Summer's in full swing and BBQ is booming so much that both the Weber and Traeger grill companies recently filed IPOs to go public. These days, I guess it makes sense to enjoy a backyard meal at home. The cost of eating out just saw its biggest surge in 40 years. But for those who can afford it, please do visit your favorite restaurants. They need the money. COVID quarantines pummeled the industry and not just because of closures and restrictions. In 2020, American food spending overall dropped to historic lows. Of course, not everyone's pinching pennies. Reservations for the new $800 tasting menus at Per Se and Masa restaurants in New York City are booked out for months. And the world's oldest bourbon, circa 1760, was just auctioned off for $137,000. Yowza. If you got it, spend it.
July 4th is one of my favorite holidays. With hot grills and cool fireworks, it's a pyromaniac's dream! Before you settle into this weekend's festivities, have a look at these top grilling tips from BBQ Hall Of Famer Meathead Goldwyn [full disclosure: Meathead owns AmazingRibs.com, which publishes this newsletter, but he doesn't work on the newsletter.] If you haven't tried reverse searing your burgers, you really should. And lemme guess, you're going to sip a cold beverage with that burger, right? Go ahead. It's been a tough year. In fact, a new report shows that the pandemic drove Americans to drink more alcohol than ever this year. Just don't rely on getting your alcohol to go if you live in the northeast. Pennsylvania and New York ended those policies. But Colorado extended them for another 4 years! Coloradans really know how to party. They must've learned something Californians, who not only revolutionized the American wine industry, but are now remaking the weed industry. Napa Valley winemakers are working with Cali weed growers to establish "cannabis appellations" in a new state sponsored program. I can already hear the connoisseurs claiming, "You can really taste the terroir in this Humboldt County kush, man." "Yeah, dude, my Mendocino indica is bursting with blueberry terpenes." There might be a hint of truth in those statements. Cannabis happens to be loaded with terpenes, a class of aroma compounds common in herbs, spices, and fruits, including blueberries. Interesting fact: blueberries and coriander are both high in linalool, a terpene that gives them their floral, citrusy aromas. Linalool is so prevalent in blueberries and coriander that adding a pinch of ground coriander to blueberry muffins or pancakes can make them taste more blueberry-y. Seriously. Science shows that it works. Try it on whatever blueberry dish you're having this weekend. Because what's more American than blueberries, strawberries, and whipped cream on the 4th of July? Want to find out? Take a peek at these amazing visual graphics of the American diet over the past 50 years. It's all there in red, white, and blue: Which foods have fallen out of favor and which we've fallen in love with. Hint: yogurt overtook cottage cheese long ago, and American cheese still reigns supreme above cheddar, mozzarella, and all other cheeses. Happy Birthday, America!
One of my favorite junk foods, Cheez-Its, turns 100 this year. Can you believe these crackers were originally invented as a kind of shelf-stable Welsh rarebit? In buzzier news: cicadas are back this summer and may be coming to a menu near you. Chefs in the eastern US have gone crazy for cicadas, serving them in everything from tacos to sushi. They're local, sustainable, and nutritious. But delicious? Possibly. Plant-based? Definitely not. And that means Chef Daniel Humm won't be serving them at New York City's Eleven Madison Park when the three-Michelin star hotspot reopens this month as a vegan restaurant. Humm has pivoted from foie gras torchon to clay roasted beets. The popular recipe website Epicurious has also announced that it will stop publishing beef recipes in the name of environmental sustainability. "Does anyone really need another beef recipe?" ask the editors. Put that question to this year's Barbecue Hall of Fame inductees and the answer is probably a resounding yes! Maybe Epicurious and chef Humm are more interested in hot trends like mushrooms. We're living in the Golden Age of Shrooms, where everything from mushroom jerky, mushroom bacon and mushroom beer to medicinal mushroom coffee and therapeutic psychedelic shrooms are driving the functional mushroom market to an estimated $70 billion. Yowza. Even their fungi cousins, truffles, have been in the limelight lately. French scientists have found a way to cultivate rare white truffles, which had previously grown wild only in a few coveted regions of Europe. Get ready for white truffle tagliolini to go global. Meanwhile, on the other end of the food spectrum, canned SPAM has sparked the interest of artisanal butchers. Can the much maligned marvel of canned pork be improved through reverse engineering? Watch this video to find out.
