Steven Shreve, a healthcare consultant and bona fide nerd, says that if he was going to be a dinosaur, he’d have been a T. rex. Just for all the meat. But one that grilled. Even before he started grilling for himself, he’d gravitate toward all the restaurants that cooked with wood fire. Then about 10 years ago, his father-in-law gave him a grill, and he discovered that “it’s a lot of fun to play with fire,” he says. “I just ran with it.”
What was the big draw to grilling?
It takes a lot of skill for grilling and there’s a real art to it, especially now that I’m diagnosed with kidney disease. I have to change the way I cook. It’s like a whole new world. I have to develop a way of grilling and barbecuing that doesn’t involve huge amounts of salt.
How’s it going without salt?
I feel like I’ve become pretty successful at it, because everybody I cook for hasn’t mentioned the salt. You start to taste your food in a different way when you take the salt out of it. It may seem weird, but you get a more natural palette. You’re tasting more of what you’re eating.
So what replaced the salt?
We didn’t look to replace the salt, we just pumped up some of the other spices and flavors we would normally use. Usually instead of being salt-based, they’re more paprika-based now. We use a smoked paprika. Even on its own, it’s very delicious.
How much paprika?
It’s not a one-to-one swap — salt for paprika — it’s just the main flavor that substitutes. I think paprika from a spice point of view is strong like salt. If you use too much, it will overpower the whole mixture. Whereas with a more subtle seasoning, if you do not use plenty, you don’t even notice it’s there. I think that’s why paprika’s a good replacement and good driver of flavor.
What’s your favorite rub that you’ve made so far?
My wife usually makes the rub. I usually do the fun part. It’s a family affair. She used paprika and some brown sugar and a few other things and, after we cooked with it, it came out tasting like barbecue sauce. It was a dry rub barbecue sauce. We said that’s the one! We tried it on pork, beef, chicken. We put it on anything we put on the grill. It’s the best of barbecue dry rub but with the Kansas City barbecue sweet flavor.
What about chicken?
With chicken, one of my favorite things is we actually take boneless skinless chicken breasts — which goes against everything conventional wisdom says — and we use just a little of our salt-free lemon pepper seasoning, and then I baste it with a butter sauce using a sprig of rosemary as my brush. I can’t take credit for that. I stole it from Steven Raichlen on one of his TV shows and, like everything, we modified it and made it our own. Any time we’re basting, I run to the garden right behind the grill and grab a sprig. You get some interesting flavor profiles that way.
Isn’t rosemary really strong?
Using the sprig kind of puts that hint of rosemary on whatever you’re basting. It doesn’t have to be included in the rub, where it can be very powerful. So it’s a nice way to put that flavor into something without overpowering your entire dish. Then what you can do is lay the sprig down on your grill grate and close your lid for a minute and it’s almost like you have a rosemary smoker. That adds a little bit of flavor too, and that’s really nice.
What if you want some heat?
My wife and I really love chili peppers. We grow our own. As we pick them, I smoke them in a big batch on my Pit Barrel, and then we put them in a dehydrator and store them. Then when we need it, we make our own chili powder out of those habaneros and jalapenos. We call that Smoked Fire Dust, because it will light you up. It includes a couple of other ingredients — touch of paprika, little bit of brown sugar, and a few other herbs. I use that almost every day.
What’s the myth about spices?
A lot of times, you see a recipe that says to put a rub on a piece of meat and let it sit overnight. It’s totally false with spices. They won’t soak into the meat like a salt.
So when do you apply it?
Put the rub on right before you put it on the grill and add more as you go, because some will burn off naturally.
Your advice to new spice dabblers?
You can’t go wrong from experimenting. You might find something you don’t like, but that’s okay. Even bad grilling is better than a lot of other food.