Memorial Day is upon us, and just in time for grilling season barbecue expert Steven Raichlen has released a new cookbook devoted to cooking outdoors. Planet Barbecue! covers grilling in 60 countries; Raichlen personally visited 53 of them for his research. Dishes span bisteca all fiorentina (Italy), spit-roasted ham hocks (Germany) and chicken grilled in lemon leaves (Vietnam).
There's also an extensive introduction to grilling in Planet Barbecue!. Notes Raichlen, who has won five James Beard awards, "The single thing I'm most proud of in this book are the first ten pages, which chronicles the history of barbecue. I put forth and support a revolutionary theory that it was the cooking of meat over fire that gave us the evolutionary push to go from apelike creatures to man. I did some research in the South of France and traced the fossil evidence. You look at pre-human skulls before we started eating cooked meat and after we started eating cooked meat and you can see the huge brain growth, development of speech and the appearance of the modern human face all came within 100,000 years of the discovery using fire to cook meat."
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Therefore, it's not surprising that there are many non-traditional grilling methods in this, his seventh, barbecue cookbook. In France, for example, mussels are grilled on a bed of flaming dried pine needles for a dish called Eclade de moules; while in Colombia, lomo al trapo is a beef tenderloin wrapped in a salt and cloth crust and roasted in embers. "There is an incredible diversity of the grilling experience," Raichlen explains. "It cuts across the sexes and economic levels. You can grill on a $10,000 stainless steel super grill or, as they do in Vietnam, on a hubcap."
The local cookbook author and TV personality thinks now is the time for foodies to start exploring other cultures. "One trend is the globalization of the American grill," Raichlen says. "We certainly see this in other arenas of American cooking, but it's really happening a lot in grilling. In Los Angeles, the hot new thing is a Korean barbecue truck. Indian grilling is getting big, too. There is going to be more specialized grilling equipment. I'm also noticing multiple grill ownership. People own a big gas grill for quick cooking on the weeknights. Then they get into charcoal grills and smokers on the weekend, when they have more time." Raichlen himself boasts over 30 grills between his homes in Miami and Martha's Vineyard.
Grilling enthusiasts can learn more about Planet Barbecue! tomorrow night at Books & Books in Coral Gables. Raichlen will be lecturing about the history of barbecue in a Powerpoint presentation he is going to deliver at the Smithsonian. There will also be barbecue stations with Malaysian turmeric prawns with fried garlic peanut sauce, South African Piri piri chicken wings, Hill Country brisket sandwiches, Cambodian coconut grilled corn and Brazilian spit-roasted pineapple The event starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are required.