A start-to-finish, over-the-top guide to cooking with fire.
A is for america
The whole world grills, but only America barbecues. This slow, smoky method of cooking with indirect heat, which strictly speaking should be done in a pit, makes tough cuts of meat tender enough to slice with a fork. In Texas, the meat of choice is beef; in the Carolinas, it's pork, especially pork shoulder. In Kansas City and Memphis, ribs top the charts--slathered with a sweet tomato-based sauce in the former, sprinkled with a spicy dry rub in the latter.
B is for beer
Beer is the quintessential drink for grilled foods, but it also works magic in marinades. One easy version: in a large bowl combine 1 cup full-flavored beer, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup canola oil with 1 minced small onion, 1 chopped small celery rib, 4 chopped garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tablespoon hot paprika, 1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper. Add chicken, beef or pork and marinate for 2 to 4 hours before grilling.
C is for charwood
Since commercial briquettes may contain furniture scraps and petroleum extracts, many chefs prefer all-natural charwood: jagged black chunks of kiln-fired virgin maple roundwood that burn cleaner and hotter than any briquette. Produits Forestiers Basques makes the Rolls- Royce of charwood under three different brand names: Nature's Own, Treestock and Woodstock. They're available at specialty- and health-food shops or by mail order from Peoples Woods ($8.90 for 7.6 pounds; 800-729-5800).
D is for drip pan
Those inexpensive, rectangular, heavy-duty foil roasting pans sold at supermarkets are indispensable as drip pans for indirect grilling. The pan sits beneath the food, under the grate and alongside the coals. If you partially fill the pan with beer or wine, the scented steam will help flavor whatever you're cooking.
E is for eggplant
Eggplant is the one thing you're allowed to burn on the grill, at least when it's whole. That's how Middle Eastern cooks give baba ghanouj (a creamy eggplant dip) its inimitable smoky flavor. Choose long, slender, smallish eggplants and roast them over hot coals until the skin is charred on all sides and the flesh is soft.
F is for fire
For a fail-safe way to start a fire without lighter fluid, use a chimney starter. This simple device consists of a wide steel pipe with air vents at the bottom, a grate in the middle and a heatproof handle. Load plenty of charwood on the grate, tuck crumpled newspaper into the bottom and set the starter on the floor of your grill. Light the paper. The coals will be ready in 20 minutes.
G is for grill
Before buying a grill, you need to decide whether you want charcoal or gas. Charcoal produces clean, dry intense heat, but it can be unpredictable and messy. Gas offers convenience and control; for some impressive high-end gas grills, check out the new Viking Series S ($1,350 to $3,300; 888-845-4641). But for the ultimate grilling machine, consider the Benson 500, a behemoth designed for both charcoal and gas ($9,950; 888-306-2676).
H is for hibachi
The small, portable, low-cost hibachi makes a virtue of simplicity. This rectangular or oval "fire box," traditionally made from a heavy metal such as cast iron for even heat distribution, comes with one or two metal grates. You control the heat by raising or lowering the grates or by opening or closing the air vents. A hibachi is best for high-temperature grilling of yakitoris, kebabs, satays and small cuts of meat.
I is for indirect grilling
Most of us have cooked burgers and steaks over a fire. But what about a whole chicken, brisket or pork shoulder? There's an easy way to turn your grill into an outdoor oven: indirect grilling. When using charcoal, rake lit coals into two piles on opposite sides of the grill, place the food in the center (away from the coals and over a drip pan) and close the lid. The indirect method also works with gas. On a two-burner grill, for instance, light one burner and place the food over the other.
J is for jerk
In Jamaica, jerk is more than a style of barbecue. It's a way of life. Scotch bonnet chiles, ginger, garlic, thyme and allspice are all defining flavors in jerk seasoning for chicken or pork. It's not hard to make, but commercial products can be just as good, if not better. Top brands include Busha Browne and Walker's Wood.
K is for kettle grill
An American original, the kettle grill was pioneered by Weber. It has a deep round base, a grate on the bottom for charcoal and a grate on the top for food. A kettle grill can be used for direct grilling, but it is also uniquely suited to indirect grilling. Air vents control the temperature: open them all the way for high heat and partially close them for low heat.
L is for lamp
Grilling after the sun goes down can be a challenge. That's where the Olympia Grill-Illuminating BBQ Light comes in. A powerful, heavy-duty, weatherproof lamp, it clips onto the side of your grill ($85; available from Hammacher Schlemmer at 800-543-3366).
M is for mail order
Key sources for grilling accessories are The Ultimate Grill (800-626-6488) and the Grill Lover's Catalog from Char-Broil (800-241-8981). Both carry the basics as well as such gizmos as a barbecue fork with a built-in, instant-read thermometer ($30).
N is for north carolina
If pulled pork is your idea of barbecue heaven, you must visit North Carolina. Destinations worth the trip: Allen & Sons Pit-Cooked Bar-B-Que (5650 U.S. Hwy. 15-501, Pittsboro; 919-542-2294). Lexington Barbecue (10 U.S. Hwy. 29-70 S., Lexington; 336-249-9814). Moore's Olde Tyme Barbecue (3621 Clarendon Blvd., New Bern; 252-638-3937). Short Sugar's Pit Bar-B-Q (1328 S. Scales St., Reidsville; 336-342-7487). Wilber's Barbecue (4172 U.S. Rte. 70 E., Goldsboro; 919-778-5218).
