. 1

I see some waiters’ eyes glaze over when they are given daily specials in pre-shift. Sometimes they simply parrot the words that have been told to them – “We have roasted ossobucco with chanterelle mashed potatoes with a balsamic/basil/cherry reduction”. Or “Tonight we have sous vide salmon with braised leeks and stir-fried root vegetables topped with candied walnuts” – you know, the Chef always wants to throw in some sort of word or phrase which describes the cooking process. More perceptive waiters use their knowledge of these various cooking techniques to help them either describe the dishes or actually sell them.  In the event of a food contest, this can mean the difference between first and second place.

Have you ever thought about what these words mean, or are they just words to memorize?

I thought I’d go through some of the words and give a thumbnail sketch of each cooking type.

Grilled – this one most people know because of their family “barbeques”. Grilling is cooking over hot direct heat.  It’s usually done on some sort of wire rack (grill) which adds “grill marks”. Grilling can be done while covered, but usually the heat comes from beneath and from the rack that the food sits on. Grilling is a relatively fast cooking process. It tends to sear the outside of whatever is on the rack and, if there’s a high sugar content in the food such as is the case with carrots, you’ll get some caramelization. It goes past searing though because the food continues to cook on the grill. Grilling is usually done only with firm items due to the tendency of delicate items to fall apart on the grill. Grilled items usually have to be turned and can stick to the grill surface, so the food needs to be able to hang together when turned or flipped.

Sautéing is the cooking of food over a stovetop element in a skillet-like pan using a small amount of oil or other liquid. What Americans call a “sauté pan” is not what the French call a sauté pan, and heck, they invented the word, which literally means “to jump”. An apt description of the process if you’ve ever sautéed over high heat. 

A traditional French sauté pan looks nothing like we are used to here in the States. It is a large pan with straight sides instead of a smaller pan with sloping sides. Here is the French version:

I have one that looks just like this in my own kitchen, although I don’t have the matching lid.

Here is what many Americans call a sauté pan:

In fact, this is what your friendly neighborhood sauté line cook will use to cook a lot of what comes off the sauté line. Any waiter is familiar with stacks of these pans sitting above the stove. They are useful because they have sloping sides and are light which allows for easy tossing of ingredients. It is more properly called a “fry pan” or a skillet, but pans of this shape have been called “sauté pans” by home cooks for years.

Sautéing is a quick cooking process as well. It’s done over medium high to high heat. You can sauté in a small amount of oil as you do when you use a wok, or you can actually “deep fry” in an inch of oil, although technically this would be “frying”. If you are cooking something like a breaded veal scalloppini, it’s considered “pan sautéed”, not fried because the cooking time is short. If you are frying chicken, well, I guess the term “fried chicken” gives it away.

Sautéing is often a prelude for other cooking techniques. For instance, if you are using a traditional French sauté pan to cook a whole chicken, you might sauté aromatic veggies in oil first, then brown the skin of the chicken over high heat, then add some stock, cover and finish cooking in the oven by pot roasting.

As I’ve already implied, we can lump stir-frying into the sauté category. It’s just a specialized version of sautéing.

Speaking of roasting, this is a word that we use all of the time. but what is it really? When you try to define it, one fumbles for words because it’s one of those concepts that “just is”.

Roasting implies oven cooking at high direct and indirect heat. Most roasting is done at 400° – 500°. Any lower and you usually think of it as “baking” (and we’ll discuss this as well). But the key to roasting is the presence of fat, whether integral to the item being roasted such as the fat under the skin of a chicken or the marbled fat in a veal chop or whether you have to add fat in the form of oil as you do when you roast vegetables. Roasting caramelizes and keeps food savory while building flavor. While you can certainly roast fish, especially firmer fish like monkfish and swordfish, it’s not a common way to cook fish. Sometimes you might technically roast fish after pan searing it, especially if it’s a thick filet, but you usually don’t hear the term “roasted fish”.

Speaking of pan searing, searing is simply the application of high heat with minimum or no oil. It’s very quick and doesn’t actually “cook” the item that is being seared. All it does is sear the outside, leaving the inside basically raw. for items like tuna or filet mignon, this is a way to cook ultra rare. sometimes, as in the previously mentioned case of roasted chicken, it’s a prelude to other, slower cooking methods. It’s done to provide color and to seal in juices, although Harold McGee and other “food scientists” question how much this really happens. You can sear on a grill or you can sear in a pan or a flattop.

In the next installment, we’ll cover terms like “baking”, broiling”, “basting” and “steaming”.

