- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

SMOKE, CHAR, BASTE & BRUSH YOUR WAY TO GREAT OUTDOOR COOKING

By Adam Perry Lang

Hyperion, $35, 390 pages, illus.

Reviewed by Chisomo Kalinga

It’s barbecue season, and Adam Perry Lang wants to make you a master at the grill. In his first cookbook, the owner of the Manhattan eatery Daisy May’s BBQ USA presents a smorgasbord of carnivorous choices sure to delight any lover of grilled food. A seasoned barbecue enthusiast, Mr. Lang presents a thorough yet easy-to-follow course on traditional American outdoor gastronomy.

This compilation of more than 120 recipes is an array of just about everything you can grill, from A to Z. Following the footsteps of ebullient chefs such as Jamie Oliver, author of “Cook With Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook,” “Serious Barbecue” is an in-depth presentation that extends far beyond the conventional cookbook. Mr. Lang aims to reveal the infinite possibilities of this unique American outdoor tradition, and make no mistake, what he delivers is clearly a meat lover’s bible - a comprehensive and well-put-together guide to outdoor grilling.

Mr. Lang clearly has spent time in barbecue-pit trenches all across the country, compiled his acquired knowledge and wants to bring his passion for barbecuing to your backyard. As he shares his journey from executive chef (at the finest restaurants in New York and Paris) to outdoor afficionado, one can’t help but notice how he exhorts his apprentice - you - to emulate his inexhaustible passion for cooking outside the kitchen.

For Mr. Lang, cooking outdoors is a visceral experience. He reveals, “I found a new respect for the primal art of barbecue and the people who cooked it. The food is elemental, at its core just meat and fire, and its appeal obvious. It is not just another book of recipes.” Much of his haute-cuisine experience translates into his outdoor technique, particularly his determination to add or bolster flavor at every opportunity; meats are glazed with bundles of herbs, cutting boards are coated with sauces, as are knives.

Mr. Lang is all about kicking up barbecue skills a notch by incorporating new elements that will give any cook an advantage over neighbors. His tips are plentiful and are spread methodically across this cookbook, detailing all of the important variables one needs to develop his own technique.

The American barbecue circuit is a diverse territory, and through each recipe, Mr. Lang approaches this intricate genre as an opportunity to explore regional tastes. He explores every conceivable aspect one can consider when approaching the grill. When it comes to picking the best flavors, the process of grilling begins at the local supermarket.

Mr. Lang offers valuable information about how to choose the best local, sustainable meats free from the use of hormones and antibiotics. Food ethicists will celebrate his directions about how to find meats derived from animals raised on natural grass and grain diets. For Mr. Lang, the better it was raised, the better it tastes.

His extensive knowledge of American barbecue techniques extends far beyond meats as he outlines his recipes for marinades, sauces and glazes. All the while, Mr. Lang drags you into the spirit of barbecuing by infusing local jargon into the cooking process.

He presents a delectable array of sides that he aptly calls “the costars.”

From vegetables to desserts, Mr. Lang explores a variety of side-dish pairings that complement this meat-heavy ensemble of recipes. He prepares simple and traditional dishes such as grilled peaches and grilled corn on the cob as well as the more complex artichokes basted with anchovy butter and charred eggplant puree with yogurt and garlic.

Mr. Lang delves into the daunting terrain of equipment and asks: What does one need to have for the best outdoor grilling experience? He provides his expertise on everything from managing heat and flame flare-ups to choosing a natural fuel (coal or wood) versus a gas grill. You’ll learn how to keep your food from sticking to the grill plates and discover how various flavors and heats produce top-notch meals. All of these variables invariably affect the flavor and texture of your food.

Mr. Lang also takes time to debunk some long-entrenched “commandments” that have been passed down from generation to generation. For example, “a dirty grill means better flavor,” “always cook with fat side up” and “seasoning with salt before cooking makes meat dry” are all barbecue myths Mr. Lang argues should be dispelled.

He covers a variety of beef, pork, veal, ribs, lamb, chicken and turkey, dedicating an expansive section to each and much more. He presents a marriage of various tastes and flavors in recipes such as pineapple-and-apricot-glazed boneless, skinless chicken breasts and the worldly Moroccan-spiced honey lamb shanks.

Accompanying his writings are delectable photographs of Mr. Lang at work in the pit and in his element among nature. Alongside savory shots of prepared meals are photographs of uncooked dishes, ready for the grill. Images of whole pigs on a spit may cause a little queasiness for some, but for the rest, the mouthwatering images are likely to excite gastronomical curiosity.

Curiously placed at the end is an assortment of basic recipes ranging from “fresh and dried” bread crumbs to a more involved yogurt sauce” (tsatsiki). And just in case there is a corner he hasn’t covered, Mr. Lang provides a two-page list of his recommendations and resources to further the outdoor cooking experience.

In the book, Mr. Lang equips you with everything you need in order to understand the multifaceted options of barbecuing. It is an all-inclusive reference work that is less instructional than informational. This cookbook is the perfect introduction not only for the outdoor neophyte but also for the experienced chef who is looking to get more out of the grilling experience.

Ultimately, “Serious Barbecue” is an excellent companion to any cookbook collection - a must-have for the outdoor epicure and for all who have the temperament to read, learn, emulate and eventually improvise on their own.

Chisomo Kalinga is a writer and editor based in the Washington area.

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