Books on barbecue -- A few titles to keep your grill smoking hot all summer

Books on barbecue

The Thrill of the Grill Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby (Morrow, $24.95)
You can tell it’s summer in the city when the fragrance of lighter fluid wafts over the back fence: The season of slash-and-burn cookery is upon us. Anyone who has dismissed this American ritual as a cuisine of catsup, smoke, and saturated fat will be enlightened by the recipes of grillmaster Chris Schlesinger and food writer John Willoughby. One of civilization’s more engaging discontents, Virginia-born Schlesinger (grandson of Harvard historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr.) has scoured the tropics from Costa Rica to Thailand for fiery chile peppers, exotic fruits, and raw emphatic flavors — all of which he sets flamboyantly a-sizzle at his East Coast Grill and take-out barbecue in Cambridge, Mass. Schlesinger grills everything from tripe for stew to squid for pasta, shows off with grilled venison loin with bourbon peaches, experiments with sushi-style sirloin and grill-seared raw tuna steak — and holds the catsup altogether. Instead, he uses sambals, blatjangs, and salsas and allows one homemade barbecue sauce, not for basting but for ”finishing” meats that have been truly barbecued: smoke-cooked long and slow over real wood fuel. For casual backyard cooks, though, he plays up the grill…and its affinity for flashy, no-fuss food with a good strong kick. A-

Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts and Other Great Feeds Jeanne Voltz (Knopf, $19.95)
If Schlesinger’s culinary adventures leave you reeling, you’ll find an equally authoritative but more conservative guide in Jeanne Voltz, former Woman’s Day food editor and a backyard cook from way back. Voltz’s recipes are blander than Schlesinger’s and so is her writing, and she catalogs more catsup-based sauces than I’d care to sample. But her nose for real American outdoor feeds is as alert as any, and she seems to have sampled every regional and local specialty on the map. Among those she serves up here are Basque lamb barbecue from the Kern County Sheepmen’s Picnic in Bakersfield, Calif.; Savannah oyster roast from northern Florida; and barbecued mutton from a humongous festival in Owensboro, Ky., where the crowd put away 10 tons of mutton and 3,000 chickens. Voltz has been grilling, grill-roasting, and kettle-cooking since the ’50s and has a repertoire of no-frills ”go-alongs” in keeping with the spirit of the feeds. Her hands-on experience comes through in the countless little strategies and tips that make this a reliable guide. B+

The Art of Grilling Kelly McCune; photography by Viktor Budnik; design by Thomas Ingalls; food styling by Karen Hazarian (Harper & Row, $14.95)
While Schlesinger celebrates the call of the wild and Voltz sings the praises of real folks’ alfresco feeds, this production by a California team tends to gentrify patio cooking. This is true not only of the recipes, which include some sophisticated catsup-free sauces that are generally pretty tame, but especially of the book’s design: With its glossy pages and full-page color photos of artfully arranged dinner plates, it looks downright effete on a picnic table. There’s nothing communal, or even convivial, about the small, separate portions of calves’ liver, lamb, or pork chops so tastefully pictured here with their decorative green sprigs. As for the side dishes, pasta with brandy-basil cream sauce might seem a little effete anywhere: What’s it doing in an outdoor cookbook? But then what do you expect from a book on grilling that credits a food stylist on the title page? C