Since it's August, your outdoor-grilling skills are likely to be beyond the brush-up stage and into the experimental phase.
If you're like many people, you've been trying out new ways to spice up those steaks, flavor those fish filets and rev up those vegetables. Or, at the very least, you've expressed interest in adding variety to the ho-hum practice of throwing it on the sizzler, then glopping on the store-bought barbecue sauce.To avoid wearing that invisible U on your apron (U stands for uncreative), look no further than the bookshelves, where the pages of books might as well serve as a marinade of advice, a hotbed of ideas for those who suffer from creative block the minute the tongs come out of the kitchen drawer.
Most of these books offer sound advice on types of grills, fuels, tools, maintenance, cooking techniques, mail ordering and more. Some also touch on current trends such as using aromatic woods (from mesquite to apple); grilling unconventional fare (bananas, California barracuda, curried goat); smoking your own meat and fish (no gas mask needed); utilizing exotic spices (what's achiote?); and creating a main course out of grilled vegetables (not for vegetarians only). The choices are enough to keep you grilling through autumn or even winter.
At the end of the day, how you cook outdoors is a matter of personal preference. And many say it's not what you put on the grill that matters, but what you do to the food before, during and after it hits the heat. Flavor bursts onto the scene in the form of marinades, dry rubs, mops, sauces, dressings, butters, glazes, bastes, dips, pastes, and more. (See recipes.)
Keep in mind that somewhere between being a culinary Evel "Knievel" and a boring tender of the coals, there's uncharted territory to be discovered. Here are a few books to get the juices flowing:
Grill-meisters Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby present "Big Flavors of the Hot Sun" with "hot recipes and cool tips from the Spice Zone" (William Morrow & Co., 487 pp., $27.50). As authors of the popular "The Thrill of the Grill," restaurateur Schlesinger (of East Coast Grill, Jake and Earl's Barbecue, and the Blue Room, all in Cambridge, Mass.) and food writer Willoughby expand their repertoire of flavorful flame-cooked food by honing in on equator-inspired cuisine. "This is my theory: Where the weather is hotter, the food is more intensely flavored," Schlesinger writes.
Many of the 240 recipes, though not all, in this hardback book call for grilling. The book peddles a sense of fun-filled travel and offers practical tips along the way.
For those interested in the "real" way to barbecue, Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison have created "Smoke & Spice" (Harvard Common Press, 414 pp., $14.95). Seasoned with tales, tips, serving suggestions, and more than 300 recipes, this thick paperback is a super-accessible guide, highlighting the difference between barbecue and grilling. Whereas both are done outdoors, real barbecue means cooking low and slow with lots of wood smoke; grilling means cooking over an open flame.
"The Grilling Encyclopaedia," by A. Cort Sinnes (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992, 351 pp., $16), is an exhaustive how-to-grill-almost-anything, from abalone to zucchini. Arranged alphabetically and accompanied by recipes, informational tidbits, general guidelines, ink-wash illustrations, and humorous quotes, the paperback makes for a handy, no-nonsense reference guide. Sinnes also includes information on flavors - from angelica to vinegars - as well as marinades, sauces, dry rubs, butters, condiments and side dishes. "Marinades made with herb vinegars can be as simple as combining equal amounts of water, oil and the herb vinegar of your choice. Additional herbs and other ingredients can be added to accentuate a particular flavor."
For more of a sassy - or saucy - read, try the El Paso Chile Company's "Burning Desires," by company co-owner W. Park Kerr and cookbook writer Michael McLaughlin (William Morrow, 269 pp., $15). The cover of the book shows a red pepper bursting into the shape of a heart with flames, wearing a banner: "Salsa, Smoke & Sizzle." Kerr is in hot pursuit to inspire readers with his passion for the grill and the smoker; you can almost hear his Texan accent in the writing. More than 160 recipes are featured, including condiments, spice mixtures, sauces, main courses, pizzas and more.
Finally, for visual inspiration, turn to HarperCollins' grill series, the newest additions of which are "Meat on the Grill," and "Seafood on the Grill" (HarperPerennial, 1993, all 95 pages and $17 each), following "Chicken on the Grill," "Vegetables on the Grill," "The Grill Book" and "The Art of Grilling." Authors David Barich and Thomas Ingalls introduce practical information that leads the way to tasteful, well-written recipes accompanied by exquisite color photographs, making the mouth water and the mind think: "I'd like to try that."
Here are three recipes for East Coast Grill Masala, Thunder Paste and Apricot Double-Mustard Glaze.
The masala was adapted from "Big Flavors of the Hot Sun" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (William Morrow and Company).
"Known at the East Coast Grill as our own special masala, this mixture is the base seasoning for many of the dishes that we cook," says Schlesinger of his Cambridge, Mass., restaurant. "I particularly like to use it on things that fly or swim."
Thunder Paste was adapted from "Smoke and Spice" by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press). It's been described as an "exotic blend that's superb on chicken and shrimp."
The Apricot Double-Mustard Glaze came from "Burning Desires" by W. Park Kerr (William Morrow and Company). Fruity and mustardy, this glaze is particularly good on chicken or turkey, as well as being highly complementary to pork and shellfish grills. Peach preserves or orange marmalade can replace the apricot jam with equally tasty results.
EAST COAST GRILL MASALA
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup prepared curry powder
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons ground allspice
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Mix ingredients together well. Rub over entire surface of food, using a bit of pressure to make sure a good layer adheres to food. (Rub may turn dark brown during cooking.)
Covered and stored in a cool, dark place, this rub will keep for 6 weeks. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
1 small onion, chunked
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons ground anise seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Combine ingredients in food processor or blender; process until onion is finely chopped and a thick puree forms. Massage paste into food, then "soak" and refrigerate in plastic bag. Refrigerate the paste, covered, for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 1 cup.
APRICOT DOUBLE-MUSTARD GLAZE
1 cup apricot jam
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup grainy mustard
1 tablespoon, packed, light-brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a small saucepan over low heat, combine jam, mustards, sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce and pepper. Heat, stirring often, until smooth. Transfer to a storage container, cool to room temperature; use immediately. (Brush on glaze during final minute of cooking.) Can be refrigerated "indefinitely." Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Glossary of flavor enhancers for flaming foods
Dry rub: A mixture of dry ingredients, such as spices and herbs, "rubbed in" before cooking.
Paste: Like a dry rub, only wet; sometimes called a slather.
Marinade: Various herbs and spices added to an acid-and-oil liquid in which meat or fish is "steeped" for flavor before cooking. Fish should be marinated for no more than 1/2 hour; meats can go much longer, though be sure to cover and refrigerate.
Baste, mop, glaze: Sauces brushed on during cooking, some of which may be reserved for extra sauce after cooking.
Sauces, butters, dressings: Various flavored liquids or salsas that go on or accompany the food after it has been cooked.