There's a new taste in town: kokumi. Japanese scientists have identified a taste receptor for kokumi, so you're likely to hear more about it as research continues. Kokumi is similar to umami but more about mouthfeel. It can be described as the mouth-coating fullness you get from foods like chicken soup and Gouda cheese. Kokumi is also what makes sautéed onions taste so good. To see what I'm talking about, try some sautéed wild ramps while they're still in season. Use these tips for foraging wild ramps in your region. And if you're sautéeing ramps in olive oil, choose your fat wisely. Extra light? Extra virgin? Pure? This article points you in the right direction for the best olive oil. If you're more likely to find ramps at a local restaurant, go ahead and book a reservation. But go easy on the place if they don't have ramps. Most independent restaurants are still struggling to survive the pandemic, and now they're facing a major labor shortage. Over the past year, nearly 2 million restaurant workers found jobs elsewhere, and many aren't coming back. Take it easy on your local brewery too. It's been a tough year for beer. Total craft beer production is down for the first time ever in the industry's history. Let's hope craft beer sales pick up as people start going out to brewpubs again. That's what's happening with hot dogs. Ballparks are reopening, and demand for ballpark franks is going up. But the overall pork supply is down, which means that pork prices are rising. If you're a fan of homemade pork BBQ, you might want to stock up on pork shoulder now before prices climb higher. And while you're shopping for grillables, pick up some cheese. Salty, firm halloumi cheese is one of the few varieties that grills up beautifully, and halloumi just been given the distinction of PDO status by European lawmakers. That means cheap imitations can't be labeled as "halloumi." Skip the "halloumi style" knockoffs, and get the good stuff from Cyprus. It's reasonably priced and worth every penny.
It's not every day that a new pasta shape comes along. But podcaster Dan Pashman's dislike of spaghetti drove him to create a new, more pleasing shape he calls cascatelli (waterfalls). If you try it, maybe toss the pasta with a creamy, fatty sauce and serve it with a big Barolo wine. Trust me: it will work. Scientists have finally explained the mysteries of why fatty foods pair so well with bold red wines. Or maybe you're more of a whisky lover than a wine lover. In that case, have you ever wondered, just what is Japanese whisky? A new set of regulations helps to set the record straight. (Hint: it's like Scotch, from Japan). But the big news this month is in the restaurant industry. American restaurants are finally getting some financial relief from the pandemic bludgeoning: The new federal stimulus package includes $28.6 billion in government grants, most of it specifically earmarked for smaller restaurants. As our favorite places reopen, let's hope they're able to get all the ingredients they need. A shipping container shortage is wreaking havoc on the food supply chain. Food shortages are unlikely, but if another giant cargo ship gets stuck in the Suez canal, who knows? The past year has been a major stress test of food systems around the world. Thankfully, there is mounting evidence that the pandemic is actually strengthening global food systems not weakening them. Some other good news: mayonnaise is helping to heal endangered sea turtles in Israel. Who knew? Could 2021 be the year that mayo gets a health halo? Stranger things have happened.
If you love grapefruit, now is the time to enjoy it. Not only is February peak citrus month: grapefruit prices may soon go up. Thanks to this month's devastating winter storms in Texas, a big citrus state, analysts expect grapefruit prices to rise about 10% over the next month. February is also Black History Month, and Kingsford is celebrating it with a new scholarship program. The charcoal giant's Preserve The Pit program is helping Black Americans start new barbecue businesses. Note: The application deadline is March 1. For existing restaurant owners just trying to stay afloat, another country-wide allocation of money may be imminent: the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill making its way through Congress includes $25 billion earmarked specifically for small and mid-size restaurants. Elsewhere in Congress, lawmakers have been busy investigating the health aspects of baby food. A House Subcommittee recently found that several popular baby food brands contain high levels of arsenic and other toxic metals. Maybe it's time to start making your baby food at home. And if you're concerned about the environmental impact of eating meat, or just want to try something new, get ready for eco-friendly 3D printed ribeye steaks. The world's first cruelty-free cuts of lab-grown beef (can they even be called cuts?) were recently unveiled by Israeli startup Aleph Farms. Even animal fats will soon be produced in labs instead of feedlots: London-based Hoxton Farms just received £2.7 million ($3.7 million USD) in funding to develop lab-grown animal fats for the plant-based meat industry. It's a brave new world of food and drink out there. Distillers are hacking the whiskey aging process, and the environmental benefits of mushrooms are being reconsidered. In the name of sustainability, engineers are using mycelium, the root system of edible mushrooms, to create alternative building materials. Check out the video below to see just how durable and flame retardant mushroom bricks can be. Maybe one day instead of inhabiting apartments and townhouses we'll all be living like woodland gnomes in little mushroom homes.
