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No news, just ribs at McCain barbecue

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  • Sen. John McCain hosts press at Arizona ranch
  • McCain says barbecues are one of few ways he relaxes during campaign
  • "No interviews, this is a social event," McCain tells reporters
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SEDONA, Arizona (CNN) -- Instead of appealing for votes on the campaign trail, Sen. John McCain spent the weekend playing host at his rustic Arizona home -- and on Sunday members of the traveling press corps were his guests.

It was a news-free zone, and a charm offensive to be sure -- but also a window into the private setting and self-described oasis of the man who may be days away from mathematically clinching the GOP nomination, months after being left for political dead.

McCain greeted reporters as he tended to the grill -- tongs in hand -- on the deck of his ranch house. Clad in a green Maine Maritime Academy baseball hat, white sweat shirt with a photograph of his family on it, faded Levis jeans and New Balance sneakers, the presidential candidate stood over two large, sizzling barbecues, preparing baby back ribs and grilled chicken.

McCain revealed that barbecuing for guests is one of the few ways he relaxes, especially during the grueling campaign, and was eager to share his carefully honed recipe on the gas grill: baby back ribs (bought at Costco), cooked bones down with a dry rub that's a third garlic powder, a third salt and a third pepper.

The trick to not letting it dry out? Keep putting lemon juice on, the senator said.

When a print journalist tried to switch gears to more substantive issues, the candidate who tends to take questions from reporters on the road multiple times a day responded, "No interviews, this is a social event," which also meant no news pictures or video.

McCain's wife, Cindy, and daughter Meghan also were milling around as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and his wife, Wendy; Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and his wife, Mary Kaye; top McCain aide Mark Salter; and senior adviser Charlie Black.

McCain took a break from the barbecue, where he was constantly cutting the sizzling meat and feeding reporters right from the grill, to give a short tour around his Hidden Valley property.

McCain said the valley was settled by Mormons and that the Hidden Valley Ranch got its name from the horseshoe shape of the creek that runs through the property.

He said he built the first house on his property 24 years ago and now there are six houses on his lot.

During a tour of the grounds, he peppered guests with wildlife information -- pointing out the black hawk nest overlooking the creek while talking about watching the mother teach the baby how to fly and joking about the woodpecker "condominium," telling reporters that woodpeckers had to peck a different nest every year.

He said there were 67 kinds of birds on the property and that they also had the occasional coyote or cougar.

Dinner was served on tables by Oak Creek, which runs through the property. The menu included ribs, grilled chicken, hot dogs, bratwurst, hamburgers, beef tamales, couscous and pasta salad.

A day earlier McCain hosted some of his closest political friends whose public endorsements and private advice helped propel his candidacy. That guest list included Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. McCain was mum about his political guests, except to say he enjoyed sharing the ranch with people and that he didn't like solitude.

After dinner, McCain showed the press into his living room, decorated with leather sofas, a painting of the Grand Canyon and a Navajo rug tapestry.

On the coffee table sat the Profile in Courage Award he received in 1999, and the July 2005 Architectural Digest that featured the senator and his wife on the cover in their Phoenix home.

Also on the walls are framed paintings and pictures drawn by his children when they were young, something McCain said he very much enjoys and was "all Cindy's idea."

McCain said the original architect went through some changes in fortune during construction that were evident in the structure of the house: when he was doing well, he would put in things such as a stained-glass window, but when times were lean, he would use exposed plywood.

Dessert was served on the deck to Frank Sinatra tunes, one of the senator's favorites, and McCain held court with reporters for a few more minutes, recalling some of the highlights of the 2008 campaign trail but not revealing anything about his future plans. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash, Tasha Diakides and Evan Glass contributed to this report.

All About John McCainU.S. Presidential Election

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