If you can’t stand the heat, head back to your air-conditioned kitchen. Otherwise, welcome to “Planet Barbecue!” It’s a flaming hot and smoky place populated by people who are dead serious about grilling.

This 638-page book is barbecue guru Steven Raichlen’s grandest tour yet of cooking over fire around the globe. It’s a world of sizzle and grill marks, charcoal and pine needles, communion and good food.

It’s also a world that goes back about 1.8 million years, over which, fortunately for us, starting a fire has gotten easier, and the sauces have only gotten better.

A talk with Raichlen about barbecue and grilling — and there is a difference — means starting at the very beginning.

“Homo robustus was a tool-maker, but really didn’t know how to make or harness fire,” Raichlen says of a hominid that roamed southern Africa 2 million years ago. “And if you look at the skull, what do you see? You see a giant, bony plate at the top of the skull, giant bony ridges, you see huge jaws, huge teeth, tiny brain pan.

“Basically what you’re looking at is a chewing machine.”

The better to masticate raw meat.

And then, almost half a million years later, lightning struck, anthropologists posit, and with it came fire — possibly in a forest — and with that, Homo erectus — upright man — had his first taste of, perhaps, roasted steer or a small predecessor of the horse.

NOW we’re cookin’.

From that happy accident, a cascade of developments flowed: smaller jaws, larger brains, more agile tongues (the better to articulate words), a social structure in which some went out to get meat while others stayed home to cook it, and everyone gathered around the fire.

Long story short: “Barbecue begat civilization.”

And wherever Homo erectus went, so did barbecue. In his latest book (he has written 29), Raichlen, a self-described “food anthropologist,” follows lovingly in that early ancestor’s footsteps: to Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas.

He traveled to more than 50 countries to assemble this encyclopedic book of history, stories, recipes and how-tos. “Planet Barbecue!” (Workman, $22.95) is the eighth in a series of Raichlen works on the subject that began with “The Barbecue Bible” in 1998.

“This book is deeper and broader than anything I’ve written,” he says. “There’s much more field reporting.”

Raichlen, 57, who lives part of the year in Coconut Grove, Fla., is a household name among grillmasters and weekend amateurs around the world. His books have been translated into, among many other languages, Swedish, Japanese, Czech and Italian.

He is gracious in person at the start of what will be a busy day before he heads out on a national book tour.

He is gracious, too, in his book, in which he gives an international coterie of grillmasters center stage, putting their techniques and personal stories in the spotlight.

The raw material placed over the fire may differ: simple salted bistecca — Porterhouse steak — in Florence, Italy; prawns grilled in the shell in Kuwait; a salt-crusted beef tenderloin in Colombia; peanut-crusted lamb kebabs in Burkino Faso; kangaroo kebabs in Australia; marinated blowfish in Korea; sheep spleen stuffed with garlic in Morocco; a whole hog in Bali; skewered mashed potatoes in Azerbaijan (Raichlen called it “knish on a stick”).

The cooking methods may be distinct: An underground pit in Australia and New Zealand; a vertical clay barbecue pit in Morocco; an “asado al disco,” a grill fashioned from a large metal disk, in Chile; a tandoori oven in India; a wet log in Canada.

And those marvelous sauces range from fiery habanero salsa in the Yucatan to ginger-wasabi dipping sauce in Guam to lemon chile sambal in Indonesia.

But here’s what unites them all: the smiles on the faces of the grillmasters and grillmistresses, radiating both pride and passion for what they do.

“I think that every time we light a grill, whether we are in Malaysia, whether we are in Texas, whether we are in South Africa, we are re-enacting an act and tapping into a primal memory of the discovery and event that made us human,” Raichlen says.

“I think that’s why there’s such a passion and religious and emotional connection to grilling in a way that we don’t have with other methods of cooking.”


4 green bell peppers, 5 poblano peppers or 3 red bell peppers, plus 3 Anaheim or Cubanelle peppers

2 luscious, red-ripe tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼-inch dice

½ sweet onion, cut into ¼-inch dice

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, cilantro or flat-leaf parsley (not too finely chopped)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or more lemon juice

Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper

Heat grill to high. Arrange the peppers on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until the skins are darkly browned and blistered on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Don’t forget to grill the tops and bottoms of the peppers for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let them cool to room temperature. (No, you don’t need to place them in a paper bag or bowl covered with plastic wrap. I’ve found no appreciable difference in ease of peeling.)

Using a paring knife, scrape the charred skins off the peppers. There’s no need to remove every last bit; a few black spots will add color and flavor. Cut each pepper in half, remove the core, and scrape out the seeds. Cut each pepper into ¼-inch dice and place in a nonreactive mixing bowl.

Add the tomato, onion, mint, cumin, olive oil, lemon juice and vinegar, and toss the mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The salad can be prepared several hours ahead, but taste it and adjust seasoning just before serving. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue!” (Workman, $22.95).

Per serving: 141 calories (64 percent from fat), 10.6 g fat (1.5 g saturated, 7.5 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 2.1 g protein, 11.5 g carbohydrates, 3.5 g fiber, 10.2 mg sodium.


Raichlen serves these with a garlicky peanut dipping sauce and a relish of sliced cucumber with minced shallot and chile pepper in a mixture of rice vinegar and sugar. You will need 8-inch bamboo skewers and an aluminum foil grill shield.

1½ pounds rib-eye steak (about ½ inch thick)

3 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce or soy sauce

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Cut the steak, including the fat, into ½-inch cubes and place in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, coriander, turmeric, cumin, pepper, fish sauce and oil. Let the beef marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 2 hours.

Drain the cubes, discarding the marinade. Thread the beef onto bamboo skewers, leaving the bottom half of each skewer bare for a handle and ¼ inch exposed at the pointed end. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to grill.

Heat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the sates on the hot grate, with the aluminum foil shield under the exposed ends of the skewers to keep them from burning. Grill until cooked to taste, 1 to 2 minutes per side for medium rare.

The traditional way to eat the sates is to skewer a piece of cucumber on the pointed end, then dip the sate in peanut sauce. Makes 6 appetizer servings or 4 light main courses.

Source: Adapted from “Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue!” (Workman, $22.95).

Per serving: 260 calories (49 percent from fat), 14 g fat (3 g saturated, 6.9 g monounsaturated), 70 mg cholesterol, 24.6 g protein, 8.2 g carbohydrates, 0.3 g fiber, 761 mg sodium.


½ cup palm sugar or light brown sugar

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

8 apple bananas or 4 conventional bananas

Flat bamboo skewers

Combine the sugar and coconut milk in heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking to dissolve the sugar. Simmer briskly until thick, golden and very flavorful, about 5 minutes, whisking often. Remove the pan from the heat and let the sauce cool to room temperature. Place it in a deep bowl. (Can be prepared up to a day ahead and refrigerated, covered. Let the sauce return to room temperature before using.)

Heat the grill to high. Brush and oil the grill grate. Peel bananas and skewer them through one end. Grill the bananas until they are lightly browned and partially cooked, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Dip the bananas in the coconut-caramel sauce (or brush it onto on all sides) and return them to the grill. Continue to grill the bananas until they are darkly browned and sizzling, 1 to 3 minutes per side. A bamboo skewer should easily pierce the banana. Transfer to a platter or bowl. Spoon the remaining sauce on top and serve at once. Makes 4 servings.

Source: Adapted from “Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue!” (Workman, $22.95).

Per serving: 309 calories (41 percent from fat), 14.7 g fat (12.8 g saturated, 0.6 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 2.2 g protein, 47.4 g carbohydrates, 2.3 g fiber, 17 mg sodium.


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