Others might tell it's spring when the tulips open. Me, I look for the grilling and barbecue books.
Every year brings another crop. Some become classics, like "The Thrill of the Grill" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, or Jeanne Voltz's "Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts and Other Great Feeds."
Others aren't worth the match it would take to burn them.
This year's batch seemed especially bountiful. We smoked them over to see which books sizzle and which ones fizzle.
Grilling for Dummies
By Marie Rama and John Mariani, IDG Books, 336 pages, $19.99 (paperback)
The "Dummies" series can be annoying. What kind of book series needs to insult readers in order to educate them? But this one was a pleasant surprise.
The book breaks grilling down into its most basic components and gives solid, useful information. Its manner isn't cute, just down-to-earth and understandable (despite truly awful puns like "It's thigh time to grill some legs.")
The color pictures are nothing special, but the drawings throughout the text are clear and helpful.
Born to Grill
By Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, Harvard Common Press, 490 pages, $27.95 (hardcover)
The Jamisons are America's Will and Ariel Durant of outdoor cooking, with books on grilling, smoking and spicy foods under their groaning belts.
This book is the summer's heavyweight. Scholarly and well-researched, it examines exactly what grilling is - and isn't.
Our covered grills, they teach us, act as both grills and ovens, roasting and baking large cuts of meat. They also broach open grilling - lifting the lid - as a means of getting more flavor and fire-tending challenge into your cooking.
This is the book for the journeyman cook who is ready to move on beyond chicken.
The Vegetarian Grill
By Andrea Chesman, Harvard Common Press, 288 pages, $14.95 (paperback)
"There's more to vegetarian grilling than bean burgers," Chesman promises. We would heartily agree - especially since Chesman delivers, with a lively lineup of grilled soups, salads and sandwiches, and dandy grilled appetizers like a smoked baba ghannouj.
The book includes a handy guide to grilling a whole list of popular vegetables. Ingredient lists are not spare, but not overly long or exotic, either.
All in all, this is a good companion to your other grilling books, or a stand-alone for vegetarians who want to join the backyard party.
By Clifford A. Wright, Macmillan, 202 pages, $16.95 (paperback re-release)
Why Italian? Wright makes a claim for a long tradition of cooking over a fire in Italy, including a whole vocabulary just for specific types of grilling - alla grigliata, alla brace, ai ferri.
Wright's recipes rely heavily on olive-oil marinades and traditional seasonings. This is the meat-lover's handbook, with lots of meat rolls, rustic sausages and spit roasting.
The Firehouse Grilling Cookbook
By Joseph T. Bonanno Jr., Broadway, 216 pages, $23 (hardcover)
We couldn't help liking this book. Maybe it's the idea, complete with a chapter on fire-safety tips. Or maybe it's Bonanno's grinning face - he looks a lot like a young Henry Winkler. His writing style? Fuggidabout it - very working-class New York, friendly, down-to-earth. This is Bonanno's second book; the first was "The Healthy Firehouse Cookbook," which featured recipes from firefighters all over the country. This one has some recipes from other firefighters, but most are Bonanno's. Simple and light, it's guy food on the healthy side.
The most interesting part is on fire methods (naturally). While we're all well-versed on direct and indirect grilling, his banked coal method is easily understood - a sloping pile of coals to create hot and cooler areas.
All Fired Up!
By Margaret Howard, Firefly, 219 pages, $24.95 (paperback)
Billed as a book of outdoor and indoor grilling, this one has pretty pictures, but suffers from confusion. Some of the recipes aren't even made on the grill, so it's not clear why they're there. The rest are mostly kebabs, grilled fish, grilled vegetables. Yeah, yeah, yeah - been there, cooked that. But what's this? Deep South Barbecue using beef brisket? Beef? Beef? Not in my neighborhood. If it's Texas barbecue, call it that.
Grilled Skewers of Sausage, Orange and Bay Leaf
Makes 2 to 3 servings
10 bay leaves
1 1/2 medium-size onions, cut into wedges
6 links Italian sweet sausage, cut into chunks
1 Florida juice orange, with peel, cut into chunks
10 (8- to 10-inch) wooden skewers or 5 metal skewers
Soak bay leaves (and wooden skewers, if using) in tepid water for 30 minutes. Drain.
Preheat a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat gas grill for 15 minutes on medium-high.
Double skewer all ingredients: Hold two skewers parallel to each other about 1/2 inch apart between your thumb and forefinger. Skewer a piece of onion, then a bay leaf, a piece of sausage and a piece of orange, repeating that order until all ingredients are used. There would be 2 or 3 pieces of meat per double skewer.
