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You don't need a grill to grill, advises award-winning cookbook author

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For some people - and you know who you are - barbecuing is as much about the gear as the food. You got to have this smoker or that grill, plus all your other stuff. NPR's Neda Ulaby spoke with an advocate of a more minimalist approach.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: The British cookbook writer James Whetlor is not impressed by your Big Green Egg or your Traeger Grill or your fancy-schmancy anything. You want a tandoori oven? He says just go to Home Depot.

JAMES WHETLOR: You buy one big flower pot and a couple of bags of sand and two terracotta pots, and you've got yourself a tandoor.

ULABY: Whetlor's new cookbook, "DIY Barbecue," shows you how to safely cook outside by digging a hole in the ground or draping skewers over a cinderblock - no beach or backyard necessary, just a square of outside space, food and summer tunes, ideally...

WHETLOR: American '70s rock classics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAMBLIN' GAMBLIN' MAN")

BOB SEGER: (Singing) Yeah, I'm going to tell my tale. Come on.

ULABY: You do not even need a grill, Whetlor insists. And he's won a James Beard Award. There's a whole movement you may have missed, he says, called dirty cooking.

WHETLOR: It's like cooking directly on coals. Like, that's exactly what it is.

ULABY: Like laying your food right on the charcoal?

WHETLOR: You can do it brilliantly with steak. You got nice, really hot coals. Just lay your steak straight on it.

ULABY: Brush off the ash, and bon appetit. I told James Whetlor I'd be intimidated to stick a steak straight on the coals.

WHETLOR: You should get over it. You should be able to - I think you can do it.

ULABY: Whetlor also includes lots of vegetarian recipes in his book. He writes about barbecue's environmental impact and how it developed among Indigenous and enslaved people.

WHETLOR: Any food that we eat - I think we should acknowledge the history and the tradition and the culture behind it because it just makes it so much more interesting. It makes you a better cook 'cause you understand more about it.

ULABY: And today, he says, barbecuing outdoors is a surefire way to start up conversations, to nourish our shared human hunger for a hearth.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE SCHOLARS SONG, "SOUTHSIDE REVIVAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.