Lessons to live by about live-fire cooking

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By Steven Raichlen for Oneforthetable.com

In many families, grilling and barbecue are rites of passage. Son or daughter reaches the age when he or she can handle fire without disaster. Dad passes the tongs and secret family recipes, and a new barbecue generation is born. Well, that's how it works in theory, although in my family, my mother did the grilling and my father kept strangely silent on the subject.

So in honor of Father's Day, I asked three barbecue masters what their fathers taught them about barbecuing and grilling. Whether you're teaching or learning this year, happy Father's Day! You've earned it.

John Vergos

John's father, Charlie Vergos, founded the Rendezvous in Memphis. Today Vergos runs the 750-seat rib emporium with his brother Nick and sister Tina.

--"Let the meat speak for itself," says Vergos. "When you cook ribs (we use top loin ribs), you don't want to overpower the pork with too much sauce or seasonings. We don't marinate or rub our ribs before cooking. We apply a vinegar wash and spice rub right before serving. But no sauce. We serve the sauce -- for people who want it -- on the side."

--"Serve a quality product at a popular price," he says. "We're not going to be cheaper than (a franchise restaurant), but we're not going to be that much more expensive either."

--"The best investment you can make is in your employees," explains Vergos. "Our pit master and now manager, Johnny Ellis, came to work for us when he was 13 and has worked here 43 years."

Tom Douglas

Seattle chef and restaurateur, whose many restaurants include the James Beard Award-winning Dahlia Lounge (complete with a massive wood-burning grill), Douglas also created the Rub With Love brand of barbecue rubs.

--"My dad taught me how to make a chimney starter from a paint can and church key bottle opener," says Douglas. "Use the latter to make holes in the former. Nothing beats a chimney for lighting charcoal."

--To keep the price affordable, buy steaks in family packs, especially if you have a large family, he explains.

--"When it comes to grilling a steak, rare is never quite rare enough," he says.

Ben Eisendrath

In the 1978, journalist and grilling enthusiast Charles Eisendrath created an ingenious, quirky stainless steel wood-burning grill called the Grillery. In 2007, his son Ben resurrected the company, improving the design and expanding the product line. Today, Grillworks has become the grill-maker to the stars, supplying super high-end grills to marquee chefs like Dan Barber of Blue Hill in New York and Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston, S.C.

"My dad taught me everything I know about grilling, so I'll also share a few things I've taught him back," says Ben Eisendrath.

--"Rotisserie cooking isn't always an abomination, even if it's not, per se, grilling," says Eisendrath.

--"Grass-fed, grain-finished beef tastes superior to straight grass-fed," he says. "Just kidding, Dad! (Nothing will move him from his grass-fed high horse.)"

--"Chunk charcoal (natural lump charcoal) makes an acceptable fuel as long as there is also wood present," explains Eisendrath. "My dad is still skeptical, but I think I'm making progress."

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