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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This July Fourth weekend, flames and smoke will rise over backyards across the country. Americans will be grilling.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In the best-case scenario, you get a tasty meal.

MONTAGNE: In the worst case, you get an awesome story of how you turned hamburger into charcoal briquettes, or how you got grill marks on your hand.

INSKEEP: Steven Raichlen wants to help you stay on the right side of that line.

Can I just mention for people, you're really comfortable putting your fingers in the fire?

Mr. STEVEN RAICHLEN (Author, "Barbecue Bible"): I've been doing this for a while. So...

INSKEEP: Okay.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Raichlen is the author of the "Barbecue Bible." The other morning, he fired up three grills in a backyard, and then slipped back inside to the kitchen.

Mr. RAICHLEN: So what we're going to do is an entire meal on the grill, from appetizers to desert.

INSKEEP: okay.

Mr. RAICHLEN: And we're going to do sort of a celebration of regional American barbecue.

INSKEEP: Regional American barbecue?

Mr. RAICHLEN: Regional American barbecue.

INSKEEP: So we're going beyond hamburger and a...

Mr. RAICHLEN: And hot dog.

INSKEEP: okay. Right. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but anyway.

Raichlen has spread out the ingredients on the kitchen island. He's got a slab of Alaskan salmon and a cedar-wood plank to grill it on. He's got spices for Mexican corn on the cob, as eaten in Chicago, and he sliced open poblano peppers - to stuff those green peppers with a mixture of...

Mr. RAICHLEN: Onion, cumin, garlic, pinto beans, and black beans with grated pepper jack cheese.

INSKEEP: Hmm. He's brought in bread and butter and garlic to grill Texas toast. And off to the right are several pounds of uncooked pork.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Our meat main course today: Pulled pork sliders with a nod to South Carolina; spice rub, smoke-roasted, pork shoulder that'll be chopped and served on grilled buns with mustard slaw and mustard sauce.

INSKEEP: Should I mention the barbecue sauce in the Carolinas is a little different than what Americans might be accustomed to elsewhere.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Absolutely. Well, North Carolina the barbecue sauce is a vinegar sauce. And in South Carolina and Georgia, the barbecue sauce is a mustard-based barbecue sauce. So that's what we're going to do today.

Finally, to finish up, from Georgia, cinnamon grilled peaches with Vitamin B3 glaze. And those three vitamins are brown sugar, butter and bourbon.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: I'm ready to go. Yes, we are going to grill peaches on one of the three grills that are already smoking outside.

Mr. RAICHLEN: So now what I'd like to do is we're kind of we've one all of our prep. We're going to head outside and we're going to get to work on the grill.

INSKEEP: Three factors will affect this meal. The first is the food itself.

Mr. RAICHLEN: All right.

INSKEEP: Wow. That is a lot of pork. That is a big hunk of pork.

Mr. RAICHLEN: So what we have here is a pork shoulder, also called a Boston butt.

INSKEEP: The next factor is what you put on the food, before it's cooking and while it cooks.

Mr. RAICHLEN: After the first hour and every hour thereafter, this is called a mop sauce. It's a mixture of vinegar, mustard and spices.

INSKEEP: And youve actually got a tool that looks like a mop.

Mr. RAICHLEN: And it is a little miniature mop. And we swab this over the meat.

(Soundbite of sizzling)

Mr. RAICHLEN: It adds an extra layer of flavor. It helps keep the meat moist. And it looks really cool.

INSKEEP: And the biggest factor, of course, is the star of the show: the fire.

I just realized I was about to set the microphone on fire there. That might not be good.

One of our gills runs on gas. The others are simple kettle grills, which he's gradually filling with charcoal - or it's not really filling.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Remember, there is a difference between grilling and burning.

INSKEEP: Steven Raichlen has a way of measuring the charcoal, dropping a bit at a time from a container.

Mr. RAICHLEN: You know, when people start out, they kind of build a raging fire and throw the food on, and then somehow hope by some divine miracle that it will come out grilled. But you want to control the fire. Thats why we work with multiple heat zones: hot zone for searing; medium zone for cooking; safety zone with no fire whatsoever.

INSKEEP: Raichlen thinks about just where he places the coals, and where he places those stuffed peppers on the grill.

Mr. RAICHLEN: And so I'll simply arrange them on the grill.

INSKEEP: And we're not putting them directly over the flame.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Right, we're putting them in between the mounds of coals. Thats why it's called indirect grilling.

INSKEEP: Direct and indirect grilling. Direct grilling means the food is right over the flame. Indirect grilling means you've pushed the coals off to either side.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Any time you grill something that is either big or fatty or needs a prolonged cooking time. Or you have a dish with a filling like this one, where you actually want to cook the filling through, as well as the peppers on the exterior - use indirect grilling, 'cause if we direct grilled, we'd char the peppers that the filling wouldn't be done.

INSKEEP: Got you.

And indirect grilling is what he uses on that slab of pork shoulder. He drops some water-soaked wood chips down into the charcoal. Theyll give a smoked flavor to the meat. And then he puts the cover on.

(Soundbite of a metal clanking)

Mr. RAICHLEN: Okay.

INSKEEP: Alright.

Mr. RAICHLEN: This is why the neighbors have been insane since 6:30 in the morning, because we did cook a pork shoulder...

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Oh-ho-ho-ho.

Mr. RAICHLEN: ... ahead of time. Cooking time on this is about three hours. And what you can see it's a beautiful, crusty, golden brown. I can just - it's so tender, I can just pull little pieces of pulled pork right off the meat.

INSKEEP: Do you mind if I do the same?

Mr. RAICHLEN: No, absolutely.

INSKEEP: Alright, thank you. Yeah, wow. So Ill have a little piece there.

INSKEEP: For quality control purposes.

INSKEEP: Ow, pretty hot.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Yeah. So indirect grilling about three hours, adding wood chips every hour but not the last hour.

INSKEEP: Now, the average person looking at this might fear, at first glance, that they had burned the meat.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Yes.

INSKEEP: Because it's blackened in a lot of places.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Well, there's a difference between black and very dark brown.

INSKEEP: Slaving for hours in the smoke under the sun, Steven Raichlen has grilled a perfect slab of meat, which he'll now take back inside and destroy.

Mr. RAICHLEN: And then with a cleaver...

(Soundbite of chopping)

Mr. RAICHLEN: ...we have to chop the pork into a fairly fine hash.

INSKEEP: He's turning it into the filling for a pulled-pork slider. Drop the meat on a soft roll with some slaw, and eat.

Now, this is a gob-o-food. Wow. Oh, thats fantastic.

Mr. RAICHLEN: It's a very complex set of flavors and mixtures.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Textures, yeah. Some parts are really crunch, some parts are really soft.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Yup. Yup.

INSKEEP: And we're going to follow it with peaches, speared on cinnamon sticks and basted with that brown sugar, butter and bourbon, directly over the flame of the grill.

Mr. RAICHLEN: You see how the ends of the cinnamon sticks are burning. And that releases all those cinnamon oils.

INSKEEP: You're all for that.

Mr. RAICHLEN: Yeah, absolutely. It's all about flavor.

INSKEEP: Actually, not quite all about flavor. For Steve Raichlen, it's also a kind of performance art.

Mr. RAICHLEN: One of the extraordinary things about grilling, it's a public event, it's a theatrical event, it's a social event - people do not gather around the stove to watch a pot of soup simmer, or an oven to watch cake bake.

But when you grill, instantly you have a crowd.

INSKEEP: And you can crowd onto our Website for recipes and photos at NPR.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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