8 Simple, Invaluable Grilling Tips From Chef Adam Perry Lang
LA’s BBQ king talks coal v. gas, his favorite cuts and more
That Adam Perry Lang is a bona fide grillmaster is indisputable.
His summer BBQ sessions in the lot next to Jimmy Kimmel’s studio have sated some 2,000 visitors a week for the past four summers. His new brasserie, APL Restaurant, is home to a 1,000-square-foot dry-aging chamber where some 22,000 pounds of beef are getting their funk on. He’s penned three best-selling books on the art of grilling.
Hell, the dude even forges his own steak knives.
“I started a forging shop just to make the knives for my restaurant. Then I set up a metal shop with my mentor — a master swordsman — which is now the APL Knife Shop,” he says. The blades are culled from AEB-L Swedish stainless, which is used in the world’s best straight razors. It can be sharpened down to the molecule.
But we rang up Lang to talk grilling advice, and that’s what he gave us. Below, he delivers eight simple, invaluable lessons that will help intrepid grillers everywhere step up their game this summer.
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Rely, above all, on your senses
“For me, the a-ha moment came when I realized that are no real rules,” says Lang. “My big breakthrough came when I realized I could relax.” In other words: rely on your senses. Smell, obviously, but sound, too. If you’re doing Southern-style BBQ, you don’t want to hear a sizzle. If you’re doing steaks or burgers, you do. “You have to listen. Sizzle means I’m going to have color and darkness on it, and no sizzle means it’s going to be more mellow.”
Butter makes everything golden brown and delicious
“In terms of visually, I’m a big GBD-man: golden brown and delicious. So, depending on my guests’ dietary restrictions, I like to finish with butter. Not so much for the fat, but for the milk solids. I brush butter at the end to make it more golden and beautiful.”
Reconsider your thoughts on gas vs. charcoal
“My latest breakthrough is that cooking with charcoal and coal in this day and age is highly overrated it terms of its delivery. Back in the day, we didn’t have gas grills with the BTUs to create a really great grill experience outdoors. That was the appeal of charcoal: it was the only thing that really radiated heat. But the reality these days is that it’s just a different flavor profile.”
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Forgo the sous vide — most of the time
“Sous vide is quite interesting for certain things where the protein-to-collagen ratio is quite subtle, like wild game that’s really lean. You want it to tenderize but not overcook with outside heat. It’s also great for lobster and crustaceans. Other than that, forget the sous vide, because you’re doing a step that’s completely unnecessary. It’s an interesting tool, but it’s not what outdoor flavors are about. You’ll get it pink from end to end, but who wants it that way? I want to have different flavors and textures on a steak, for example. I want more browning and development on the outside. Cooking it properly with good technique will make you look better.”
Don’t sleep on a great pair of tongs
“They are an extension of your hands,” says Lang. “You can tell a lot about how something is cooking by touch, so a great, sturdy pair of tongs is important.” You want something with the fortitude to move a big piece of meat. Go to a commercial kitchen store like Surfas and get a pair that a chef would buy. “It won’t be too expensive and it’ll get the job done.”
This summer, go big. As in a big cut of meat.
“When I was growing up it was London Broil,” he says. “It’s a thickness. It’s a one-inch cut. It’s what I do at APL Restaurant. I cook everything in the spirit of London Broil, which I call the Brooklyn Broil because most of it was cooked in the bottom shelf of my Grandma’s broiler. Take a huge piece, throw it on the grill, and you can cook for like 15-20 people with one piece, really focus on it, and then take it off the grill and slice it for everyone. Most summer grilling isn’t done with great tableware, so don’t give someone a nice cut of meat with some crummy knife and fork. The chef has the sharp knife. Use it to cut bite-size portions and give everyone a break.”
Speaking of sharp knives, you really only need one
“Instead of buying 15 knives, buy one really good knife and put it some place where it’s not going to get banged around,” he says. Then take a moment to figure out how to sharpen it. “A lot of my journey with cooking is all about intent,” says Lang. “If you’re going to do something, do it as best you can. You don’t have to be the best in the world, but if you have a good knife and keep it as sharp as possible, it should last you generations. Do some edge maintenance after every use, because you want it ready to go the next time you use it.”
The most important thing to look for in a butcher? A friendly face.
“You want someone who is going to listen to you. The neighborhood butchers nowadays, with the exception of a few, they’re all tapping from the same sources. So if you get a smiling face, they’re going to work for you. You get a grumpy face they’re just going to try to sell you what they got.”