MANY OF us whose life partners have cultivated ineptness in the kitchen owe a lot to the barbecue, since its macho aura occasionally frees us from life at the range. The barbecue has not, however, freed us from controversy, particularly in Washington, where North Carolinians argue the merits of one kind of sauce, Texans another and Louisianians yet a third.

Curious about what these regional differences entailed, we contacted Kenan O'Brien, proprietor of O'Brien's Pit Barbecue, which has been deified and vilified with equal gusto, depending on whence the rib critics hailed.

"Texas barbecue sauce is ketchup-based," explained O'Brien, and is more likely to be heavy on worcestershire sauce than on vinegar. "Ketchup, lemon and worcestershire sauce are used all over the Southwest, although everybody varies the sauce a little bit. I'm not too familiar with Louisiana barbecue sauce, but it's very close to Texas ketchup-based. And it will vary with the spices people put in it, but I think Louisiana sauce is hotter, looser and not as thick as the Texas sauce and probably has more vinegar in it too (but not too much). Kansas City-style sauce is pretty much the same style as Texas, and Arkansas and Tennessee have pretty much the same ingredients. It's when you get into the Carolinas, eastern Tennessee and Georgia that you get that southern-style barbecue sauce which has more of a vinegar and mustard base."

O'Brien's barbecue house serves a Texas-style sauce but uses no sauce at all during the barbecue process itself. "All my meat is smoked without any pre-preparation; the sauce is served as part of the meal and the customer puts it on himself. We use brisket and cook it in the kitchen 10 to 12 hours over pure hickory wood, with no marinade and no sauce."

A marinade is a mixture used to season the meat or fowl before it is cooked. It usually contains an acid such as wine, vinegar or yogurt, to tenderize the meat. If it contains oil, it can also be used to baste the meat as it cooks, the oil providing a protective coating that helps to prevent the meat from drying out..

But it's sauce that's really important to the barbecue hound, write Phil Brittin and Joseph Daniel in their new cookbook, "Texas on the Halfshell": "A good sauce complements the meat's flavor rather than smothering it with an overbearing presence. Basically sauces fall into two categories: those that are sugar and tomato based and those that are not. Sugar-based sauces should not be applied to meats and fowl until the last 20 or 30 minutes of cooking. Prolonged exposure to heat caramelizes the sugar in the sauce, imparting a burnt taste to the food. In many barbecue joints this sauce is applied only after the meat is cooked, or served on the side so the customer may apply it at his own discretion. The thinner non-sugar-based sauces are good for marinades and basting since they don't burn. They can be spicy-hot like Tabasco, vinegary, or so subtle you hardly know they're there."

Among barbecue fanatics, the smoke from real hickory wood is probably the single most important ingredient for that good old barbecue taste, although city folk who spend fruitless hours tracking down hickory wood or chips often settle for the "hickory flavor" provided by Liquid Smoke, a bottled product that makes most purists shudder. (If you do find hickory chips, which hardware stores sometimes sell in two- or three-pound bags, soak them before adding a handful to a regular bed of charcoal briquettes, because it's the moisture in them that makes the smoke.)

Meanwhile, here are some recipes for sauces and marinades for the outdoor cooks in your household:

LOUISIANA SMOKY SAUCE (Makes 1 quart)

The recipe for this rich, smoky-tasting, pungent tomato-based barbecue sauce is from an excellent little cookbook of international barbecue recipes, "Fire and Smoke" by Maggie Waldron (101 Productions). According to Waldron, a fellow named Judah Hones uses this Creole-style sauce on a mixed grill of pork and beef ribs, red snapper, shrimp and chicken legs cooked on a big rig he hauls around in the backwoods of California. We tried it on ribs and found it sassy and full of character. 2 cups ketchup 1 cup water 1/2 cup each cider vinegar and sugar 1/2 cup each chopped celery, onion, parsley, green bell pepper and tomato 2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce 1 tablespoon Liquid Smoke 1 teaspoon each crumbled dried basil, marjoram and oregano 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 4 tablespoons butter or margarine

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook uncovered over medium heat until reduced to 1 quart, about 30 minutes.

