It's hard to imagine a more fitting summer-in-the-West style of cooking than barbecuing. You get to relax on the patio, cold drink in hand, with a hint of smoke in the air and a tantalizing whiff of meat and spice. And yet barbecuing isn't quite as simple as it seems. Cooking directly over a live flame is primal and sometimes unpredictable, and every master of the grill has his or her own secrets and techniques for taming the fire.
Bill Jamison and Cheryl Alters Jamison, the James Beard award-winning authors of Smoke & Spice (Harvard Common Press, 2003; $17) and The Big Book of Outdoor Cooking & Entertaining (Morrow Cookbooks, 2006; $25), among other titles, have spent years developing recipes that reward diligence with delicious flavor. Like all good teachers, they remember how it feels to approach the grill for the first time. "We were both home cooks," Cheryl says in her reassuring "you-can-do-this" tone. "We learned like everyone else: through trial and error." Their research lab is the sunny patio behind the converted adobe barn they share in the hills outside Santa Fe.
It has long been Sunset's style to refer to all live-fire cooking as "barbecuing." This is common practice around the West, but the Jamisons, like many pros, use specific terms to describe the primary types of live-fire cooking. "These are different techniques using different cuts of meat, so it seems important to make the distinction," Cheryl explains.
First there's direct grilling, in which smaller cuts of meat (and vegetables) are cooked quickly, right over a hot fire. It's ideal for boneless chicken breasts, fish fillets, or meats that need a good sear, such as steak.