2021 is off to a rollicking start. Earlier this month, presidential election protesters stormed the US capitol, while in India farmers overtook Delhi's iconic Red Fort to protest the government's sweeping agricultural reforms. And somehow, the beloved and seemingly unimpeachable American Girl Scout Cookies have been caught up in a child labor scandal related to the use of palm oil. Thin mints on thin ice! Plus, just last week more than 760,000 pounds of Hot Pockets were recalled due to potential contamination with glass. Yikes. It's enough to drive you to drink! So much for dry January. With all the stress, even the US government agrees that we should not be drinking any less. The USDA's latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans reject the advice of its scientific Advisory Committee to limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day. Up to two drinks a day for men (one for women) is just fine thankyouverymuch. Walmart may soon make it even easier to imbibe: The retail giant is testing a program to place a cooler at the door of your house, making grocery delivery just that much simpler. Oh, that enterprising Walton family! Finally, some good news for you BBQ insiders: James Beard Award winning pitmaster Rodney Scott has gone and spilled the beans on his #1 must-have BBQ ingredient. Is it salt? Smoke? MSG? Answer in the story below. If you think Rodney got it wrong, let me know YOUR top pick at [email protected] Here's to 2021 just getting better and better. —Dave Joachim
In news land, it's time for the annual best-of lists, year-end roundups, and food trend predictions for the year ahead. You'll find a few of those in this issue along with surveys of how the pandemic completely reshaped the food world from farming and food processing to restaurants and home cooking. And it reshaped our waistlines.
But maybe you're more interested in a deep dive. Maybe you want an answer to the most vexing question of the past 30 years: Why in the world did McDonald's change the recipe for its completely delicious French fries? Find out, along with the original recipe below. You can also see why restaurant servers and bartenders will soon be sharing their tips with cooks and dishwashers, thanks to a new Labor Department rule.
And get ready for lab-grown chicken! A lucky few recently tasted the world's first cultured chicken in Singapore, and the manufacturer is seeking U.S. approval. But the FDA has more important things to worry about, like salad dressing. After 70 years of regulating French dressing, the FDA wants to stop telling food manufacturers what needs to be in the bottle.
Yes, 2020 has been a crazy year: price fixing in the peanut world, sexual harassment in the elite wine world, and celebrity chef David Chang won $1 million on the TV show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As if he needs it. The good news: Chang gave it all away to support struggling restaurant workers. More good news: Chefs have found a new place to serve meals while their restaurants are closed and it's too cold for outdoor dining. You guessed it: Vacant hotel rooms! Have any other ideas for keeping your favorite restaurant from going under? Drop me a line at [email protected] Happy New Year!
As America’s biggest food holiday approaches, let’s all give Thanks for 2020 coming to a close in a few weeks. And for the new bacon-scented beer from Waffle House. If anything can help us through this next decade, it’s a 6.5% red ale called Bacon & Kegs.
And there's some great news in the world of American barbecue: 83-year-old pitmaster Desiree Robinson was inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame, the first Black woman to receive the honor. Good on ya, Desiree. Plus, José R. Ralat, the Taco Editor at Texas Monthly (dream job!), just released his sprawling guide to the state's many styles of tacos from carnitas and costra to trompo and West Indian. Hellz yeah.
Let's give Thanks, too, for the 20-pound turkeys that survived Thanksgiving this year. It seems small birds are in demand during lockdown. And if you ever wondered why the holiday bird smells so good, roasting away in the oven with alluring aromas of crispy browned skin, Harold McGee has the answer in his new book on the fascinating science of scent.
Lastly, I need to apologize about two other science guys in our previous issue: Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil. We had a snafu with our ads and these two TV doctors showed up before we could filter them out. Sorry about that. We fixed the problem, and you should see no more ads for things like snake oil, Russian sexbots, or political candidates. If you do, please let me know at [email protected] Or feel free to drop me a line telling me what you're feasting on this Thanksgiving. I'm going with duck. It's smaller, juicier, and tastier than turkey. I'm letting a few of my old traditions evolve this year. Happy Thanksgiving!
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