Steven Raichlen's Barbecue Bash at Books & Books

Steven Raichlen celebrated the publication of his new cookbook, Planet Barbecue!, at Books & Books in Coral Gables last Saturday night with a live barbecue and lecture. The approachable author and TV personality (he has a show on PBS called Primal Grill) worked the outdoor courtyard, shaking hands, kissing babies (including his own granddaughter) and signing cookbooks. Meanwhile, the grills were crackling with the sounds (and aromas) of recipes from his latest tome. The serpentine line was filled with hungry guests hankering for treats like Raichlen's 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.

Fully sated, everyone moved into the store where Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan introduced the cookbook author thusly: "What Julia Child is to French cooking, Steven Raichlen is to barbecue." High, but deserved, praise indeed.

Raichlen's speech, which he is also delivering at the Smithsonian on Thursday night, spans two million years and multiple countries. His contention is that the advent of cooking over fire, which developed some 1.8 million years ago, led to the growth of the human brain, speech, changed social patterns and the division of labor. More recently, he cites the Greeks as having ritual pyres with animal sacrifice before battle as some of the globe's first planned barbecues.

Other history lessons pertaining to grilling included the first mention of the word "barbacoa," which clearly became the word for barbecue. This cooking technique was discovered by the Spanish in 1512 when they landed in what is now the Dominican Republic. Grilling spread throughout the New World, and George Washington was such an enthusiast that one of his barbecues lasted three days.

In the last century, Raichlen suggests that barbecuing moved from public spaces and into the home with the introduction of the highway system, rise of the suburbs and the invention of Weber home grills. Raichlen fits into this barbecue culture as the author of seven cookbooks pertaining to grilling. Novices may want to check out his first one, Barbecue Bible, before attempting some of the recipes in Planet Barbecue!

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