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In the introduction to his new book on grilling, Fred Thompson confesses that he hated to finish this book because he had so much fun traveling America by its backyards. He spent years hosting and attending cookouts, gathering the recipes that celebrate our nation’s diverse palate. Thompson captures the primal spirit of cooking food outside over fire and the sense of community that comes from barbecuing with friends and family.Barbecue Nation, in fact, is like an enormous cookout, or, as Thompson writes, a community cookbook for the whole country. Each recipe is accompanied by a story and often a photo, so that we get to know the cooks behind this fantastic local fare. The breadth of Thompson’s findings will keep you busy for many a weekend, running the gamut from Southern to Asian to Caribbean, simple to complex, basic to creative. There are some useful tips for cooking more succulent meats, including an Argentine steak-preparation method and a Birmingham griller’s hot cooler method to “resting” grilled chicken. There are some terrific sides – Thompson generously offers up the secret recipe for his own highly sought baked beans. But what’s most indelible here is the sense of place – Tuscan-grilled salmon burritos with cucumber salsa, fish burgers from Sea Island off the Georgia coast, rummy lime jerk catfish from Tequesta, Florida. There’s even a sweet tea pie from Greenwood, Mississippi. And thankfully, there are some outlandish dishes, from gator steaks to Key West conch burgers, that you may never prepare, but they are, like the rest of the offerings in this cookbook, as much fun to read as eat.
A lot of folks are intimidated by the grill. What’s the biggest hurdle getting started in grilling? And to lure more folks into the pit, what’s the greatest reward?
No one should be afraid of grilling. Buying a grill is the most difficult step – trying to decide between charcoal and gas, which either will work just fine, and how much to spend on a grill. The return on your grill investment is more than just the flavor imparted on the food, but the community that a grill creates with your family, neighbors, and the bigger grilling community at large. Folks just like to congregate around a grill.
In your estimation, what is the easiest meat to prepare for a novice griller?
Without a doubt it’s a steak, like a New York strip or ribeye. It takes high heat and cooks quickly, but you get to test the grill for how it holds temperature and where the hot and cold spots are located. Bone-in chicken is a good starting point to learn indirect grilling; that is where the fire or direct heat is contained over part of the grill and the meat is placed away from the heat to cook more slowly. Think of it as oven roasting outdoors.
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