Looking for a terrific barbecue book? In theory, not a problem, as barbecue books are a summer staple in the publishing industry. No matter how many recipes for grilled chicken you may have seen, tried and tasted over your cookbook years, you can bet there will be a new summer barbecue book touting the "best ever!" technique for grilling chicken, pork and, these days, vegan burgers. But how many barbecue books does one aspiring backyard grill master really need? You might pick from these three.
Three? Yes, only three, one for each month of the summer, in essence. That means great books like Cheryl and Bill Jamison's Smoke & Spice (2003) and Adam Perry Lang's efficient little (literally) BBQ 25 (2010) tips by necessity missed the cut. Instead, we were looking for the handful of books that we've truly picked up time and again for last-minute Wednesday night inspiration. Barbecue manuals with culinary trend longevity. Books that are yellowed with cumin, pages ripped and our recipe tweaks scribbled throughout. Do add your favorites below. Barbecue is, after all, riddled with enough regional rub, mop and sauce opinions to name two dozen books.
The bonus? Many of these books were published several years ago, so you can find used copies on the cheap (Amazon; garage sales) from a fellow griller who is passing along the sauce, so to speak.
Full Disclosure: Apologies to gas grill fans. We clearly have a charcoal grill prejudice, though sure, some of the books below apply to gas grills.
Weber's Big Book of Grilling (2001)
There are moments when we eschew books with obvious corporate sales motivations. There are other books, like Weber's Big Book of Grilling, that we always pull out when we are looking for tips on raising the bar on our flank steak rub or when we're having a Kansas City-style baby back ribs sort of day.
Burgers, chicken-under-a-brick and other basics are the mainstay here. But you'll also find grilled holiday goose and cider-glazed whole duck recipes along with plenty of seafood grilling techniques. Here, basic rubs and sauces are actually where they should be in a grilling book: In the first chapter, not the last.
And yet Weber's Big Book of Grilling is the sort of book that is also one step beyond basic (a chipotle mayo is suggested with a buffalo burger). Not exactly chef-inspired recipes, but solid, everyday barbecue fodder with recipes that work no matter what kind of grill you prefer.
The Big Green Egg Cookbook (2010)
If you are one of the many who have traded your Weber for a Big Green Egg, as even many skeptical barbecue professionals have done, you likely have already had many thrilling moments watching as the heat index climbed upwards of 700 degrees effortlessly (Imagine the grilled pizza possibilities!). Which also means you've probably experienced just as many charred/dry barbecued chicken leg disappointments.
Yes, with its ceramic-glazed interior, regulating the heat on the Japanese Kamado-style grill takes some getting used to if you were raised on a traditional American grill. Consider momentarily setting aside your locavore dedication and springing for The Big Green Egg Cookbook. It's more helpful than we expected -- pretty great, actually -- and a wise investment. Heaven knows you've already spent nearly a month's rent on that grill.
The Barbecue! Bible (1998)
Which of barbecue cookbook king Steve Raichlen's books is our favorite? It depends on the day you ask us. If we're feeling particularly patriotic, his BBQ USA: 425 Recipes From All Across America (2003) is a fun "Apple City championship ribs" (p.294) recipe flip-through. How to Grill is also a staple on our summer bookshelf.
But the book we keep going back to is The Barbecue! Bible, not only for its basic tips (how to butterfly pork or beef) but for the inspired yet simple recipes. Argentine provolone asado (grilled provolone on crusty bread), Oaxaca-style marinated pork loin, Portuguese piri-piri chicken and, yes, plenty of American-style barbecue staples.
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The sign of a really great cookbook: When that basic barbecue sauce recipe (p. 460) is so good, you can't stop fiddling with the ingredients to make it your own Carolina/Texas hybrid. If we had to choose only one barbecue book to keep on our shelves (thank goodness we don't actually have to), The Barbecue! Bible would be it.
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