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."