The idea for the book came to me shortly after moving from Boston to Miami. South Florida is enough to sharpen anyone’s appetite for grilling. First, there’s the climate, which makes year-round grilling not only a possibility but almost a duty. (How different Miami is from Boston, where grilling in the winter requires donning arctic apparel!)
Then there’s Miami’s dizzying cultural diversity. Dade County, which includes Miami, is 50 percent Hispanic, and Miami itself is home to the nation’s largest Cuban, Nicaraguan, Colombian, and Haitian communities. But "Hispanic" only begins to describe what’s going on in Miami’s markets and restaurants: Not only are the countries of the Caribbean and South America represented, but virtually every country in Europe, Africa, and Asia as well. Global cuisine isn’t simply a curiosity or luxury here in South Florida. It’s a way of life.
So an idea began to take hold of my imagination: to explore how the world’s oldest and most universal cooking method varies from country to country, region to region, and culture to culture. To travel the world’s barbecue trail-if such a trail existed-and learn how pit masters and grill jockeys solve that age-old problem: how to cook food over live fire without burning it.
I resolved to explore the asados of Argentina and the churrascos of Brazil to taste Jamaica’s jerk and Mexico’s barbacoa. I’d visit Greece to discover the secret of souvlaki and Italy to learn how to make an authentic bistecca alla fiorentina. My research introduced me to eat mechouie in Morocco and koftas in the Middle East, donner kebab in Turkey, and tandoori in India. I would visit the birthplace of Japanese yakitori, Indonesian saté, and Korean kui and bool kogi.
Of course, there’d be lots of live-fire cooking to investigate in my own country: from the ribs of Kansas City and Memphis to the pulled pork of the Carolinas and the slow-smoked briskets of Texas. I’d check out the wood-burning grills of California and the hearthside cookery of New England. The more I delved into the world of barbecuing and grilling, the more I became convinced that it is more than just another technique in a cook’s repertoire. It’s even more than a cultural phenomenon. The world over, it’s a way of life.
It wouldn’t hurt, I reasoned, that grilling and barbecuing fit so nicely into the contemporary North American lifestyle. These ancient methods support the four dominant trends in modern American cooking: our passion for explosive flavors our fast-paced lifestyle, with its need for quick, easy cooking methods our mushrooming health consciousness and desire to eat foods that are low in fat but high in flavor our desire to turn our homes into our entertainment centers, to transform the daily necessity of food preparation into recreation-even fun.
If ever there was a cooking method to take us into the next millennium, it is grilling. We see its growing popularity in the skyrocketing sales of barbecue grills (currently, more than 70 percent of Americans own grills). We see it in the proliferation of barbecue festivals and restaurants with wood-burning grills.
The truth is that-in terms of ease, speed, and intensity of flavor-nothing can rival grilling. And as more Americans travel the barbecue trail and discover the regional subtleties of grilling, the movement will only grow.
I shared my idea with Peter Workman and Suzanne Rafer of Workman Publishing, who responded with an enthusiasm that matched my own. In fact, they encouraged me to broaden the scope of the original book from the 12 countries on which I had initially planned to focus to the entire world of grilling. (Easy for them to do! They wouldn’t have to worry about jet lag, visas, complex travel arrangements, vaccinations that turned my arms into pincushions, and gastrointestinal perils that would challenge the limits of my culinary curiosity.)
A proposal was written. A contract was executed.
And only then did I panic.
How would I visit more than 25 countries in the space of three years? How would I overcome local language barriers and sometimes less than favorable attitudes to American journalists? And even if I could communicate with street cooks and chefs, how would I persuade them to share their grilling secrets? How would I ferret out the best barbecue (and best places to have it) in countries I knew only from guidebooks?
I realized I had taken on the biggest challenge of my life.
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