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Aye, there's the rub
No, that's not Hamlet hamming it up as he contemplates a rack of baby back ribs, it's none other than Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible, and grand guru of the grill. This time around, Steve tackles the very foundation of the craft, "the cornerstones on which unforgettable live-fire flavors are built" - the essential seasonings that give grilled food its character and its deliciously distinctive personality. Don't even take a minute to ponder the nature of "essentials," they're all listed right up front in the title - Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters, and Glazes (paperback, $12.95, ISBN 0761119795). And above and beyond these flavor-enhancers or, more accurately, on the side, are the condiments, sensational salsas, sambals, relishes, and chutneys. Before you start marinating, rubbing, or slathering, our conscientious grillmeister wants to make sure you're all on the same page when it comes to cooking with fire.
Assuming, with much modesty, that not everyone has memorized The Barbecue Bible, Raichlen begins with a crash course for neophytes and a refresher course for longtime grillers that includes techniques, tools, and vocabulary. Then he gets to the heart - and heat - of the matter, and here too, there's something for everyone, from basic seasonings for those who have just found the thrill of the grill to the unusual and exotic for experts in the game of the flame. You'll find home-grown favorites like the Basic Barbecue Rub (the granddaddy of them all) The Only Marinade You'll Ever Need, Garlic Butter Baste (the "world's most popular"), and a Sweet-And-Smokey Barbecue Sauce that's as American as apple pie. International entries range from Central Asian Seasoned Salt, Balinese Spice Paste, and Belgian Beer Marinade to Coconut Curry Baste, Mexican Chili Oil, and Chilean Onion Relish.
Raichlen's enthusiasm is contagious and his encouraging tips, found in the margins, but never marginal, accompany almost every one of the more than 200 recipes. He's all fired-up, and you will be, too.
Sybil Pratt has been cooking up this column for more than five years.