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Coffee Talk with Chef Ted Reader

Few people know their way around a grill like Ted Reader. The chef, author of 21 cookbooks and barbecue master, is the proud owner of 75 grills and smokers, and has been perfecting his skills for more than two decades. We caught up with Reader – who has crafted a number of coffee-centric recipes in honour of our 100th anniversary – to get his best tips on incorporating coffee both in the kitchen and on the grill.
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What’s your go-to Van Houtte® coffee blend to use for grilling?

I love the Colombian dark roast because of the depth and strength of the flavour, but lately I’ve been hooked on the Anniversary Blend. It’s got multiple levels of sweetness, robustness, depth and strength. I drink cold brew coffee and I was making a batch yesterday with the Anniversary Blend. I went outside for half an hour and when I came back, the whole house smelled of roasted coffee. 

What can coffee add to a recipe?

People mostly think a cup of coffee is for waking up in the morning and getting your life started, not for a recipe. But you can use coffee with all kinds of meats – beef, lamb, pork or chicken – all the way through to desserts, to make crème brûlée or ice cream. When you use it in marinades, coffee adds a level of flavour. For example, just a hint of coffee in a jerk chicken marinade will help with balance. In a recipe that calls for a touch of beer, some garlic and fresh herbs such as rosemary or oregano, coffee helps bring everything together.

Has coffee been a go-to ingredient for you for a long time?

I’ve been cooking with coffee forever. It has appeared in a variety of my cookbooks, including Gastro Grilling, Beerlicious, Sticky Fingers and Tenderloins. I’ve been using it in steak rubs for more than 20 years. I used to have a branded barbecue sauce called Smokin’ Beer, and coffee was the secret ingredient to bringing it together. Because of its smokiness, coffee blends well with grilled foods. I also use whole coffee beans to age meat. For instance, I take a whole brisket and bury it in coffee beans for about a week so it picks up the flavour and some of the oils. Then, I smoke the brisket with a little bit of coffee rub on it to get a deep, intense flavour. I also throw whole coffee beans on my hot coals to add a boost of coffee smoke.

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Are you a charcoal or gas grill proponent?

I’m standing in my backyard right now and looking at 75 grills and smokers. Of all of them, there are probably two electric ones and one dead gas grill. Everything else is hardwood and charcoal. I probably burn through six skids of charcoal a year and about five quarts of wood. There’s no comparison. The flavour is unbelievable when you cook with charcoal and with wood fire. You don’t need much more than salt, pepper, garlic and fresh herbs – all of them enhanced by coffee.

What are some no-brainer pairings for coffee?

Steak is amazing with coffee. For my first coffee recipe – a hay-wrapped steak in my Sticks & Stones cookbook – I used fresh garlic and whole coffee beans that I crushed with a heavy frying pan. The texture was crunchy, almost like when you bite into a chocolate-covered coffee bean. Then I added olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a big pinch of salt and some black pepper to make it into a wet paste used for steaks.

What’s your favourite dish to cook using coffee?

Beef short ribs with a coffee-chocolate barbecue sauce. I mix chocolate syrup and coffee with some garlic, soy sauce and sesame seeds. I grill them super hot and fast, 90 seconds a side, and baste with the chocolate-coffee barbecue sauce.

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What’s a quick way to incorporate used coffee grounds into home cooking?

Fresh coffee grounds can make you feel like you’re chewing on sand. They taste better once they’ve been used because they’ve softened and they’re not as gritty. You could add a tablespoon of those into a rub. In my recipe for coffee-salt-crusted roast potatoes, I use leftover coffee grounds and salt to cover the potatoes and infuse them with flavour.

What’s the best savoury thing you ever made with coffee in it?

A three-pound tomahawk rib chop, reverse seared with low oak wood smoke in an oak barrel stave. I dry-aged the beef in coffee beans for a week and prepared it with fresh rosemary, lots of garlic and whole coffee beans. It was awesome.

What about desserts?

Crème brûlée with coffee – rich, creamy and eggy – is amazing. Caramelized coffee-infused candied bacon too.

What’s your favourite Van Houtte® coffee to drink at home?

I’m a ritual coffee drinker. I’m forever making coffee. I think I make four litres of concentrated coffee a week. Right now, I love the Anniversary Blend. It’s still sitting on the counter brewing because I do a 48-hour steep for my cold brew, but tomorrow morning, I’ll be having my cup, and I’m looking forward to it.