Authors Mary Cressler and Sean Martin. ##Photo by Del Munroe

Smoke and Sip

Local tastemakers reveal new book

By Mark Stock

Focused on Northwest-style barbecue and regional wines, “Fire & Wine” arrives just in time for the longer days of spring and summer. It’s music to the ears of hungry Oregonians looking to greet the milder season by dusting off the grill or firing up the trusty smoker. The cookbook, featuring 75 smoke-infused recipes plus wine pairings, is the work of pitmaster Sean Martin and food writer Mary Cressler.

The cookbook is a continuation, of sorts, of the couple’s website, The site has received acclaim over the years, including being nominated for “Best Recipe-Based Blog” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2017. While Cressler has penned stories for outlets such as Wine Enthusiast, Serious Eats and this very publication, Martin is a self-taught barbecue guru who cooks for their Willamette Valley catering company, Ember and Vine.

“While we love sharing original recipes and stories on our website, there was also recognition that a large group of people like cookbooks, use them and appreciate hard copies of the recipes, and it helps us tell our story,” Cressler says. “It’s almost like putting our soul in print.”

Outdoor cooking with local ingredients is the obvious focus in “Fire & Wine.” But there’s also a theme of approachability, presented through a few handy introductory guides on seasoning, techniques, equipment, tools and more. Cressler is keen to mention that barbecue can be thoroughly enjoyed without refinancing your home: “You can smoke and grill on a Weber Kettle with an initial investment in the grill and tools under $200,” she says.

Also helpful are guides on heat or flame management and a quick and easy wine varietal chart, covering the main cast of characters you’re likely to spot at your local bottle shop. There are visual guides that coincide with preparations like wrapping brisket, tying a pork loin or assembling an attention-grabbing crown roast. And the photos, shot by Dina Avila, are enough to make stomachs rumble.

Fire & Wine by Mary Cressler and Sean Martin

In many ways, “Fire & Wine” is the culmination of some of the couple’s early experiments, revolving around a new backyard grill when they transplanted to Portland in 2006. There are some eye-catching recipes, like smoked pumpkin risotto or lamb meatballs with orange marmalade, meant to accompany orange wine — “That one threw us off,” Cressler adds. There are appetizing riffs on common cuts like ribs and burgers with an emphasis on Northwest ingredients like Pinot Noir, rosemary, hazelnuts, salmon and more.

One of the most interesting sections is titled “Starting the Party.” The chapter is devoted to smaller plate, appetizer-like dishes guests can paw at while you tend to the main course. Things like smoked salmon crostini, fire-roasted pepper queso dip and wine-marinated beef skewers with cherry-bourbon glaze.

“There are a lot of opinions on what ‘good barbecue’ should be, but the reality is that barbecue needs to be good to you and your taste preferences,” Cressler says. “The same could be said for wine, or any realm drenched in subjectivity: Trust your palate. It’s sage and often overlooked advice amid a realm that can sometimes seem more authoritative than welcoming.

“A big part of the book is understanding complementary versus contrasting flavors as someone curates a match,” she says. “And the nice thing about Oregon is that we have such a diverse state that is growing cool- and warm-weather grapes. The wines made here are also incredibly food-friendly, which makes them easier to pair with a variety of foods, even barbecue.”

In terms of culinary advice, Cressler says it’s worth imagining the different flavors associated with BBQ — the sauces, the smoke, the seasoning — as one ingredient in many. “Don’t go overboard with a sauce or intense smoke and the pairing options are much more diverse,” she adds.

Just as there can be intimidation in wine, the same can be said for barbecue. “Take away the snobbery and intense opinions, and, at the end of the day, it’s just food, meant to be enjoyed,” Cressler says. “I think the nice part of living in the Pacific Northwest is that we’re not as beholden to specific regional rules as, say, Texas-style, or Memphis, or other regions with strong ties to a specific rule. We can do what we want here. We can break the rules. And we can create some pretty darn interesting things as a result!”

Martin and Cressler are moved by many of their friends and colleagues in the industry. They mention Matt’s BBQ, the Texas-style joint in Portland, and Plate and Pitchfork, a celebrated group behind farm-style dinners. Oregon may not be as synonymous with barbecue as Kansas City or the Lone Star State, but the couple believes the abundance of local ingredients and built-in care and craftsmanship in the culinary landscape give the genre so much quality and flexibility.

Cressler’s tale is particularly interesting, as the food writer has gone to and from vegetarianism. She says reading “Fast Food Nation” in college scared the crap out of her and turned her away from processed meat. “It was a long time before I could start trusting food again,” she recalls. In Oregon, she looked into the origins of what she consumed and soon realized that not all meat is treated alike. Witnessing the passion and meticulousness of area ranchers, farmers and winemakers brought some of the trust back.

“Then after eating at Chef Mavro in Honolulu, the deal was sealed,” she says. “I had the best meal of my life in a plate of Kobe beef and braised short ribs. It was transformative.”

The meal was enough to get her back into meat for good and inspired her to put together her own dishes that echoed a bit of that magic. “It was around that time we bought our first smoker and started sourcing good-quality, local meat and experimenting,” Cressler says. “The rest is history!”


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