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Meat cooked over a fire tastes good. And Americans know it: Last year they cooked outdoors a record 2.3 billion times. The smoky savor of hickory or mesquite will perfume 3 out of 4 backyards from now through Labor Day. And the feasting doesn't necessarily end then. Half of those who own a grill use it year-round.

What is meant by "barbecue" depends on whose mitten grips the tongs, says Ann Spehar, the Barbecue Industry Association's executive director. Some chefs say it's any hastily flame-broiled thing - animal, vegetable, or hot dog. Others limit it to beef or pork smoked over indirect heat for the better part of a day, and in a "pit" rather than on a mere grill.Sensible folks need only ask, "How do they do it in Texas?" When it comes to barbecue, the Lone Star State's reputation for greatness rests on numerous highly individual emporiums: The Salt Lick in Driftwood, Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Luling City Market in Houston, almost anyplace in Taylor.

Which wood adds the best flavor? Should you apply tomato-based sauce, molasses-based sauce, or none at all? There are no right answers, only preferences.


Christopher Stubblefield hasn't written a cookbook, but he does sell "Stubb's Legendary Blues Cookbook Cassette." As Jesse Taylor plays guitar in the background, the chef narrates the process of creating mouthwatering barbecue.

Some pointers:

- Make sure the barbecue pit is clean, large enough to hold all the meat, maintains temperature, and won't catch fire. Keep baking soda on hand to sprinkle in the pit if it flares up.

- Never start a fire with meat already in the pit.

- Heat the pit to 175-250 degrees F.

- Cut meat into equal-sized pieces.

- Always cook meat with the fat side up.

- For thorough cooking, never pile pieces of meat. Leave room between them for heat to rise.

- Never use a marinade containing syrup or sugar. It will crystallize and turn black.

- "Remember, you have to love what you're doing," says Stubb. "You have to have feelings for what you're doing."

--Scott Pendleton, Christian Science Monitor