BARBEQUING has become a culinary art in the last few years, a sharp contrast to the beginner's backyard catastrophes of charred chicken and blackened hamburgers.
And cooking or grilling the family dinner outside is not just a summertime thing anymore.
Barbequing -- or more precisely, cooking over fire and flavoring with smoke and sauces -- takes place most of the year round on beach or boat, in parks as well as patios, in the homes of singles, large families, in restaurants and in trendy hotels.
``But it hasn't reached its peak yet,'' says Bert Greene, who has written several cookbooks on American food. ``Cooking outdoors, like other food ideas and trends, moves from one region of this big country to another, and it's getting bigger all the time.''
Greene insists during an interview that grill cooking is not just a fad. ``It's so easy it's bound to continue.'' he says. ``Women haven't really discovered how easy it is yet. For some reason people have assumed barbequing is a man's job. But once a woman realizes how many things can be cooked outdoors, and how easy it is with the new grills, we'll be getting some wonderful cooking in the backyard, '' he says.
Right now much of the creative grilling is being done in restaurants around the country. At San Francisco's Hayes Street Grill everything is cooked on charcoal. In Boston the stylish Grill 23 serves unusual grilled fruits and vegetables along with meat and seafood, and at Restaurant Jasper, a specialty is steamed clams in the shell surround a grilled pork chop.
At Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, everything is cooked over wood or broiled in a charcoal oven.
In Chicago at the American Grill, diners may watch four or five grill chefs cooking over mesquite and other woods, and spit-roasting duck and chicken in the large, open, dramatic grill-kitchen.
Several new cookbooks specialize in recipes for grill cooking only and leave no combination of flavors or foods ignored. They also include directions for purchasing equipment and tips that make grill cooking easy. Some examples from a definitive cookbook on the subject: ``Cooking with Fire & Smoke'' by Phillip Stephen Schulz (Simon and Schuster $17.95):
``When buying a grill beware of a label that says indoor/outdoor grill. They claim to be `smoke-free' which defeats the whole purpose.
``Cheap units often rest on shaky legs. Opt for the sturdiest grill you can find.
``Never use softwoods like pine and spruce in your fire for they have resins and pitch which can ruin food's flavor. Use only hardwoods or fruit woods such as hickory, oak, mesquite, pear, apple or grape vines.
``Coconut milk is a remarkable meat tenderizer, used in tropical climates for years. Try as a marinade with ginger and soy sauce, for beef kabobs alternating with chunks of onions and cherry tomatoes and wedges of coconut that toast while the meat grills.
``Garlic cloves, orange peels, cinnamon sticks and even whole nutmegs will add new dimensions to smoke but bear in mind the flavorings you add must go well with the food being cooked on the grill.''
``Charred meat is no longer the name of the game,'' says Mr. Schulz in an interview.
This cook says he spent more than a year taking the grill's temperature, timing, and testing, to make sure that anyone who tries his recipes will have the same fantastic results he does.
There are more than 30 easy, interesting sauces in his book, not to mention the marinades, dry rubs, bastes, and recipes for cooking almost anything on a grill from a barbequed breakfast to a quick, elegant dinner.
Schulz includes recipes from all over the world, such as Australian Jackaroo Barbeque Sauce, which has no tomatoes; Korean barbeque, which is served rare in the country of origin; Tuscan Beef Roast; and other, more basic ideas for chicken, turkey, and other meats.
``Five-Minute Fish'' is the title of a whole batch of recipes in a neat little book called ``Fish On the Grill,'' by Barbara Grunes and Phyllis Magida (Contemporary Books, $7.95).
The book emphasizes the speed of cooking fish on a grill and has recipes for quick fish dishes that are good without sauces. There are also some recipes for Cajun dishes, fish with salsa, oriental marinades, and recipes for new fish such as fresh tuna and orange roughy.