ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
It is Memorial Day and perhaps you're listening to us off-road, far from the hustle of the daily commute. Perhaps you're in the backyard, a cold beverage in hand, listening to this sound.
(SOUNDBITE OF BARBECUE GRILL)
SIEGEL: It's the grill, a pillar of the American summer and the world's oldest form of cooking, as basic as fire and flavor. From Latin America to Africa, grilling is at the heart of many cultures. And this summer, we're setting out to explore the culture of the global grill.
We begin our journey here at home with food writer Adam Rapoport. He's the editor of Bon Appetit magazine, and he's getting ready to grill on his Manhattan patio.
ADAM RAPOPORT: I'm now taking yesterday's New York Times and crumbling it up. This is what's going to get the fire started.
SIEGEL: Rapoport says he loves the drawn-out process of grilling.
RAPOPORT: Every time you grill, I think what is fun about it is you're always striving to get it right.
SIEGEL: That striving, the back and forth, is what makes grilling Rapoport's preferred way of cooking.
RAPOPORT: It's very different than, say, baking where you set the oven at 375, the timer to 40 minutes, and you kind of know exactly what's going to happen. You can literally walk away, turn on the TV and not even think about it. With grilling, you can never walk away. You've got to be involved the entire time.
SIEGEL: Adam Rapoport has just compiled a 400-page encyclopedia of recipes called "The Grilling Book." His first tip: drop the quick-start gas grill and grab a bag of real hardwood charcoal.
RAPOPORT: It's just wood. There's no chemicals, no by-products, so it's a clean, smoky flavor.
SIEGEL: And it's the heat that makes the flavor.
RAPOPORT: The problem with gas grills often is that it's a little bit inconsistent. There's little strips of flame and that's basically all your heat you're getting. What's great about charcoal heat is that you have a wall of hot, hot heat.
SIEGEL: Adam Rapoport says charcoal also slows you down, gives you the time to listen to your food.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHARCOAL CRACKLING)
RAPOPORT: What I love about the hardwood charcoal also when it's beginning to catch, there's this beautiful snap, crackle and pop to the wood. It kind of clinks and pops. And you can hear it coming alive and catching.
SIEGEL: But for those who are not going to pause to tune in to the sounds of charcoal catching fire, the waiting game is perfect for prepping some smart sides.
RAPOPORT: I want something very clean and bracing and fresh on the side, whether, you know, I love making sort of an Asian coleslaw with some rice wine vinegar and sesame oil and peanuts and cilantro and lime juice and, in the height of summer, just, you know, sliced tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar and salt and pepper. You can't beat that. But that's such a nice complement, a cool, bracing sort of side to that hot, crispy main course.
SIEGEL: As for today's main course, Rapoport is sticking to the classic American burger.
RAPOPORT: Fat is flavor. So you've got to buy freshly ground chuck with about at least 20 percent fat in it.
SIEGEL: And his other advice: keep out the clutter.
RAPOPORT: It doesn't need blue cheese in it. It doesn't need soy sauce or onions or this and that. It's just loosely packed ground beef, salt and pepper.
SIEGEL: And with a melting slice of American cheese, he's off.
RAPOPORT: So here we go. We're going to put our nicely, loosely formed, well-seasoned patties on the grill.
(SOUNDBITE OF PATTIES SIZZLING ON GRILL)
SIEGEL: Adam Rapoport's "Grilling Book" is about more than burgers. It's filled with recipes that blend flavors and techniques from around the world.
RAPOPORT: Everyone grills. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone's got some great recipes. And I think we're at a point in America now where we love flavor, and I don't think we even think of it in terms of where it comes from. If you have a great recipe, whether it's Middle Eastern or Asian, whatever, you just think of it as a great recipe and something that you love to make. And I think that's what makes this as a fun and exciting country to live is that we are so open to so many different flavors and techniques.
SIEGEL: And in the coming weeks, we'll hear about grilling techniques from Mexico to Turkey in our series "The Global Grill." Adam Rapoport joined us from Manhattan. He is editor of Bon Appetit magazine and "The Grilling Book."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.