Why are we doing this?

As someone who serves food, you should be aware of the different cooking techniques and how and why they differ. This will give you additional insight into helping someone decide between different dishes and, who knows, some people might actually need an explanation of what “braised leeks” means. the more that you know off of the top of your head, the more confident you’ll be tableside. And just because you might work at Red Robin doesn’t mean that knowing this stuff is superfluous. Perhaps you might be ready to move to an “American bistro” type restaurant.  sometimes, managers like to ask questions to determine how much a prospective waiter knows about food in general. I actually had one ask me if I knew the “mother sauces” once. As you move up the food chain, the more you will need to know about food and beverage.

Kitchen tool of the day – Weber grill

No, silly, I don’t have one of these in my kitchen.

Weber 22

But it is only inches from my kitchen, since my little porch is adjacent to my kitchen. There’s only a wall and few inches from the fridge. It’s a 22.5″ Weber “Silver” kettle grill.

This icon of American culture is almost 58 years old, having been invented 2 years after the midway point of the 20th century. It became a symbol of American prosperity, being ubiquitous in suburban backyards in the 50s and 60s. Later, gas grills became fashionable and many families installed permanent gas grills in their backyards (as my own family did). The Weber became a bit “old-fashioned’ but remained an industrial example of form fitting function and  simplicity itself. Its shape and color (for many years, you could get it in any color as long as it was black) is almost perfection itself.

Despite selling more than any other grill in America by a long shot, most people don’t realize that it began life as the halves of bouys used in Lake Michigan. George Stephen, a co-owner of the Weber Brothers Metal Works and metal worker himself, had an epiphany while trying to work out the perfect grill for his own backyard. By cutting in half spheres that he had been constructing for buoy manufacturers, he realized that the dome shape was perfect for containing heat and protecting from wind and if you put a grill in the center, there would be plenty of room for coals in the bottom. If he fabricated movable vents on the top and the bottom, airflow could be controlled and heat and coals could be managed for even temperatures and smoke would have an exit point. And it was a breeze to weld on some leg sleeves and add legs and wheels for easy transport. He could even fabricate a dish between the legs to allow for easy disposal of ashes (later to be refined into a closed box).

And, voila! the Weber grill was born.


Picture courtesy of

This became a visual that was very familiar to those growing up in the 50s and 60s. Dad with his apron, tongs and long forks tending the grill while wifey and kiddies lounged around waiting for the burgers, hot dogs and steaks to cook. A bag of briquettes was leaning in a corner somewhere and the family dog was running around chasing birds and little children.

The Weber seemed to get a re-birth in the 90s after being out of favor for a while. Part of it was nostalgia, part of it was a realization that it was an inexpensive but well-built grill with a purpose. Despite competition from more sophisticated grill/smokers with sideboxes for wood and built in thermometers, huge gas grills that would rival some commercial kitchens’ equipment (Weber also making some of these), the Weber is more more popular than ever.

They make sizes ranging from table-top models perfect for small scale tailgating, to the huge (and expensive) 37 3/4 inch “Ranch” version. There are models that have been integrated into rolling tables, and now, there are all sorts of designer colors that you can choose from, although I think that black is perfection itself.


The Ranch in action

While Weber offers a both a 18.5″ and a 22.5″ version of the kettle grill, I recommend that you stick with the 22.5 model. It’s only about $20 more than the smaller model and doesn’t really take up any more space. You’ll really want the extra grilling surface. They actually make a model between the $700 Ranch and the 22.5″, the 26.75 inch grill, but it will set you back about $150 more than the 22.5″. Unless you do really large volume grilling and you have the money to burn (pardon the pun), I suggest that you’ll be happy with the 22.5″ model. I use the less expensive model pictured above, the ‘Silver”, It has a simple dish-shaped pan for ash collection. You can certainly spend another $40 and get the “Gold” model, which has an enclosed ash collection system. It’s a little neater solution to ash disposal.

While most people use it for simple open-top grilling of things like hot dogs, steaks and burgers, the kettle is great for smoking using indirect heat (you don’t really want to cook steaks and burgers under the closed lid because it’s not necessary and you want to control flare-ups). This is a technique where you pile the coals on one side of the grill and put the meat to be smoked on the opposite side and keep the lid closed except when you add coals and spritz your meat. Some people even put a drip pan under the meat to help facilitate cleanup and to add moisture and steam.

