The great American summer pastime, which certainly rivals and maybe surpasses baseball, is outdoor cooking. No other country does as much of it; certainly none has raised it to the high art which calls for an incredible variety of costly equipment and gadgets found in hardware stores and housewares sections of fancy department stores throughout the United States.

Actually, very little equipment is needed to barbecue successfully: a sturdy grillwith adjustable grids and draft doors, which are essential so that the heat from the fire can be regulated; a long-handled fork; two sets of tongs - one for the food and one for the coals; a long-handled basting brush, paintbrush or dishmop; a long-handled spoon. It's best if these utensils have wooden handles to keep your hands from being burned.

In addition you need a grill scraper, long mathces, mitten-shaped potholoders and some kind of watering can or even a water pistol to douse any flareups.

Nonessential but nice to have if you go into outdoor cooking in a big way are: a carving board and knife, a hinged metal grill for cooking small items like hamburgers, skewers for kabobs, a small pot with a long handle in which to keep basting sauces warm, a meat thermometer.

Once you have assembled the necessary equipment and the food you wish to cook, you will have to start a fire. This is probably the single biggest problem for novice outdoor cooks. In an attempt to get the fire going too much charcoal is often used. Not only is it a tremendous waste, it also results in too big a fire which ends up burning the food instead of cooking it.

A single layer of charcoal is all that is needed. Charcoal is all that is needed. Charcoal briquets are the easiest from of fuel to use.

If your unit doesn't have an opening for a draft, you can make a fire base of small stones. Arrange them up to the edge of the fire bowl and then put the charcoal over them.

The easiest way to start the fire may be with an electrical starter (if you have an electric outlet nearby.) Place the starter on the charcoal until a gray ash forms on it which means the charcoal is burning.

If you are using a liquid starter, place the charcoal in a pyramid in the center of the firebox and drizzle the starter over the charcoal. Allow it to stand for a few minutes so the charcoal will soak up the liquid. Then light in several places with long matches.

To regulate the heat during cooking, open the dampers or fan and tap ashes or move the grid down closer tothe fire to increase the temperature; to decrease the temperature, close the dampers, sprinkle a little water on the charcoal or move the grid up from the fire.

If you want to save partially used charcoal, remove it with tongs to a bucket; cover in order to put fire out. If the grill has a cover, close it and the dampers. You also can douse the charcoal with water, but dry it thoroughly before using it again.

The grill itself needs some care. The grid should be cleaned as soon as possible after cooking, first with the scraper, then with soap and water.

When you are cookign over a charcoal grill there are certain precautions which should be taken so that no one is unjured:

Never use kerosene or gasoline to start a fire. You could end up in the hospital.

Don't use more liquid starter once the charcoal has ignited. It can flare up dramatically.

Wear clothes without dangling scarves, strings or shirttails.

Use the grill in a well-ventilated area, not in the garage.

Keep children and pets away from the grill.

These recipes are an interesting change from hamburgers with which to try out your grilling techniques. PRIZE-WINNING BARBECUED CHICKEN

(6 to 8 servings) 1 cup vegetable oils 1/2 cup wine vinegar 1 tablespoon sugar 3 tablespoons catsup 1 tablespoon grated onion 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 1 cloves garlic, minced Few dashes hot pepper sauce 2 chickens (3 to 3 1/2 pounds each), cut up

Combine all ingredients but the chicken. Place chicken in shallow glass baking dish; pour marinade mixture over chicken and marinate in refrigerator at least six hours or overnight. Turn chickne occasionally. Grill drained chicken pieces five or six inches from coals, 20 to 30 minutes on each side, turning and brushing often with marinade. BRATWURST WITH SAUERKRAUT (8 servings) 8 bratwurst 2 cups sauerkraut, washed and drained 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 teaspoon caraway seeds 8 frankfurter buns Dijon or spicy mustard

Split bratwurst lengthwise almost all the way through. Score along edges to keep from curling. Grill about 5 inches from coals, about 5 minutes on each side. Heat sauerkraut with brown sugar and caraway until sugar melts and kraut is heated through. Grill split buns just enough to warm and spread with mustard. Place a bratwurst in each one and top with sauerkraut. WHOLE GRILLED FISH

(8 servings) 6 to 8 pounds of whole fish (salmon, sea bass or bluefish) slit, cleaned, head and tail removed 10 sprigs parsley Salt and white pepper wine 1 1/2 to 2 cups dry white wine 12 slices nitrite-free bacon

Place 8 slices bacon and parsley inside the fish; season inside and out with salt and pepper. Lay remaining strips of bacon across top of fish. Place fish on double thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil with enough additional foil to make tight package; shape foil so that wine will not run out. Pour wine over fish; seal foil tightly and place on grill 4 to 5 inches from coals. Cook a 5-pound fish about one hour; 2-pound fish about 45 minutes; 1-pound fish 35 minutes, until it flakes easily with fork. Remove parsley. Transfer fish to serving platter. Remove bones. Serve fish with juices from foil, if desired, or with lemon wedges. SOY GRILLED FISH

(6 servings) 2 pounds fish fillets of the oily variety such as bluefish, cut in serving pieces 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 4 teaspoons soy sauce 4 tablespoons vegetable oil 4tablespoons lemon juice 4 tablespoons minced parsley

Season fish with salt and pepper; place on oiled grill or in oiled wire basket. COmbine soy sauce and oil. Grill fish 4 or 5 inches from coals until golden brown, basting frequently with soy mixture, 5 to 8 minutes per side. Remove fish to warm platter; keep warm. Add lemon juice and parsley to any remaining soy mixture; heat quickly and pour over fish. CHEDDAR ZUCCHINI

(6 servings) 6 medium zucchini, scrubbed and ends removed Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded 1/2 cup dieced red pepper 1/2 cup diced green pepper 2 tablespoons butter or margarine

Cut six 12-inch squares of heavy duty aluminum foil. Cut squash into 1/4-inch slices and place on foil. Add equal amounts to each of salt and pepper, cheese, red and green peppers; dot with butter. Close packages by folding in sides then rolling up ends. Grill about 5 inches from medium hot coals for about 30 minutes, turning occasionally. POTATO PACKETS

(8 servings) 8 medium potatoes, pared and cut into 1/2 inch cubes 2 large onions, chopped Salt and pepper to taste 2 large cloves garlic, mashed 1 teaspoon caraway seed 1/2 cup butter or margarine

Divide potatoes equally between two 18 by 22 sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. Sprinkle with onion, slat and pepper, garlic and caraway; dot with butter. Fold foil over to seal packages tightly and grill seam side down five inches from coals for about 20 minutes. Turn package and grill 20 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. Mix gently before serving. PARMESAN ROLLS

(6 rolls) 6 crusty oblong rolls, (baguettes) about 5 inches in length 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened 2 cloves garlic, minced 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley 1 cup chopped onions

Split rolls lengthwise in half but not all the way through. Combine remaining ingredients and blend well. Spread cut side or rolls with butter mixture. Close rolls and wrap each in aluminum foil. Grill over hot coals for about 15 minutes, turning once or twice, grilling until cheese and butter have melted.