Billy Durney knows his way around a fire. His restaurant, Hometown BBQ in Red Hook, Brooklyn, is all about low, slow barbecue cooking. But like the rest of us, Durney grew up grilling steaks, chicken, and burgers on a charcoal grill, and he thinks taming flames is fun.
“Fire is awesome,” he says. “It’s primal. It does its thing. This is what our ancestors did; we just have to get out of the way.”
Even so, it’s not like the guy was born with tongs in his hand. He had to learn to master flame and flesh over time. The first step in becoming a promising student of backyard grilling, Durney says, is simple: “Don’t be afraid. Cooking should be fearless.”
That means having no qualms about your ability to build a vigorous fire without lighter fluid. It means keeping seasoning simple and building out just the right toolkit. It means heading to the old-fashioned butcher shop and quizzing your meat guy about cuts and cooking methods.
It also means not rushing the process, even when the flames burn hot. When you go to grill, chill out, says Durney, and give yourself plenty of time: “Have a cocktail. Just settle down. Grilling should be fun.”
Kind of like this: “The other night, I was outside, grilling,” he said. “The moon was out, and I was drinking cider. I thought, life is good.”
Durney’s time at the grill has steered him towards the best methods for turning out meat and vegetables that make the most of charcoal’s serious 1,000°F heat—and he’s telling us about them here. These are tips about arranging and adding coals to create hot and cooler zones, about letting wood burn off its particles ‘til it smokes clean, and about paying attention to the internal temperature of your meats. Because all the fun and thrill of being a backyard grilling whiz, the greatest grilled food comes back to technical principles.
“I cook to a science,” he said. “That's how you make great BBQ.”