Grilled in the U.S.A.: A look at grilling trends and techniques around America

Smoke, flame and char: Biting into America’s greatest grilling techniques

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Smoke, flame and char: Biting into America’s greatest grilling techniques

Sponsored by

Sponsored by BUSH’S® Beans

No matter what you’re grilling, we’ve got a bean for that

Is there any single sensory experience more quintessentially American than the backyard barbecue? The smoky scent of charcoal mixed with freshly cut grass, the sounds of kids playing amidst the murmurs of grown-ups mingling, and of course the initial mouthwatering bite of the summer’s first perfectly grilled burger.

And though it’s the epitome of patriotic tradition, the U.S. isn’t always united on the best methods for grilling or smoking a mouthwatering dish. There’s no denying it: from how meat is sauced to the perfect burger recipe, grilling methods can be contentious. 

But they’re also fascinating. For example, did you know that grilling enthusiasts in the Southern region of the U.S. are the most likely to cook out on Christmas? Or that, according to a BUSH’S® Beans survey, grillers around the U.S. almost unanimously add sauce to ribs — but very rarely to burgers? 

We took a tour all over the country to some of the most famous restaurants known for grilled and smoked delicacies to learn about techniques in various regions around the U.S.

Watch the video below to dig in vicariously — and then light up your own grill to experiment with some of these methods for yourself.

The three restaurants and various chefs featured in the video above have honed their skills for years. As bonafide experts of flame and smoke, they’re well-versed in flavor pairings, side dishes and quality ingredients. We spoke to these chefs about their techniques and opinions when it comes to lighting up the grill. 

So what makes each of these grilling havens so unique? Let’s dig in.

High steaks in Texas

At Perini Ranch Steakhouse

“America’s quintessential cowboy gourmet” chef Tom Perini of Perini Ranch Steakhouse has a passion for ranch life.

As a boy, Perini worked on his family’s Texas ranch. This upbringing inspired Perini to begin creating ranch-to-table recipes for a traveling chuck wagon, and later for his own restaurant on the family’s property. 

“I’ve been in the cattle business for years. I talked to a dear friend of mine who said, ‘You can do more for the beef industry by cooking it than you can by raising it.’ He said, ‘I think you should open a restaurant.’ Hence, the Perini Ranch Steakhouse,” Perini says of the steakhouse’s inception. 

He’s since become renowned around Texas and the States for his chuck-wagon-style cuisine. Not only Texans flock to the ranch; foodies from around the globe travel hours to taste the iconic, homemade Texas ‘cue. The result is a diverse food culture and a passionate community.

“It’s just simple food that tastes good,” says Perini. 

The steakhouse has received numerous accolades over the years. Tom Perini has appeared on Good Morning America and the TODAY show; helped cater the Congressional Picnic at the White House; traveled to Japan, Poland and Russia to promote U.S. beef; and served as the Texas Restaurant Association President. The Perini Ranch cookbook Texas Cowboy Cooking was published in 2000.

Needless to say, Perini is a man who knows his beef.

“You’ve always heard about location, location, location. Well, somewhere in translation I forgot about that, because we’re out on this ranch in little Buffalo Gap, Texas,” Perini says in an interview celebrating his achievement as a James Beard Foundation America’s Classic honoree.

“You have to work at it to get here,” agrees his wife and Perini Ranch Steakhouse co-owner, Lisa. 

Still, the trek is worth it for some of the best Texas barbecue around. 

So what is Perini’s recipe for success? Is it the juicy, ranch-raised cuts of beef, like brisket and tenderloin, cooked over a mesquite fire — or perhaps the restaurant’s homemade, secret-recipe rub? 

“With a piece of beef, you have several flavors,” says Perini. “You have the beef itself, you have what seasoning you put on, and then by cooking it over a wood fire with a little flame that’s kind of kissing the meat, you get all these flavors. When I’m cooking steaks on a grill, we use small pieces of wood because I want that flame.”

Whatever the secret, it’s kept patrons frequenting the doors for more than three decades.

