Call it the latest outbreak of a smoke fever sweeping a nation hungry for barbecue that goes beyond meat. Or call it the next big thing for one of the New World's great vegetable gifts to Planet Barbecue: potatoes hit the grill.
First came the smoked potatoes with black garlic jam and ramp (wild leek) aioli at Bar Tartine in San Francisco. Then the hickory-smoked potato soup--tarted up with buttermilk and sherry vinegar--at Mintwood Place in Washington, D.C. And who could forget the smoked mashed potatoes at Wiley Dufresne's iconoclastic eatery, WD-50 on New York's Lower East Side?
Not that any of this comes as a surprise to members of this barbecue community. No, we've been smoking and grilling potatoes for decades.
What is it about spuds that makes them so irresistible for grilling?
- Well, first, there's the mild flavor--think of the potato as a sort of sponge (or blank canvas) that readily absorbs any smoke, spice, or fire flavor you throw at it.
- Then there's the texture--or more precisely, the contrast of textures. For a well-roasted potato offers the perfect contrast of crustiness on the outside and a luscious, luxurious, soft and creamy center.
- Then there's the potato's natural affinity for the meats we love to smoke and grill: baking potatoes with steak; mashed potatoes with smoked meatloaf; potato salad with pork shoulder and spareribs.
- Finally, there's a potato's incredible versatility--it's delectable direct grilled, indirect grilled, smoke-roasted, smoked, roasted in the embers, and of course mashed and smashed.
February is National Potato Month. It's not too late to celebrate. To get you started, here's a smoke-roasted stuffed baked potato.
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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is BarbecueBible.com.