For ribs: Simmer ribs in water to cover until partially cooked, about 30 to 40 minutes, or less. Drain and pat dry. Place ribs on grill and cook, for 15 minutes. Begin to baste and continue cooking another 15 to 20 minutes, until nicely browned. If the ribs are small and appear to be drying out too much, reduce the cooking time.

For chicken: Brush chicken legs with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set chicken on the grill and cook, turning, about 15 minutes; then brush with sauce and continue cooking, basting frequently, until nicely browned.

JULIE SAHNI'S TANDOORI CHICKEN (6 servings)

Few chicken dishes are more satisfying than the subtle, succulent tandoori chicken -- the authentic version of which is baked in a clay oven called a tandoor. A surprisingly adequate substitute can be prepared on a barbecue grill, using the following easy recipe -- the only trick being to plan ahead, because the chicken marinates a day or two in a yogurt marinade which provides the distinctive flavor, texture and color associated with this classic Indian dish. 3 2- to 2 1/2-pound broiling chickens 2 1/2 teaspoons unseasoned natural meat tenderizer 1/3 cup lemon juice

Marinade: 2 large cloves garlic 1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger root 1 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom 1/2 teaspoon red pepper 1 tablespoon paprika 1/3 cup plain yogurt Usli ghee, Indian vegetable shortening or light vegetable oil for basting

Cut the wings off the chicken. Remove the backbone carefully. Place the chickens on a cutting board and quarter them neatly. Then pull away the skin, using kitchen towels for a better grip if necessary. (Reserve the wings, neck, back and skin for the stockpot.) Prick the chicken all over with fork or a thin skewer. Make diagonal slashes, 1/2-inch deep, 1 inch apart on the meat. Put the meat in a large bowl.

Add meat tenderizer and lemon juice to the chicken and rub them into the slashes and all over for 2 minutes. Cover and marinate for 1/2 hour.

Put all the ingredients of the marinade into the container of an electric blender or food processor and blend until reduced to a smooth sauce. (Garlic and ginger may be crushed to a paste and blended with the remaining ingredients.)

Pour this marinade over the chicken pieces and mix, turning and tossing, to coat all the pieces well. Cover and marinate for 4 hours at room temperature, or refrigerate overnight, turning several times. Chicken should not remain in the marinade for more than 2 days, because the marinade contains a meat tenderizer which, with prolonged marinating, alters the texture of the chicken meat to very soft and doughy.

Take the chicken from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. The chicken is now ready to be broiled over a charcoal grill.

Fire the coals about 1 1/2 hours before you are ready to begin cooking, so that a white ash forms over the surface of the coal. This is when the coal is at its hottest. Place the grill at least 5 inches away from the heat and rub generously with oil. Place the chicken pieces, slashed side up, over the grill and brush them with ghee or oil. Let chicken cook without turning for 10 minutes. Continue to cook, turning and basting the chicken every 10 minutes, until it is done (about 30 minutes total, less for breasts and wings). The cooking time for grilling usually varies widely. Much depends upon the intensity of the heat and its distance from the chicken. The point to remember is that the chicken pieces have been marinating in a very strong tenderizing solution for two days and therefore will cook much faster than standard broiled or barbecue chicken.

