I’m an adventurous eater. I’ve had witchetty grubs in the Australian outback and spit-roasted goat in Spain. So when it comes to barbecue this summer, I’m going all out and trying new things. To help me on my quest to explore undiscovered meats and seasonings I enlisted the help of a few of my grill-master acquaintances to tell me about some of their most memorable barbecue experiences.
This isn’t for the faint of heart, or palate. But read on to learn about some of the truly odd and wonderful things some people will put on the grill, and maybe get a few ideas about what you should be cooking in your backyard for your buddies this summer.
Barbecue Mountain Lion by Chef Jon Bonnell of Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine in Fort Worth, Texas
To start my search for most bizarre barbecue recipes, I focused on one of barbecue’s traditional homes, the heart of Texas, and got in touch with Jon Bonnell. These days Bonnell cooks up signature dishes like grilled Texas shrimp on rosemary skewers over spicy cucumber salad, and elk mini tacos with roasted green chile cheese grits and pico de gallo. But his tastes weren’t always so high-brow.
When he was around 19 years old he shot a mountain lion on his ranch in West Texas. He asked a guide if it was edible. The guide said not only was the mountain lion edible, the meat was quite good.
That was all the encouragement an adventurous teenaged Bonnell needed.
“This was many years before I became a chef,” he says, “but I marinated some of the leg meat in Worcestershire sauce and red wine with garlic salt, then pounded it thin and grilled it over mesquite wood, serving the finished cougar as fajitas in a warm flour tortilla with salsa and fresh guacamole. It was surprisingly very tasty!”
That’s one cougar most guys would be glad to encounter.
Barbecue Rattlesnake by Frank Ostini of the Hitching Post II in Buellton, Calif.
I love a gourmet wine country meal as much as the next guy, but every time I’m up in Santa Barbara’s Sideways country I make sure to stop at Hitching Post II in Buellton for a great barbecue steak dinner courtesy of grill-master and owner Frank Ostini.
In his spare time, Ostini runs “BBQ Bootcamp” weekends at the iconic Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort just outside Solvang (the next one is in October); the event also spotlights pairings from winemakers in the area.
One Fourth of July came to mind when I asked him about his craziest barbecuing experience. Ostini cooked up a truly American dish: rattlesnake.
“Someone else had filleted the meat off the bone before I saw it,” he says, “but we had to remove a lot of very small bones — more work than filleting a salmon. Then with our simply grilling it over oak, basting it with butter, white wine and lemon, and seasoning with our magic ‘dust’ it ended up tasting a lot like chicken – no joke!”
Ostini says it’s not worth the trouble. What was worth it, however, was another memorable backyard barbecue when he and friends grilled up a variety of game meats they had hunted including elk, mule-tail deer, boar and antelope from Montana, which Ostini says was, “beautifully dark, the cut was what we call the back strap (filet mignon in beef-talk). It was so tender and had a distinctive flavor that was elegant and refined.”
A tone of ecstatic appetite permeates his words as he says, “That antelope that day was the best barbecued red meat I have ever enjoyed.”
Barbecue Tom-Yum Flavored Unlaid Chicken Eggs by Chef Ian Chalermkittichai of Ember Room in New York City
I don’t really associate New York City with great barbecue, but when I heard about this recipe from chef Ian Chalermkittichai from the Ember Room, I had to share. Chalermkittichai is a native of Bangkok, Thailand, a city known for its creative but humble street food, so barbecue is a natural medium for the chef.
Though I’d heard about his famous chocolate baby back ribs, and BBQ beef tongue with sea salt, black pepper and jalapeno, the recipe he shared with me went beyond the boundaries of just using an unusual protein or combination of condiments. I’d explain it myself, but I’m still mystified, so I’ll let him talk you through it in his own words.
“The strangest thing (probably to a Western audience) that I have ever barbecued,” says Chalermkittichai, “was tom-yum flavored barbecue unlaid chicken eggs.”
Yeah, I didn’t know you could eat unlaid eggs either.
He said the ingredients are unlaid chicken eggs. Think caviar or fish roe, but bigger, like a bunch of egg yolks stuck together.
He’s not exactly selling them, but I’m still curious.
“Soak them in limestone water (which is Thai limestone paste and water) to clean them, poach them in tom yum stock (which is galangal, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, bird eye chili, lime juice, chicken stock) until firm. Then marinate them in the tom yum spices in vegetable oil for a day.”
That’s a lot of work, but the finish is quick and easy.
“Grill quickly. Eat immediately.”
So what does it taste like? According to the chef, “The texture is like a dense egg white, but with the flavors of the tom yum seeped in.”
Savory, spicy and gooey all at once? That sounds pretty delicious. If only we could pop down to the corner store for unlaid chicken eggs.
Cadillac Steak by Lt. Commander Morgan Murphy
Though he doesn’t grill regularly in his own restaurant, Lt. Commander Morgan Murphy, a former Southern Living travel editor, covered over 15,000 miles in his classic 1955 Cadillac last summer on the hunt for the best Southern recipes. He hit over 70 famous Southern dives — diners, bars, grills and restaurants like the Pie Lab in Greensboro, Al., and Maryland’s Bel-Loc Diner — and recently wrote a book called “Southern Living: Off the Eaten Path,” which detailed 150 of the recipes that made each place a landmark.
When I heard about his culinary odyssey, I knew Murphy was the man to ask for a truly great, odd barbecue recipe, and sure enough, he gave me this high-speed story.
“Last summer, while motoring in my enormous 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood from Dallas, Texas, to Las Vegas, I was getting hungry. Luckily, my sister had given me some great steaks from Central Market in Dallas. At the next gas station, I picked up some salt, pepper, butter, and tinfoil; wrapped the steak, and placed it on the manifold of my 356 cubic-inch hunk of Detroit iron.”
And seriously, here’s his recipe for Cadillac steak (though I don’t endorse speeding!): “Run at 85 mph for 30 minutes, pull over, flip the steak, and run for another 15 minutes at 90 mph. The grill marks were a little unusual, but by Amarillo, I had a perfect medium steak.”
I’m going to have to try that one on my next road trip.