By Amy Higgins –
Once a year, Steven Raichlen, arguably one of the best grillers in the country, brings his enthusiasm for grilled foods, his barbecue wisdom and his tasty recipes to Colorado Springs for a fun-filled barbecuing event. He shares tips of the trade and helps students put that guidance into action during three days of grilling at The Broadmoor.
Why Raichlen? What makes him the brains of barbecue?
Literature Leads to Food
It all goes back to a degree in French literature that landed Raichlen in the barbecue arena. While that may seem like an odd way to become a barbecue big shot, it makes sense when Raichlen explains that he was working on his thesis at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, when he came across a medieval cookbook.
“I thought, ‘Wow, how cool is this? Eight hundred years ago people were writing cookbooks,’” Raichlen said. A lightbulb went on.
After he graduated, he proposed a study of medieval cooking in Europe and received a grant to do so from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation. He was there for two years researching and working as a translator for French chefs.
“I ate at restaurants in the evening and it was a total emergence of the intersection of food, culture and history,” he said. Soon, he stumbled on an idea. “The idea is that people grill everywhere, but everywhere they do it differently. So I proposed to travel around the world and write about how people grill in different cultures.”
That concept became the brainchild behind The Barbecue! Bible, which includes 500 of the best barbecue recipes out there. The cookbook became a best-seller and barbecue became Raichlen’s full-time job.
He wrote dozens more books, began hosting the PBS television show “Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke” and founded Barbecue University™, which was initially hosted at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In 2007, the program moved exclusively to The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, and that’s where it remains.
Get Schooled for Great Grilling
At Barbecue University™, Raichlen teaches students the particulars of grilling, smoking and roasting. This crash course caters to novices, professionals and every other capability in between and sells out every year. “It’s a topic people love,” Raichlen said.
It starts with a welcome reception the night before the first class. The students mingle with fellow foodies while sampling fare from all the different food venues at The Broadmoor.
The next three mornings, Barbecue University™ students gather at the five-star resort’s Cheyenne Lodge. The structure is perched on the mountainside surrounded by quaking aspens and towering pine trees, which are also viewable from indoors through the lodge’s floor-to-ceiling windows.
The amphitheater seating provides students with an ideal view of what they traveled from near and far to observe: Raichlen and his culinary trappings, presented front and center where he dishes the goods — literally and figuratively. The overhead video monitors deliver a closer look while the audio
system gives clear coverage of Raichlen’s teachings.
I had the honor of attending day one of the second session of the 2017 Barbecue University™. While the menus change and new ideas are presented every year, the timetable remains the same.
Over the three-day course, Raichlen begins the first hour with an overview of what students will create each day. At my session, Raichlen was beyond informative with his techniques and tips, and he welcomed comments and questions throughout his presentation. He also gave a history of fire, saying it was “the greatest discovery ever — barbecue begat civilization.”
Raichlen shared the five cooking methods: “caveman” grilling, direct grilling, indirect grilling, smoking and spit roasting. Each approach was to be demonstrated during the three-day course.
On the menu that day were chorizo grilled dates, Korean pulled pork with KB barbecue sauce, maple-Sriracha chicken wings, rosemary smoked beef tomahawk steaks, smoke-roasted Hasselback potatoes, “caveman” leeks with romesco sauce, gingerbread grilled apples with smoked whipped cream and a “limonero” smoked cocktail.
As he presented each lesson, Raichlen called for volunteers to demonstrate the techniques to make their recipes. Those students carefully prepped each dish, careful to follow “Professor” Raichlen’s instructions. While the students stirred, stuffed, strung and scraped, a multitude of grills and smokers beckoned them in the “burn” area on the outdoor terrace.
The terrace offered all of us a magnificent view of the mountainside while providing a panoramic view overlooking Colorado Springs under a clear blue sky. A barbecue bouquet from the smoldering pimento wood chips and charcoal wafted through the air, tempting our senses.
Raichlen demonstrated the proper usage of each grill and smoker, reminding students to cook front to back and “keep it hot, keep it clean, keep it lubricated.” With Raichlen’s supervision, the students put their barbecuing smarts to the test, grilling their assigned meal.
Carefully turning her grilled chorizo dates, Audrey Fischer was noticeably engrossed with her dish. “I don’t usually step to the grill, my husband does, so that’s why I picked the easy one to grill with,” Fischer said with a laugh. “[But] this is complicated a little bit.”
This was the first time the Midlothian, Virginia, resident attended Barbecue University™. “We have friends who were here last year and they said ‘We’d love to come again and we’d love to have you join us.’ So, we’re with [them],” she said. “I think it’s fantastic: the location, the class work and the grilling.”
This was Andy Laco’s second time at Barbecue University™, having previously attended in 2009. The Las Vegas resident said what enticed him to come back was learning more techniques and getting his hands on new recipes. “I loved what I learned before and my wife wants me to continue cooking,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s all about the wife.”
Cindy East of Cocoa Beach, Florida, started researching Barbecue University™ when it was held at The Greenbrier. It took a while, but she finally made her way to Colorado. “I’ve been wanting to come to this for 10 years,” East said. “This is like, wow! Great!”
The students removed their foodstuff from the grills and smokers to return indoors. During this last half hour, they plated everything and brought it back in the dining room. “That becomes an effort of great competition,” Raichlen said. “Everybody wants to do a really amazing job.”
It was fascinating to see how detail-oriented and adept the students were and how expertly they presented their dishes. As Raichlen paid homage to their abilities, the students were proudly snapping photos with their smartphones.
Concluding their lesson for the day, they sat down to enjoy the same dishes they created that morning and to chat with their fellow students. “It’s nice for all of us to get together and grill,” said Sharon Sanders, a repeat guest from Savannah, Georgia. “I love coming to this.”
“In terms of the methodology, the menus are always different,” Raichlen said. “There are always new grills being added, there’s new foods and techniques being added. But in terms of the methodology, we kind of worked out a system that works for us that enables us to teach a relatively large number of people but make it a very personalized experience. That’s the goal of the school.”
Book a Barbecue Rendezvous
The Barbecue University™ 2018 sessions ended in May, but the 2019 dates will be announced in July. Packages start at $2,400 and include luxury accommodations at The Broadmoor for three days and three nights; a welcome reception; three days of hands-on barbecue instruction; transportation to and from Cheyenne Lodge; daily breakfast and lunch; a notebook containing all the session recipes; graduation photos with Raichlen and the group; and a Barbecue University™ diploma.
While they generally don’t sell out until November or December, Raichlen suggests grillers sign up early. “The early bird catches the proverbial worm,” he said.
Each session accommodates 50 to 60 students from all walks of life. There are repeat students, newbies, jet-setters, private chefs and average Joes and Janes, but they all come for the same purpose: barbecue.
“People who come to BBQ University™ want to have a good time,” Raichlen explained. “They’re coming because they love cooking, they love grilling, they love sharing, so we very rarely get people who are difficult. They are people who are up for a good time.” And some barbecue.
Amy Higgins is a freelance writer for Colorado Country Life.