Originally posted on for Huffington Post
Meatless Monday: Barbecue Guru Steven Raichlen Fires Up the Meatless Grill
“You’ve got a fire, bed of blazing embers, a large hunk of red meat — those are thrilling to behold,” says grilling guru Steven Raichlen. “You get this incredible aroma of roasting flesh, smoke, it brings you makes your mouth water, your nostrils flare. It’s part of the human DNA.” But humans can evolve. Raichlen, an ardent carnivore, has been getting into Meatless Monday.
How could such a thing happen? Raichlen’s daughter, dietician for the Miami Heat, adheres religiously to Meatless Monday,” says the “Primal Grill” star.”There’s so many reasons — for the health of the planet, for a lower carbon footprint, for the health of the human being.”
Raichlen is about more than meat. Dean and founder of Barbecue University, Raichlen got his graduate degree in French literature and studied at famed French culinary schools including La Varenne and Le Cordon Bleu. His 28 cookbooks have earned 5 James Beard Awards. he’s author of the novel “Island Apart.” He’s an “Iron Chef” champ.
What his hardcore fans care about, though, is “barbecuing a big, monolithic hunk of meat.” Raichlen, a “global grilling fanatic,” wants them to taste the “sophisticated tradition of meatless grilling. It’s not fringe food. It’s totally mainstream.” And totally yummy. Raichlen grills a repertoire of meatless wonders including jalapeno quesadillas, Thai rice cakes, Indian tandoori potatoes and Indonesian grilled tofu with peanut sauce.
What makes vegetables so delicious on the grill? “Caramelization,” says the man who owns upwards of 30 grills. “You burn the plant sugars slightly, in a controlled way. It makes roasted corn taste sweeter than boiled corn. Roasted pepper, when the skin is charred, taste supernaturally sweet and smokey and flavorful. There’s also a process of evaporation — you cook out some of the water and concentrate the flavor.”
Raichlen still makes your mouth water and nostrils flare, he’s just doing it with dishes that give vegetables the grilled glory they deserve. Get used to it. “You’ll see more people incorporating grilled vegetables into meat dishes in America,” he predicts.”Everyone sort of realizes a steady diet of meat is not the best thing for your health or the best thing for your planet.”
Raichlen’s still an ardent carnivore. But he’s cooking and eating meat a little less often and making vegetables the focus a little more. “I think about my daughter and son-in-law raising three kids for whom the notion of Meatless Monday is going to seem as natural as the sun rising in the east,” he says. “I think that’s great.”