Chef Michael Symon knows a thing or two about cooking like a guy. He owns a restaurant named Roast, authored an upcoming booked titled Carnivore, and won more than 83% of his showdowns on Iron Chef America. And that’s only a a sliver of his impressive culinary resume. He’s currently working with Knob Creek to promote their newest addition to the brand, Knob Creek Rye.
If you’ve been following along for any length of time, you’d know I’m a big fan of Knob Creek’s latest hooch. It’s already been named “Best Rye Whiskey” at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, so I’m not alone in this new addiction. At 100-proof, it’s perfect for cocktails, sipping, and even cooking. That’s where Chef Symon comes into play. He’s created a line of signature drinks, but is also happy to talking grilling with booze. It’s not something I’ve done much of beyond beer, so I was thrilled when Guyism was able to swap tips one-sidedly with the master.
Guyism: Let’s get this out of the way first; does cooking with great booze actually make much difference? I hate to waste Knob Creek if any old rye or bourbon will suffice.
Michael Symon: Cooking with superior quality ingredients always makes a difference. I always say cook with what you love, and for me, it’s Knob Creek. When you’re cooking for your friends and family, you want to use the freshest, best quality ingredients available. Knob Creek is aged for nine years, so a lot more natural sugars are extracted from the wood barrels. This makes a difference in taste; the flavors are bigger and fuller than other bourbons.
G: What are the main flavors that get added when cooking with whiskey?
MS: Because bourbon is so rich, it will hold up in a majority of what you cook it in. After that, its time to take your pick, sweet or spicy? Knob Creek Bourbon is aged for nine years and bottled at 100 proof adding a big, full taste in your dishes. When you add Knob Creek Rye into the mix you are creating a dish with a spicy smoothness. Each compliment meats and dishes excellently, it’s your choice as what flavor you prefer.
G: Which meats work best for boozy recipes, and are their any I should avoid?
MS: When you compare cooking with bourbon to cooking with other types of spirits, they simply don’t compare to whiskey. Whiskey provides a more full taste, which lends itself well to all types of meats, from game to beef to pork. Personally, I love pork and incorporating whiskey in those dishes makes a great combination. The fat in the pork soaks up all the big, full flavors from Knob Creek and creates a fully mixed palette.
G: When it comes to toppings, which compliment the whiskey best and which will downright ruin a meal?
MS: When incorporating additional ingredients to accompany your whiskey base you want to make sure you compliment the flavors that lie within the whiskey. Knob Creek Rye is extraordinarily smooth and has a great spiciness to it; to bring out that spiciness topping a dish with a hot pepper like a jalapeño or adding a citrus like fresh orange juice will bring out the spice in both and create a more uniformed fresh citrus spicy flavor. Knob Creek Bourbon has a slightly sweet flavor that is heartier than the Rye, which pairs well with sweet items such as caramel and fruits. Toppings that would tend to ruin a meal would be incorporating any flavors that clash with the whiskey’s natural profile and nose.
G: How many whiskey pork tenderloins would I have to eat to get drunk?
MS: Ha, I felt this question coming on! Actually, some of the alcohol content in the bourbon burns off during the whole cooking process, so you’ll be in good shape. But nothing goes better with grilling than having a nice cocktail by your side. But please, do this responsibly — you’re dealing with open flames!
G: Tailgating is typically beer-focused, but that needn’t be the case. Do you have an ideal whiskey cocktail for parking lot partying?
MS: Whiskey is a great spirit to drink when tailgating; it seems to have a nice warming effect and also mixes great into cold cocktails. One of my favorite cocktails that I created is called the Knob Creek Rye® and Orange Tumbler. It uses orange, rosemary, sugar and soda – I love how those sweet flavors are muddled together and nicely blend with the spiciness of Knob Creek Rye. And it’s easy to mix up in the parking lot, which is key for tailgating.
G: On a more general level, what’s the most frequent mistake weekend grilling warriors make?
MS: Lack of patience. I see so many of my friends turning and tossing the meat around on the grill like it’s a football. I would suggest cooking the meat at a medium temperature and letting it rest for a bit. The more you turn and disrupt the meat the more the flavors escape. Let the grill do the work and give the meat some time to absorb the flavors.
G: And two very loosely related: is it ok to put ketchup on a hot dog, and how bad of an idea is the Ham Dogger?
MS: Absolutely, you eat that dog any way you want! As for a ham dogger, I am not going to tell you how to eat your dog but a hamburger is a hamburger and a hot dog is a hot dog.
Simply have read that won’t suddenly make you a grill master, but it certainly gives you some idea of ways to impress your buddies at the next tailgate. Plus, now you know that it’s OK to put ketchup on your spiral cut hot dogs and that the Hamdogger is an abomination! If you have any other grilling questions, leave them in the comments for the the next time I can corner a chef. And if you’re brave enough to take a run at mixing the Orange Tumbler cocktail he mentioned, here’s the recipe.