Over a Red-Hot Stove (ed. Ivan Day) is a wonderful series of essays of reviewing the development of cooking technology from the 16th century to present. The six-essay series tackles a different aspect of technology development from the development of the kitchen range to changing meat roasting technologies to changes in yeast/leavening techniques in breadmaking.
I found Peter Brears' (author of Cooking in Medieval England) essay on the changing technological changes in the methods of roasting meat quite compelling. His discussion of the transition from open hearth roasting to closed oven roasting provoked a lot a thinking about why we value grilling so much today. Grilled meats share a lot of characteristics with open-heart roasted meats.
Early meat roasting technologies involved one or more spits arrayed in front of a large open hearth, burning wood or coal (occasionally even turf, when fuel prices are too high). Drip pans placed under the spit caught the fats and fluids rendered from the meat as it roasted, and were basted back onto the meat as the roasting process progressed. This treatment led to a very succulent and flavorful piece of meat.
Two important characteristics of open-hearth roasting are intense heating of one side of the meat at a time and removal of the rendered fats from the meat. The alternating periods of heat allows the sugars to rise to the surface of the meat and carmelize, providing incredible Maillard reactive flavors (enhanced by basting from the drip pan). In addition, the application then removal of heat allows the heat to slowly penetrate the meat and slowly change the protein structure of the meat, leaving the meat very tender and juicy.
Most grilling instructions call for grilling one side of the meat, then turning the meat and grilling to desired doneness. If a thin steak is being grilled, this may be the most efficient way to grill, but for a thick piece of meat, this process increases the likelihood the meat will be burned. Personally, I prefer to work with meat at least one inch in thickness (and thicker when doing pork ribs). By turning the meat periodically during the cooking process, I alternate the intense cooking heat with cooling, drawing the sugars out of the meat. I also drain the rendered fats away from the meat, preventing the fat from overheating and affecting the flavor of the meat. While I can't baste with drippings to increase succulence, I can marinate and add flavor and fluid prior to cooking, thus increasing the succulence.
I love it when a book about food or cooking makes me put things together in different ways! Over a Red-Hot Stove certainly stirred things up in my mind. Go get a copy for yourself and see what it makes you think about cooking!