Mississippi Museum of Art Executive Chef Nick Wallace says his favorite type of grilling is smoking meat—especially when beer is part of the mix. Photo courtesy Julian Rankin
I look forward to the summer heat waves because summer time means grilling time. A chef's kitchen is always warm, so when it gets hot outside, we fight fire with fire. There are many methods and techniques on the grill, but my favorite has always been the patient, slow burn that comes from smoking meats. It's a method of cooking that engages all five senses.
Watch the smoke billowing out. If it's coming out in inconsistent puffs, you might need to let some more air through or turn over your coals. Too fast means it might be too hot. When you see that steady stream of smoke, that's when you know it's good, and you can turn your back for a few hours and have a beer, kiss the baby and start making your pasta salad.
The surest way for the neighbors to invite themselves over is to smell what you're doing on the grill—that aroma of smoking peach wood or hickory. My favorite smell when I'm grilling, though, comes from a marriage of smoke and beer. I put a bowl of beer and fresh fruit inside the smoker with my meats so that when it gets hot, that beer steams through everything. It keeps the meat tender, but it also makes that smoke coming off your grill smell wonderful. They should bottle that smell and sell it as perfume.
If you've rushed your meat, you'll hear it talking back to you. It'll be saying, "Save me! Save me!" That's when you need to recalibrate and lower the heat. But grilling means other sounds, too, like music and good conversation. And people always want to talk to the grill master. They'll lay some jokes on you and try to make you laugh in hopes that when that first rib or piece of chicken comes off, they'll be the ones to taste it.
When you pull your meat off, that's when touch really comes in. You feel how the meat separates from the bone when it's properly cooked. You know, then, without even tasting, if you've got a winner.
Taste is why you＊re here. It＊s the reason folks crease up their aprons the night before and take the whole day prepping and soaking their wood and getting that perfect smoke. Grilling is like game day. And when it finally comes time to eat, that perfectly smoked meat is like Super Bowl victory Champagne.
The greatest thing about grilling, and cooking for people in general, is the atmosphere. It doesn't have to be hard work for everyone in attendance. One grill master can fuel a party for hundreds. And that's why I have an invitation for you.
Every third Thursday night, the Mississippi Museum of Art and I host a party with pop-up art shows, film, music and more. Starting at 5:30 p.m., I prepare dinner for the masses, part of my monthly 'sipp Sourced three-day dining experience, where I create limited-time menus from local product (lunch Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner Thursday).
It's a celebration of community, where the heat of the kitchen meets the camaraderie of a city.
You can call that feeling that emerges from preparing food for your friends and neighbors the sixth sense. It's magic. It's why I cook.
Nick Wallace is the executive chef at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St.). For more information on 'sipp Sourced or Museum After Hours, visit msmuseumart.org.