It all started with a pineapple and a trip to Miami.
Not the most obvious of beginnings for a savory fall recipe, I know, but one nonetheless began to take shape amidst the palm trees and swimming-pool reflections of grill master Steven Raichlen’s back yard this February. We were there to shoot a couple of recipes and do an interview for his book Planet Barbecue. (If you’re looking for a world of knowledge about cooking with live fire, your search is over.)
One of the recipes he wanted to do was a pineapple brushed with melted butter, dusted with sugar and cinnamon, and cooked on a rotisserie over coals in a kettle grill. Even with the candied smell of the pineapple wafting about and the 13—13!—different grilling implements making a home at Casa Raichlen, nothing could distract my attention from that rotisserie. Visions of grandeur rotated slowly in my head. A tax return sat in my bank account.
The rotisserie arrived four days after I returned from Miami.
The first thing I made was the pineapple, and there’s no doubt that it’s a crowd pleaser. Plus, it’s fun to catch your guests off guard with a comment like, “Dessert’s almost ready. Just need to grab it off the grill.” But soon I stumbled upon another idea in the book for an onion-stuffed, spit-roasted pork shoulder. The recipe is hardly a recipe at all: All you need is a 4-5 lb. pork shoulder or loin, a medium sliced onion, 3 sliced garlic cloves (or more if you prefer things vampire proof), some sea salt, some good black pepper, and butcher’s twine.
The idea is to butterfly the shoulder and then pound the halves lightly to flatten them. Then you liberally season the inner meat with salt and pepper, place the onion and garlic slices on one side, and cinch the whole thing up with butcher’s twine around the roast crosswise.
For the grill, you’ll want to soak about 2 cups of wood chips for at least one hour before draining. You can use whatever variety you like, but after a few turns (<–hey-O!) with this recipe, I prefer cherry or apple best. Then fire up a chimney starter’s worth of hardwood charcoal. Your bottom grill vent should be completely open.
At this point I will freely admit that if you do not own a rotisserie you can still make a delicious albeit slightly less entertaining dish. If you are going the rotisserie route, skewer the roast lengthwise. Separate the hot coals into equal piles on either side of the grill* and place a drip pan in the middle. When you’re ready to cook, place the soaked chips in equal amounts on top of both piles of coals. Then attach the spit to the grill parallel to the coals, turn on the motor, and cover.
Bonus Tip from Casa Raichlen! Be sure to put the vent on the lid of your grill in the middle of the coals, over the meat—not over one bed of coals. It’s seems simple and obvious, but I had never thought about it really and had the urge to high-five him when he mentioned it.
I start checking the roast with a digital thermometer after 45 minutes to see where it’s at, and continue cooking accordingly until it reaches a safe temperature. Allow the meat to rest at least five minutes before removing the twine, slicing, and serving.
If you don’t have a rotisserie, you can set up the grill exactly the same way and place the roast on the center of the grill rack.
What I love about this approach is the rich smoky flavor you get from the grilling method, along with the versatility of the technique. The first time I made it, it was terrific. The second time, I put rosemary sprigs under the butcher’s twine and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. Last week I rubbed garam masala on the inside and outside of a pork loin and added apple slices to the onions and garlic inside. Served with a curry rice and a salad dressed with simple lemon vinaigrette made for a spicy twist on our fall menu.
And that reminds me of another bonus of making a little grilling equipment upgrade: It motivates you to keep the coals glowing long after Labor Day.
* You can buy officially licensed grilling accoutrements for moving hot coals around, but I found a child’s garden hoe at the hardware store for $4 that does the trick just fun. Well, after my wife spray-painted the blade black. Something just didn’t seem right about a purple grilling tool.