Coat each skewer with a drizzle of olive oil and place on grill. Cook, turning occasionally, until sausage is browned and the oranges are slightly blackened on the edges, about 20 minutes.
Serve hot. Discard bay leaves, but oranges can be eaten, including the peel.
- From "Grill Italian," by Clifford A. Wright (Macmillan, $16.95)
Lemon-Cilantro Chicken With Garlic-Ginger Mayonnaise
Makes 4 servings
1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) chicken, quartered, or chicken pieces
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon corn or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
grated peel of 1 lemon (yellow part only)
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
6 sprigs cilantro leaves and stems, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons peeled and finely minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Score each piece by cutting through skin and into meat on both sides. Place chicken in a large, resealable plastic bag or shallow baking dish.
In a small mixing bowl or glass measuring cup, combine marinade ingredients. (Marinade will be thick.) Spread marinade over chicken, or add to plastic bag and rub it over the chicken. Cover dish or seal bag, pressing out any air. Place in refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight, turning chicken occasionally.
Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal or gas grill.
Remove chicken from marinade, shaking off excess. Place, skin side down, on oiled grill rack. Cover and grill for 20 to 25 minutes, turning every 4 minutes, until the juices run clear and the meat is no longer pink near the bone. Serve with Garlic-Ginger Mayonnaise.
Garlic-Ginger Mayonnaise: In a small mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made ahead and refrigerated up to 1 week.
- From "Grilling for Dummies," by Marie Rama and John Mariani (IDG Books, $19.99)
Margarita Shrimp Skewers
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen kebabs
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 of a (6-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
soaked bamboo skewers
3 fresh jalapenos, cut into 8 small pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares
kosher or sea salt
minced fresh cilantro
Combine tequila, lime juice, orange juice concentrate and oil in a bowl or in a resealable plastic bag. Add shrimp and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Prepare a hot fire in charcoal or gas grill (1 to 2 seconds with the hand test).
While grill is heating, drain shrimp, discarding marinade. Skewer shrimp this way: Slide one end of first shrimp on a skewer, add a piece of jalapeno and bell pepper to rest in the curve of the shrimp, then slide the other end of the shrimp on the skewer. Continue that way, leaving a little space between each shrimp. Sprinkle kebabs lightly with salt.
Grill, uncovered, over high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side, until shrimp are just pink and lightly browned on edges. Jalapeno and bell pepper should remain a little crisp.
Sprinkle kebabs with cilantro and serve hot, with lime wedges.
Note: We found the jalapeno a little hot. Warn your guests that the green bits aren't bell pepper, or omit it altogether.
- From "Born to Grill," by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison (Harvard Common Press, $27.95)
Makes 6 servings
1 large eggplant
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini (see note)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
flatbreads, sesame crackers or pita wedges
Prepare a medium-low fire in grill. Soak wood chips while grill heats.
Prick eggplant several times with a fork on all sides. Place on the grill, add soaked wood chips to the fire and cover grill. Cook eggplant, turning occasionally, until completely soft and collapsed, about 40 to 60 minutes. Place the eggplant in a colander and let drain and cool for about 30 minutes.
Remove eggplant flesh from skin (skin should just peel off) and mash with a fork or puree in a good processor. Combine in a serving bowl with garlic, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, parsley and salt. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blend. Serve at room temperature with flatbreads, sesame crackers or pita wedges for scooping.
Note: Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It can be found in Asian and Indian markets and in some supermarkets. It separates; make sure you stir it well before using.
- From "The Vegetarian Grill," by Andrea Chesman (Harvard Common Press, $14.95)
Onion, Nut and Cheese Bites
Makes 16 slices
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced (Vidalia or Spanish preferred)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped pecans, almonds or walnuts
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
16 slices (1/2-inch thick) French bread stick (skinny baguette)
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
In nonstick skillet, cook onion in oil on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat, add nuts and sugar, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until onion has caramelized and is tender. Stir in mustard. Spoon onion mixture on bread slices and sprinkle with cheese. (Can be made in advance to this point and covered with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap until ready to grill.)
Preheat grill on medium-high. Place bread on oiled grill rack. Cook, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes or until bread is warm and cheese has started to melt. Watch carefully to keep bread from burning.
- From "All Fired Up!" by Margaret Howard (Firefly, $24.95)
Pub Date: 6/17/98