Serve immediately after cooking. Because of its dryish texture, tandoori chicken does not taste as good cold, or after refrigeration and reheating. Serve with pilaf and roasted onions. From "Classic Indian Cooking" by Julie Sahni

MARY NELL RECK'S BARBECUE SAUCE (6 to 8 servings)

This is one of a dozen or so interesting barbecue recipes from "Texas on the Halfshell," by Phil Brittin and Joseph Daniel. If you use less chicken than the recipe calls for, be sure also to reduce the other ingredients, particularly the salt. Meanwhile, it's amazing what you can do with what's essentially a salt-and-pepper marinade: 2 3 1/2-pound chickens, split Juice of 1 large lemon 4 garlic cloves, minced 1/4 cup coarse salt 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika 2 teaspoons ground red pepper

Rub chicken with lemon juice and garlic. Combine salt, paprika and pepper and sprinkle over skin. Place skin side up on a wire rack set over baking sheets and refrigerate uncovered at least 8 hours or, preferably, overnight. Grill on barbecue, turning occasionally, until meat is done and skin is crisp, about 45 minutes. May be pit-smoked instead for 3 hours. From "Texas on the Halfshell"

SWEET AND SOUR SPARERIBS (2 servings)

These ribs are more western in taste and less cloying than you would expect from something called "sweet and sour." We discovered them at a highly successful dinner party and were surprised to learn we could find the recipe in that old American cookbook, "The Joy of Cooking." We adapted it for our grill. The secret is to buy the meaty "country-style" ribs. 2 pounds spareribs, cut into 2-inch pieces Soy sauce to brush on ribs 1/2 cup vinegar 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 cup sherry 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 teaspoon fresh ginger 2 teaspoons cornstarch 1 tablespoon water

Get the coals started on the grill. Meanwhile, parboil the ribs in a pan of boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes, drain and dry them. Brush them with soy sauce. Place them on the grill, cover it if you have the domed lid variety and watch that they don't burn as you cook them 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, boil briefly a mixture of the vinegar, sugar, sherry, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and fresh ginger. Mix the cornstarch and water, add it to the sauce, and cook until the cornstarch is transparent. Fifteen or 20 minutes before the ribs look ready, start basting them with the sauce, saving enough to pour over the platter before you serve. Adapted from "The Joy of Cooking"

JULIA CHILD'S BARBECUED BUTTERFLIED LEG OF LAMB (12 servings)

This dish took first prize at a very show-offy potluck dinner, and is extremely simple to prepare (all you need is enough money to buy a leg of lamb).

Meat: 7-pound leg of lamb

Marinade: 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons soy sauce Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus the grated peel if you wish 1/2 teaspoon or so rosemary 1 or 2 cloves garlic, pureed (optional)

As Child explains, "To butterfly a leg of lamb means to bone it so that the meat may be spread out in one large piece. You can then barbecue it or roast it, and not only does it cook in half the time of an unbutterflied leg, but carving is wonderfully easy." She describes how to butterfly lamb in her "Julia Child & Company," but even supermarket butchers will butterfly a leg of lamb if you give them a little advance notice. Once the lamb is boned, writes Child:

"Lay the meat out, boned surface up, on your work surface, and you will note that it forms two large lobes. (If you have a large leg and are serving only 6 people, you may wish to cut off one of the lobes and freeze it for another roast or for shish kebabs.) For even cooking, I always slash the lobes in 2 or 3 places, making long cuts about 1 1/2 inches deep; otherwise these thick pieces of meat will take longer to cook than the rest. Then, to keep the roast in shape, I like to push long skewers through the wide sides of the meat, one through the top third, and the other through the bottom third. Lamb may be boned and prepared for roasting a day in advance; wrap and refrigerate."

Rub the unboned side of the lamb with a tablespoon of olive oil and place, oiled side down, in a baking pan. Rub the rest of the ingredients into the top side. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate until you are ready to cook the lamb--an hour or more, if possible.

When the coals are just right, place the lamb in an oiled, hinged doubled-sided rack (if possible) and barbecue, turning every 5 minutes or so and brushing with oil, for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the heat of your coals and the way you like your lamb. If you want it rosy red, it is done when it begins to take on resistance to your finger, in contrast to its soft raw state. A meat thermometer reading would be 125 degrees. Remove the lamb to a carving table and let it sit for 8 to 10 minutes, allowing juices to retreat back into the meat before carving. To carve, angle your knife as though carving a flank steak (or even a smoked salmon). From "Julia Child & Company"

VIETNAMESE BARBECUED BEEF (4 servings)

The original recipe for this Vietnamese delicacy, in the splendid "Classic Cuisine of Vietnam" by Bach Ngo and Gloria Zimmerman (Barron's), specifies that each morsel of beef cool to room temperature, be placed on a piece of rice paper and topped with a mint leaf and some coriander before rolling the beef and rice paper into a cylinder.This is then served on a platter. Lacking rice paper and patience, we simply cooked it and ate it--in about 2 minutes flat. An interesting variation on barbecued beef.

