The Today host once made an ice cream sandwich with grilled Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Enough said.
Today host, weatherman, grill master. Al Roker is known for many things, and being an avid cook is one of them. The beloved TV host published Al Roker’s Big Bad Book of Barbecue: 100 Easy Recipes for Backyard Barbecue and Grilling in 2002, often cooks on air, and just last week launched a web series called Cold Cuts, in which he makes sandwiches with his celebrity friends.
He can now add culinary instructor to the list, thanks to another new web series made in partnership with Today that he’s just launched with Pig Beach and Pig Bleecker chef Matt Abdoo on Bluprint, a subscription service and website for online classes. In this series, Roker and Abdoo demonstrate 10 summer-friendly recipes, from grilled potato salad to Roker’s signature burger.
Spend five minutes with the TV host and it’s abundantly clear that he’s loves grilling, and cooking for that matter, not just because it tastes good, but also because there’s no better way to bring people together. "BBQ is part of everybody's culture," he points out. "Everybody eats BBQ."
When he talks about the kinds of dishes he prepares for summer entertaining, he talks about his mom. “We’re all influenced by our parents,” he says. “My mother had an internal clock that could see bacteria growing on food, so that you know if anything had mayonnaise in it, like, in her mind, if it was outside for 20 minutes, she would literally slap it out of your hand.” So he makes dishes that have little to no mayonnaise, like his grilled potato salad with bacon and onions, or the slaw he puts on his burger.
About that burger…. It’s a blend of ground turkey and ground pork, which on their own, aren’t too flavorful, but together, with sesame oil, scallions, ginger and garlic, they make a great, healthy patty, Roker says. He boosts the flavor and moisture level by adding a slaw, made with rice wine vinegar, more sesame oil, ginger and scallions, as well as cilantro, green apple and sugar. “Serve it alongside grilled corn; a fresh heirloom tomato salad; a cucumber salad with rice wine vinegar, sesame and chili flakes to bridge all those flavors; or fries,” Abdoo suggests.
Of course, it’s not just about the ingredients, but how you treat them, and of Abdoo’s tips that Roker really likes is remembering to let your meat—and your vegetables—rest after cooking.
“Think of it like a freight train,” Abdoo says about food on the grill. “It takes a lot of heat and momentum to get the thing moving, but once it’s up to speed, it’s going to go fast…It’s going to take a little bit for [whatever you’re cooking] to get up 100, but once it gets up to 100 it starts accelerating and goes faster and faster and faster. So if you take an inch and a half thick steak off the grill at 120, and let it rest for five minutes, the temperature is going to continue to rise.”
Roker chimes in: “I love that analogy, because it’s kind of like, even though you put the breaks on, it keeps moving. It doesn’t stop.”
As Abdoo puts it, “Anything you’re cooking needs time to settle back down.” The one thing that might not need to rest (or might not have the opportunity to because it’ll get snatched up so quickly)? An Internet-breaking, spur-of-the-moment idea Roker had years back when his wife was expecting their daughter and was craving something sweet.
The Mini Cooper had just come out and Roker was doing a segment on how much you could fit into the car. Turns out, 100 dozen boxes of Krispy Kremes fit into the Mini, and understandably there were more than a few doughnuts to bring home after a day of filming this segment. After Roker had grilled dinner that night, when his wife asked what was for dessert, he placed some doughnuts on the grill—“about 15-20 seconds per side so you get the grill marks on each side”—and sandwiched a scoop of vanilla ice cream between the warm, slightly caramelized doughnuts for a grilled doughnut ice cream sandwich. Needless to say, “it was gone in 30 seconds,” he recounts.
It’s no surprise that an expert at live TV could think up something so epic on the spot like that, but Roker is also all about planning ahead and using the right equipment when it comes to grilling. He likes his burger’s slaw because you can make it in advance, and should, because it benefits from time for the flavors to meld together. “I like to do stuff that I can make ahead of time, leave it in the fridge and go away,” he says. He also likes making compound butter, which can be prepared in advance and applied to everything from steak and seafood to a baguette of garlic bread. Roker suggests. Spend time prepping as much as you can in advance, and you can spend time on the things that matter to you, the thinking is.
For Roker, one of those things is using a charcoal grill, which requires more time than a gas grill, of course. The TV host happens to have three charcoal grills: “I have a Big Green Egg, and I tend to do chicken on that, because it’s like a tandoori oven. You know what, I am a convert,” he says. “I also have a Hasty-Bake and I’ve got a Weber Kettle that still has a wood handle.” But on the debate over gas versus charcoal, Roker says, “I try not to be judgey-mc-judgement. I get it, gas is clean and easy,” he says. But he prefers charcoal for the flavor and because it’s fun. Abdoo, who makes barbecue for a living, agrees. But both cooks understand the value of gas, and think that whatever will get you cooking on the grill is the right choice.
After all, “Everything’s better on the grill.”