There’s an old saying in Texas; you go home with the one who brought you to the dance. And the Texas beef industry brought me to the dance.

Chicago Burgers with bite

At Butcher & the Burger

Butcher & the Burger touts itself as an “old-fashion butcher shop with a pinch of culinary artistry mixed in.” 

The description is fitting for the meat-lover’s hot spot, which offers everything from the highest-quality beef and pork to specialties like boar, venison, bison, elk and ostrich. Patrons can dine in to enjoy any number of the unique, to-die-for house burgers, or pick up patties to grill at home on their own terms. 

There are no shortage of options for personalizing your burger experience; from artisanal cheeses to wasabi mayo, to Benton’s Tennessee mountain smoked bacon, blue truffle aioli or foie gras, there are almost limitless ways to create an unforgettable, custom burger at this beloved butcher-shop-meets-burger-joint institution.

The restaurant side of the equation at Butcher & the Burger is all about quality. No corners are cut when it comes to serving up top-notch meat, toppings and sides.

“When I was growing up, my mother always cooked. We were the house on the block where there was always something on the stove. As I became a little older, I realized I wanted to do something creative in the kitchen,” says Allen Sternweiler, chef and owner at Butcher & the Burger. 

“My mother always seasoned her hamburgers,” says Sternweiler. “[Our] seasonings are something I don’t think anyone else is doing to the level we’re doing. You want the flavor profile to go up throughout the burger and in the burger. We just don’t simply shake it on top; it just doesn’t taste as good.”

“Strength of flavor is the number one thing I learned from my mother,” Sternweiler says with pride.

Butcher & the Burger offers regular culinary classes to teach burgeoning burger masters everything from how to butcher a side of beef to wine, beer and spirits pairings. 

I’m really about good ‘oomph.’ If the dish is supposed to be spicy, it’s going to be spicy. If it’s supposed to be sweet, it’s gonna be sweet.

Chef Allen Sternweiler

Smokin’ in Atlanta

At Heirloom Market

Pitmasters Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee — husband and wife — celebrate what they refer to as an “international marriage” of Korean-style and traditional Southern BBQ at Heirloom Market.

The duo began experiments with a combination of barbecue styles borrowed from their respective heritages; Lee is Korean, and Taylor hails from the southern region of the U.S. 

When the couple decided to open Heirloom, they crafted a menu based on the type of cuisine they’d serve at a party in their own home.

The food at Heirloom is the harmony of two contrasting yet complementary barbecue cultures. Using traditional Southern smoking techniques blended with Korean spices, the pair has created a truly unique menu including items like ribs infused with miso and pickled veggies. 

The chefs believe food is a form of “language” that helps people better understand culture.

“The gochujang — which is one of our big ingredients that we use here, whether it’s for barbecue sauce or to marinate the pork in — flavors so well with smoke,” Taylor explains.

Ribs are just one of the hot-ticket items on the menu.

“After they get done smoking for about six hours, it’s best to let the ribs kind of rest,” says Taylor. “There’s a certain happy point where the moisture gets sucked back into any cut of meat.”

I’ve always appreciated what people do in different regions … It creates a unique experience.

Chef Cody Taylor

Regional trends

In the BUSH’S® Beans survey about grilling trends in various regions of the U.S., some of the findings were expected, but others were a bit of a surprise.

Below, check out a few of the most notable regional grilling and smoking practices around the country by clicking on the sections of the interactive map.

We’ve got a bean for that

What’s your grilled dish of choice? There’s a BUSH’S® Beans flavor for every cut of meat.

Want to experiment with a few of the grilling techniques outlined above? The only way to reach Grill Master status is to abide by the old adage: Practice makes perfect. So fire up the grill, break out the smoker, and start experimenting. We can’t think of a more mouthwatering hobby.

Below, check out a few recipes and BUSH’S® Beans pairings that go along with any cut of meat. Whether you’re a chicken thigh guy or a flank steak-kinda gal, we’ve got a bean for that.

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