Meat: 1 pound lean, boneless top or bottom beef round, in 1 chunk about 4 inches in diameter (or a fat steak)

Marinade: 2 stalks fresh lemon grass or 2 tablespoons dried lemon grass 2 cloves garlic 1 tablespoon sugar 3 shallots or scallions (white part only) 1 tablespoon fish sauce (nuoc mam), available in Oriental markets 1 tablespoon sesame seeds 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 tablespoon Oriental sesame oil (not the health food variety)

If you are using dried lemon grass, it must be soaked for 2 hours in warm water and then chopped very fine, so that you don't get stiff bitefuls when you eat the meat.

Slice the meat 1/8-inch thick or thicker and place the slices in a bowl. In a mortar, pound the garlic, sugar and shallots into a paste, then add the fish sauce, sesame seeds, black pepper, sesame oil and lemon grass. If you are using fresh lemon grass, remove and discard the large outer leaves and 2/3 of the green stalk; slice the remainder into fine crosswise slices and then chop fine. Pour marinade over beef.

To cook on a grill, spread the beef slices on a large sheet of aluminum foil, allowing the pieces to touch and overlap--this will prevent the meat from drying. Cook 5 minutes on each side.

I tried it in the oven: Cover the bottom and sides of a baking pan with aluminum foil. Spread the beef slices over the bottom of the pan allowing the pieces to overlap and touch. Bake for 10 minutes in the center of a 450-degree oven.From "The Classic Cuisine of Vietnam"

LILAH KAN'S CHINESE MARINADE FOR CHICKEN (Makes 1 cup)

The advantage of a simple marinade like this one is that the flavors penetrate the chicken without overpowering it, and there's nothing to make the chicken burn easily. This is an old standby in our barbecue pit. 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/2 cup dry sherry 2 or 3 tablespoons Chinese sesame oil 2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root (optional) Freshly ground pepper

Variations are endless. If you don't have sherry, use broth, or lemon juice and shallots or onions make a nice change. Marinate the chicken from 1/2 hour to an hour and grill as usual. Make sure not to marinate too long since the chicken may become oversalted.

It may be the Carolinas and Texas that make a lot of noise about barbecue, but people in Tennessee know their tomatoes, too, and feel every bit as strong about what sauces their meat. Here are two barbecue sauces that have been making the rounds in Tennessee.

EVELYN BADGETT'S BARBECUE SAUCE (Makes about 3 cups) 1 stick butter 1 clove garlic, minced 2 large onions, chopped 1/4 green pepper, chopped 2 teaspoons dry mustard Juice of 1 lemon 2 tablespoons light brown sugar 1 tablespoon honey (optional) 14-ounce bottle ketchup Salt, pepper, hot red pepper flakes to taste

Saute garlic, onions and green pepper in butter until softened but not browned. Stir in remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 1 to 2 hours.

Evelyn Badgett uses this sauce for baking pork or beef neck bones that have been first boiled until tender.

MAKESHIFT WEST TENNESSEE BARBECUE SAUCE 2 parts bottled barbecue sauce 1 part vinegar Black pepper and hot red pepper flakes or hot pepper sauce to taste

Combine barbecue sauce with vinegar and put in more black and red pepper or hot pepper sauce than you think you should. Simmer while the meat cooks and only brush it on the meat at the end of the cooking, never while it is cooking. This recipe comes third-hand, reported to have originated from "a fella in Trimble, Tenn."