There's a world of grilled food out there, and Steven Raichlen seems to have wandered through all of it the State Department deemed "safe." No Afghanistan, for instance. No Iraq. But not to worry. Any decent conflict produces refugees, and nothing travels quite so easily as your own way with food. So Raichlen availed himself of restaurant cooks in this country where and when he had to--all to get right down to the meat of it.
"Barbecue," as Raichlen points out, is a confusing word in the U.S. because it means so many things, up to and including slow-cooked barbecue with its smoky aroma and succulent charm. The word stands in for the tool itself. It's an event. It's food. It's the style of cooking.
To set the record straight, 90 percent of Raichlen's recipes (there are more than 500, from drinks to appetizers to main courses, salads, and desserts, not to mention sauces and dry rubs) are for grilled foods--and that can mean cooked on a hot grill, a moderately hot grill, a relatively cool grill, or an indirectly heated grill (which is more like an oven than a grill, but that's another story). Raichlen gets into some barbecue recipes: pork ribs, for example, or beef brisket, or chicken. But the reader would be better advised to look elsewhere for instruction specific to barbecue (cooking for long periods of time with smoke at low heat). The results will be more appealing.
But grilling. Well, Steven Raichlen has a lock on grilling. This book is absolutely overwhelming it is so deep, so comprehensive, so far-reaching, so all-encompassing. This isn't one of those chefs with taste memories from a grill in Barbados, now let's try to jazz it up and be clever kind of books. No. This is a book by an author who squatted in the market in Vietnam eating whole grilled eggs dipped in a special sauce, and he gives you the recipe and the technique. You could go set up your own egg-grilling stand in a Vietnamese market with this book. You could open shop in Central or South America. Or North Africa. Or the Middle East. Or Korea. Anywhere food is grilled--be that meat, poultry, seafood, or vegetables--Raichlen's been there and brought home the goods. The real goods.
But there's another angle, too. Raichlen freely shares his travel experiences with you, making this a valuable travel book. And he freely shares his techniques, too, telling you exactly how he learned and all about who taught him. His book is worth it just for the section on salads and sauces. Start there and work your way from cover to cover. Hey, take all summer trying. You won't regret it. Your life will never be the same. You'll probably find yourself thinking that if one grill in the backyard is good, two is no doubt better. See? You're already on your way. Let Steven Raichlen be your guide. --Schuyler Ingle