Forget for a moment the taste of barbecue—sweet smoke and savory meat—and consider the other reason making it is so satisfying: cooking outdoors with fire is a primal urge that isn’t fulfilled by ovens. If full-on primitive isn’t your style either, consider such new culture as the Kalamazoo Gaucho Grill.
This gleaming unit combines aboriginal technique, modern technology and a bit of steampunk—and is bound to make you the subject of grill envy. Also called a Santa Maria grill, it burns wood fired by gas and has a cooking surface that moves up and down to adjust heat. It lights effortlessly. You put your meal on the rack (optional surfaces include the Argentinean v-shaped grate) and set the distance from the flame with the huge wheel on the side. Smoke meat at the highest level. Sear it below. Built-in or freestanding, the Gaucho includes a chain-driven rotisserie that also travels up and down. If the heavy-duty, 304 stainless steel isn’t tough enough you can upgrade to marine grade.
This smoking method differs from most barbecue in that it is open air (not smoked in an enclosed box). You don’t get the same intense smoke flavors, but you get more interaction with fire. Both Argentina and California’s Santa Maria Valley are both known for this style of cooking, but it’s inspired by age-old, open-pit cooking. The California movement is most associated with tri-tip steaks, a cut that traditionally was used for hamburger. This falls into the great barbecue tradition of transforming cheaper cuts into works of culinary art. If Kalamazoo’s price tag ($20,795 to $27,295 as shown) doesn’t seem to fit into that same economical culinary aesthetic, a range of cookers featuring moving grates are available. You may even be able to retrofit your present grill with that equipment. And you’ll still get the joy of playing with fire.