'Planet Barbecue' takes avid grillers around sizzling world

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Next time you fire up your backyard grill, ponder this. You are engaging in the world's most ancient and universal method of cooking.

In Malaysia, a grill mistress wraps a spice-slathered stingray in banana leaves to be grilled over coconut shell charcoal. And in Greece, a taverna owner roasts an oregano-scented hog on a charcoal-burning rotisserie.

Next time you fire up your backyard grill, ponder this. You are engaging in the world's most ancient and universal method of cooking.

In Malaysia, a grill mistress wraps a spice-slathered stingray in banana leaves to be grilled over coconut shell charcoal. And in Greece, a taverna owner roasts an oregano-scented hog on a charcoal-burning rotisserie.

"Barbecuing is a universal method, and it has evolved in different ways everywhere and in every culture," says acclaimed grilling author Steven Raichlen.

His latest book, "Planet Barbecue" (Workman, $28.95 paperback), is the culmination of the remarkable 15-year journey the journalist took visiting dozens of countries around the world seeking out local grilling techniques.

Raichlen, 57, relied on his extensive network of informants and grilling experts gleaned from many years both writing books on barbecue as well as hosting television shows on the subject.

"It's not like I'd arrive in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and not know where to go," he says. "I had a concrete itinerary worked out through grilling authorities there as well as friends and associates."

Raichlen's book delves into how the traditions of each country evolved through its own local flavours and grilling techniques.

"I found barbecue in Southeast Asia the most exciting," he says. "The flavours are explosive, the sizes are small grilled meats which are always served with salads or lettuce leaves and lots of interesting dipping sauces."

The thick, very detailed book has 600 colour photographs, essay snapshots of each country, grill master and mistress profiles as well as 300 sizzling recipes.

"I think one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises to me was Cambodia," he says. "There I found an incredibly vibrant grill culture."

Barbecue is depicted on the stone walls of the temple Bayon in Siem Reap built in the late 12th century. Sculptors carved a series of clay braziers tended by grill masters.

And of Cambodia's "best barbecue secret," Raichlen writes: "In the West, one doesn't normally think of barbecue as health food, but westerners could learn a lot about healthy meat-eating from the way Cambodians grill and serve steak.

"A single rib-eye would feed three or four. But accompanying the small portion of red meat would be a lavish assortment of fresh vegetables and spicy condiments."

He has included Canada in this tome with recipes for alder-smoked salmon from Vancouver, trout grilled on a log, Montreal's famous smoked meat and spruce-grilled steak.

You could say "Planet Barbecue" is a culinary encyclopedia on the subject.

Geographic location: Malaysia, Greece, Cambodia Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asia Canada Vancouver Montreal

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