There are two things that you should get if you are doing a lot of smoking. One is a hinged grill (some models come with them):

Weber hinged grillThis allows you to add coals for indirect heating without disturbing the meat that you’re cooking.

The other thing that you might consider is this handy little thing (it will set you back around $50):


This little charcoal basket is specially designed to get the most out of your coals. It extends the life of the coals by enclosing them. There’s a handy little container for adding liquids like beer, wine or fruit juices that can help infuse the meat with additional flavor. When you use one of these, you don’t have to add coals nearly as often and you’re able to leave the lid on longer, thereby preventing heat from escaping.

The kettle is also useful for adding smoke flavor to barbeque beans, seafood and veggies.

Even if you already have a gas grill, spending $90 – $150 for a Weber kettle is a great investment as, with proper care, it can last you for years.

Don’t settle for cheap imitators. The Weber is made from thick stainless steel and is coated with a baked-on porcelain enamel, not simple paint. They aren’t that much more expensive than the cheap imitators and they are much better built and long-lived.

You should also invest in one of these:

Weber cover

All hail the venerable Weber!

Cookbook of the day – Steven Raichlen’s BBQ USA


BBQ USA: 425 Fiery Recipes from All Across America

by Steven Raichlen


  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company (April 22, 2003)
  • ISBN-10: 0761120157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761120155

    This hefty paperback (which clocks in at almost 800 pages) is Steven Raichlen attempts to survey the incredible regional variety of American barbecue, and it overwhelmingly succeeds.

    From the low country barbecue of South Carolina to the brisket of Texas, from Memphis pulled pork to Santa Maria central California tri-tip, from the brats of Wisconsin to Miami’s lecon asado, pork marinated in adobo and garlic and wrapped in banana leaves, you’ll get well-documented rubs, seasonings and cooking techniques from across the USA.

    Raichlen also provides plenty of history of barbecue from the various regions of the country. You even get specific recommendations for restaurants, diners, shacks and various eateries in each region.

    If you are a barbecue fan, this is a must-have.

    I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July and my condolences to the family, friends, fans and fellow sportspeople of Steve McNair, the ex-NFL quarterback who was found shot to death this afternoon in downtown Nashville in his rented condominium.


    RIP – Steve McNair

    Cookbook of the day – Let The Flames Begin


    Let the Flames Begin: Tips, Techniques and Recipes for Real Live Fire Cooking

    by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby


  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Co.; Reissue edition (8 Aug 2003)  
  • ISBN-10: 0393050874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393050875

    Chris Schlesinger is the chef/owner of the East Coast Grill in Cambridge Mass. and three other restaurants and is also a food author with several other books under his belt and John Willoughby is executive editor of Gourmet magazine.  This book  is a followup to the previous grilling books, The Thrill of the Grill and License to Grill, and is a great overview of the art of grilling and smoking and a wide-ranging selection of well-chosen recipes.

     From making “hobo packs” to prosciutto-stuffed grilled chicken tenderloins with fresh figs and pesto butter, both traditionalists and internationalists can find flavorful dishes to prepare.

    You get a good primer on the various grilling and smoking techniques and it’s obvious that both authors are aficionados of grilling wherever they encounter it, whether it be in South Carolina or the streets of Kingston.

    In this prime grilling season, I hope that you will consider picking up the book.

    BTW, I have a first edition of this book. This has a different cover. You might find it with this cover:


    Here are your authors:



    Portrait of John Willoughby by Romulo Yanes

    Cookbook of the day – How To Grill

    How To Grill

    How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques

    by Steven Raichlen


  • Publisher: Workman Publishing Company; illustrated edition edition (May 1, 2001)
  • ISBN-10: 0761120149
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761120148

    Perhaps you’ve seen Steven Raichlen on his show Primal Grill. If you liked it, you’ll love this book. Lavishly photographed, with step-by-step photographs, you’ll learn by watching, almost as if he were over your shoulder. You’ll learn how to barbeque a whole pig, how to build different types of fires, how to judge the temperature of the grill using the hand technique (no, you don’t rest your hand on the grill!).  He covers pulled pork (one of my specialties), and does a reasonable job of covering the world’s different grilling techniques, from jerk to churrasco to yakitori. Even experienced grillmeisters can benefit from this colorful book. This isn’t an “artsy” book – the photographs are instructional in nature, not evocative, although there are some shots of grilled meats and veggies that are likely to get your pulse racing.

    It seems appropriate on July 1st to recommend that everyone pick up this book before their 4th of July festivities. You might find something “out-of-the-box” with which to dazzle your guests.