O is for on-line barbecue
A recent Yahoo! search turned up 247 barbecue Web sites. A favorite: the all-purpose www.barbecuen.com, with lots of info on techniques and equipment, plus an on-line store and links to grill manufacturers.
P is for pizza
Grilled pizza was born at Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, where the crisp crust is lightly topped so you can fully appreciate its smoky flavor. It isn't difficult to make, but you need two temperature zones on the grill: one hot, one moderate. You cook the dough over the hot zone until the underside is crisp. Then you flip it over with tongs, move it to the cooler part of the grill and add the toppings. Control the heat as the pizza finishes cooking by sliding it back and forth between the zones.
Q is for quesadilla
Mexico's grilled cheese sandwich is usually cooked on a griddle. Once you've tasted one that actually was grilled, however, you'll never go back. The trick is to work over a moderate fire. Make a sandwich from two tortillas filled with sour cream, Jack cheese, scallions, tomato, cilantro and jalapeño peppers. Cook the quesadilla until itis nicely browned on both sides and seared on the edges.
R is for ribs
Barbecued ribs are delectable because the meat is generously marbled and the bones impart such a rich flavor. Baby-back ribs, short and succulent, are cut from the top of the rib cage--hence the expression "eating high off the hog." Spareribs are long, meaty staves. Country-style ribs (mini pork chops, really) are the meatiest cut. Short ribs come from the bottom of the rib roast; Koreans use them for kalbi kui (sesame-grilled ribs).
S is for skewers
Skewers are crucial for grilling small pieces of meat or vegetables. Slender metal skewers are best for firm vegetables and cubed meats. When grilling soft items, like cherry tomatoes, use two parallel metal skewers to prevent the food from slipping when you turn it. Bamboo skewers are ideal for Asian-style kebabs and satays; to keep them from burning in the high heat, soak them in cold water for an hour before cooking. Long, thick rosemary sprigs make wonderful skewers for scallops, shrimp and chicken; just strip the leaves off the bottoms of the sprigs.
T is for tools
With the right tools, brilliant grilling is a lot easier. The essentials: a sturdy brush with stiff wire bristles for cleaning the grate; a long-handled brush with natural bristles for basting; spring-loaded tongs; a long, wide offset spatula with a wooden handle for turning burgers and firm fish, like tuna; a hinged wire basket for whole fish and more delicate fillets; and a mitt that's long enough to cover the forearm.
U is for uruguay
Uruguay prepares some of the finest grilled meats on the planet, especially sweetbreads, flank steak and short-rib steak. Mercado del Puerto, the central food market across from the old port in Montevideo, is grill central. More than a dozen restaurants, notably the perennially popular El Palenque and La Estancia, serve grilled meats with chimichurri (a garlicky parsley sauce). Lunch is the best time to go.
V is for vegetables
Vegetables that are among the best candidates for the grill include mushrooms, corn on the cob, bell peppers, onions, eggplants, tomatoes, summer squash, radicchio and asparagus. For an Asian flavor, brush with sesame oil, season with salt and pepper and grill; sprinkle with sesame seeds, soy sauce and lemon juice before serving.
W is for wood
Almost any type of hardwood makes a flavorful fuel for grilling. Mesquite is best for beef, hickory for pork, alder for salmon, maple for turkey and fruitwoods, like apple and cherry, for chicken and game. Oak goes well with everything. WW Wood in Texas sells bags filled with paraffin-infused chunks of mesquite or hickory. Just place a bag in the grill and light the corners; you'll have a scorching fire in 20 to 30 minutes ($5 for 3.5 pounds; 830-569-2501).
X is for xnipec
The world's most fiery salsa comes from the Yucatán, where it goes by the curious name of xnipec (SHNEE-pek). In Mayan, xni means dog and pec means nose, which makes sense when you consider that chiles make your nose moist, like a dog's. To make about 1 cup of xnipec, in a medium bowl combine 1 diced tomato with 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1 to 3 seeded and minced habaneros (start with 1) and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Season with lime juice and salt and serve with grilled seafood, chicken or pork.
Y is for yakitori
Yaki means grilled in Japanese; tori means chicken. Put them together and you get one of the tastiest kebabs ever to grace a hibachi. Yakitori parlors are an institution throughout Japan, noisy havens where office workers gather for grilled snacks and drinks before embarking on a long commute home. What's best about yakitori sauce is its striking contrast of flavors: the salty tang of soy sauce, the sweetness of sugar and mirin and the aromatic excitement of ginger, garlic and scallions.
Z is for zahtar
One of my favorite rubs for grilled bread, fish and lamb is a Middle Eastern spice mixture called zahtar; it's composed of thyme and white sesame seeds plus a pinch of ground sumac for tartness. Zahtar is available at Middle Eastern markets and specialty-food shops, or you can order it by mail from Penzeys Spices ($4.80 for 4 ounces; 414-679-7207).
Steven Raichlen traveled the world's barbecue trail to research his book, The Barbecue Bible (Workman). His Web site is: www.barbecuebible.com. He lives and grills in Coconut Grove, Florida.