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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Cookbook cues: Grill It! from Better Homes and Gardens

Grill It! (Better Homes and Gardens/Wiley, $25) appeared at first to be the kind of generic cookbook that I generally tend to avoid. It doesn't have a unique and interesting point of view on cooking, nor does it dreamily transport me to a rural Italian life wherein I press my own olive oil and drink a Negroni in the evening. However, it is a good book, and a reminder that a cookbook doesn't have to sell me a fantasy to win my heart.

Grill It! is a comprehensive tome on all things grilling-related, and it has something for everyone. Accomplished grill fiends will like the recipes as well as the good information on less-common cuts of meat or techniques. Those who really don't know much about grilling (author meekly raises hand) can start with the first chapter, grilling basics. It begins with detailed descriptions (including photographs and explanatory drawings) of different types of grills -- kettle, gas, smoker, hibachi, etc. -- educating the reader on the finer points of different fuels and techniques (grilling vs. barbecuing, direct vs. indirect heat, etc.). The information is useful and visually well represented.

Previously, my one stab at using a tiny kettle grill (the joy I had taking it out of the box! Summertime! Relaxation! Fire!) ended with a shriveled, leathery chicken breast. Fortunately for me, the book includes several pages of cooking charts, including direct and indirect cooking times for different amounts of meats, poultry, fish, fruits, and vegetables.

If you are beyond the newbie stage of grill knowledge, you can move right into the good stuff. A boatload of sauce, brine, marinade, salsa, and rub recipes form a prelude to the grilling sections. Cherry-ancho barbecue sauce, lemongrass marinade, garlic-fennel rub, and apricot-rosemary salsa all sound like great flavors to build a meal around. (Invite me, please.) Do you realize that most folks do not make any of this kind of stuff when they grill? They might add a little Lawry's to their ground beef (highly recommended) or let the brats sit in beer a while, but other than that, it's fire up the grill and throw the meat on, plain and simple. That's all fine and good. But a homemade salsa can elevate the simplest grilled fish or pork, say, to restaurant-quality, omigod-that's-good deliciousness, and this fact should not be ignored.

The rest of the book is essentially divided by protein -- steaks and chops, ribs, large meats (e.g., turkeys), burgers, poultry, fish, and so forth. Each chapter provides a primer on the protein with helpful pictures and technique notes. Recipes follow, so that you can make a meal rather than just a chicken breast. To name a few: lamb chops with garlic and lavender, BBQ onion-cheddar pork burgers, even brats with mango relish (sounds like sacrilege, I know, but I bet it's worth trying).

Though the barbecue is largely the domain of the carnivore, there is room for fruits and vegetables. I'd love to make grilled pizza topped with summer tomatoes and basil, a Greek haloumi salad (grilled cheese!), and Mexican-style street corn.

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