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Campfire cooking is the fall activity you didn’t know you needed

Two Chicago food pros want to show you the ropes.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

Now that you've mastered banana bread and dalgona coffee, Chicago food pros John Manion and Maggie Hennessy have your next challenge: Dig a hole in your backyard, light a fire and cook a steak. But first, read their forthcoming zine, Meat Project.

Due out in October, the 20-page publication promises to take amateur grillers by the hand and show them how to build a fire pit and use it to cook a next-level meal. Authors Manion and Hennessy know a thing or two about good eats—he's the owner and chef behind Argentinian steakhouse El Che, and she's a longtime food and drink journalist. (Full disclosure: Hennessy is the restaurant critic for Time Out Chicago and Manion was part of the inaugural chef lineup at Time Out Market Chicago.)

Meat Project centers around a step-by-step guide to grilling a bone-in tomahawk steak directly on a bed of red-hot coals, but there are also recipes for a red chimichurri, pit beans with greens and a crunchy giardiniera-inspired salad. As an added bonus, bartender Will Duncan (FitzGerald's) offers a cocktail pairing, while pastry chef Emily Spurlin (Lula Cafe) contributes a cast-iron crisp for dessert.

"Is it scary as hell to slam a pricey cut of beef directly on the coals for the first time? Yes. But the sizzling applause and smoky, beefy aromas will quickly reassure you this is the right kind of wrong," Hennessy says.

Ready to dig up your backyard? Hennessy and Manion are currently raising funds for the publication via Kickstarter, and at the time of this writing, they've netted nearly $7,000 of their $10,000 goal with 148 backers. With a pledge of $20 or more, you'll get a copy of Meat Project when it's released in October; for $50 or more, they'll toss in a branded tote and a 60-minute campfire Zoom session with Manion.

"We have a lot more rad ideas up our denim sleeves, like building a grill, hanging up whole sides of lamb or goat to cook all day, barbecuing hulks of meat on spits, and cooking your entire Thanksgiving meal outside," Hennessy says. "But first, we have to get over this first hurdle of proving the concept and getting funded. We truly hope people love this little cooking zine as much as we loved making it."

Meat Project
Photograph: Tom Gallagher/Eleven 9 Studio
John Manion and Maggie Hennessy
Photograph: Tom Gallagher/Eleven 9 Studio
Meat Project
Photograph: Courtesy Maggie Hennessy

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