Grilling is a pillar of the American summer and the world's oldest form of cooking. From Latin America to Africa, grilling is at the heart of many cultures. This summer All Things Considered is setting out to explore some of them with the "Global Grill" series.
We begin the journey in the U.S. with food writer Adam Rapoport, editor of Bon Appetit magazine. He's compiled a 400-page encyclopedia of recipes called The Grilling Book and says he loves the process of the outdoor cooking method.
"It's very different than, say, baking, where you set the oven to 375 [degrees], the timer to 40 [minutes] and you kind of know exactly what's going to happen," he says. "With grilling, you can never walk away. You've got to be involved the entire time."
His first tip is to ditch the quick-start gas grill and grab a bag of hardwood charcoal. He prefers the lump charcoal to the briquette version, although there's debate over which is better. He says charcoal imparts a clean, smoky flavor to food and is more consistent to cook with.
"What's great with charcoal is that you have this bed of intense, heat and the entire grill is getting this wall of hot, hot heat," he says
Prepping the charcoal also slows you down and gives you time to make other dishes, Rappoport says. One of his favorite companions to grilled meats is an Asian coleslaw, with cabbage, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, peanuts, cilantro and lime juice. Another of his go-to side dishes is sliced tomatoes with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.
"[It's] such a nice complement — a cool, bracing side to that hot, crispy main course," he says.
When it comes to the classic American burger, Rapoport sticks with at least a 20 percent fat ground chuck. "Fat is flavor," he says. His other advice is to keep out the clutter.
"A good burger it doesn't need blue cheese, soy sauce, or onions and this and that — it's just loosely packed ground beef and salt and pepper."
But Rapoport's Grilling Book is about more than burgers; it's filled with recipes that blend flavors and techniques from around the world.
"I think we're at a point in America now where we just love flavor, and I don't think we even think of it in terms of where it comes from," he says. "If you have a great recipe, whether it's Middle Eastern or Asian, whatever — you just think of it as something you love to make."
In the coming weeks, we will feature some of those flavors — from Mexico to Turkey — on the "Global Grill."
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
It is Memorial Day and perhaps you're listening to us off-road, far from the hustle of the daily commute. Perhaps you're in the backyard, a cold beverage in hand, listening to this sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF BARBECUE GRILL)
SIEGEL: It's the grill, a pillar of the American summer and the world's oldest form of cooking, as basic as fire and flavor. From Latin America to Africa, grilling is at the heart of many cultures. And this summer, we're setting out to explore the culture of the global grill.
We begin our journey here at home with food writer Adam Rapoport. He's the editor of Bon Appetit magazine, and he's getting ready to grill on his Manhattan patio.
ADAM RAPOPORT: I'm now taking yesterday's New York Times and crumbling it up. This is what's going to get the fire started.
SIEGEL: Rapoport says he loves the drawn-out process of grilling.
RAPOPORT: Every time you grill, I think what is fun about it is you're always striving to get it right.
SIEGEL: That striving, the back and forth, is what makes grilling Rapoport's preferred way of cooking.
RAPOPORT: It's very different than, say, baking where you set the oven at 375, the timer to 40 minutes, and you kind of know exactly what's going to happen. You can literally walk away, turn on the TV and not even think about it. With grilling, you can never walk away. You've got to be involved the entire time.
SIEGEL: Adam Rapoport has just compiled a 400-page encyclopedia of recipes called "The Grilling Book." His first tip: drop the quick-start gas grill and grab a bag of real hardwood charcoal.
RAPOPORT: It's just wood. There's no chemicals, no by-products, so it's a clean, smoky flavor.
SIEGEL: And it's the heat that makes the flavor.
RAPOPORT: The problem with gas grills often is that it's a little bit inconsistent. There's little strips of flame and that's basically all your heat you're getting. What's great about charcoal heat is that you have a wall of hot, hot heat.
SIEGEL: Adam Rapoport says charcoal also slows you down, gives you the time to listen to your food.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHARCOAL CRACKLING)
RAPOPORT: What I love about the hardwood charcoal also when it's beginning to catch, there's this beautiful snap, crackle and pop to the wood. It kind of clinks and pops. And you can hear it coming alive and catching.
SIEGEL: But for those who are not going to pause to tune in to the sounds of charcoal catching fire, the waiting game is perfect for prepping some smart sides.
RAPOPORT: I want something very clean and bracing and fresh on the side, whether, you know, I love making sort of an Asian coleslaw with some rice wine vinegar and sesame oil and peanuts and cilantro and lime juice and, in the height of summer, just, you know, sliced tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. You can't beat that. But that's such a nice complement, a cool, bracing sort of side to that hot, crispy main course.
SIEGEL: As for today's main course, Rapoport is sticking to the classic American burger.
RAPOPORT: Fat is flavor. So you've got to buy freshly ground chuck with about at least 20 percent fat in it.
SIEGEL: And his other advice: keep out the clutter.
RAPOPORT: It doesn't need blue cheese in it. It doesn't need soy sauce or onions or this and that. It's just loosely packed ground beef, salt and pepper.
SIEGEL: And with a melting slice of American cheese, he's off.
RAPOPORT: So here we go. We're going to put our nicely, loosely formed, well-seasoned patties on the grill.
(SOUNDBITE OF PATTIES SIZZLING ON GRILL)
SIEGEL: Adam Rapoport's "Grilling Book" is about more than burgers. It's filled with recipes that blend flavors and techniques from around the world.
RAPOPORT: Everyone grills. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone's got some great recipes. And I think we're at a point in America now where we love flavor, and I don't think we even think of it in terms of where it comes from. If you have a great recipe, whether it's Middle Eastern or Asian, whatever, you just think of it as a great recipe and something that you love to make. And I think that's what makes this as a fun and exciting country to live is that we are so open to so many different flavors and techniques.
SIEGEL: And in the coming weeks, we'll hear about grilling techniques from Mexico to Turkey in our series "The Global Grill." Adam Rapoport joined us from Manhattan. He is editor of Bon Appetit magazine and "The Grilling Book." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.