Books And Magazines About Food And Cooking For The Outdoor Cook: Buying Guide, Reviews, And Ratings
"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." Confucius
Below are some of my favorite food books, magazines, newsletters, and periodicals. Click the title to see the current price on Amazon.com. Click here for a complete list of all of the barbecue books on Amazon.com. Click here for a complete list of all of the cooking books on Amazon.com. They also offer many books in audio form and they gift wrap. If you have others to recommend, please contact me with the info.
Barbecue & Grilling Books
Weber's New Real Grilling: The Ultimate Cookbook For Every Backyard Griller by Jamie Purviance
Oxmoor House, 2013, 336 pages, paperback, more than 200 recipes, perhaps 300 color superb photos.
Purviance begins this beautiful book with managing the grill, and although Weber's grills are featured, the advice is broad enough to cover most charcoal and gas grills.
Then it's off to describing tools and accessories, ingredients, and a chapter on rubs, marinades, and sauces. Purviance is a witty fellow, and his text is fun reading. Not surprising, his cooking instructions are precise and easy to follow. He knows his food.
As good as the text is, I must spend a minute praising the photographer, Tim Turner. His work has made this the most beautiful book on barbecue and grilling on the market. The lighting, the composition, color, are all superb. You really get a sense of what the dish could look like (but of course we both know it never looks as good as the photos).
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Weber's Time to Grill by Jamie Purviance
Sunset, 2011, 300 pages, paperback, 200 plus recipes, superb color photos for most.
Chef Purviance has another winner for Weber. This one has the 200 plus recipes divided into two categories, "Easy" and "Adventurous", pretty much 50/50, and you don't need a Weber to cook them. They are all spectacularly photographed by Tim Turner.
Everything is neatly organized from rubs to marinades to appetizers to desserts (yes grilled desserts) with color coded sections, icons of fish and pigs, etc., and flaps on both front and back covers to bookmark pages. In addition, there are several useful references to cooking temps and times, and a great section called "prep school" with step by step photos of how to cut up onions and peppers, devein shrimp, butterflying a chicken, and more.
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Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book: Recipes and Secrets from a Legendary Barbecue Joint by Chris Lilly
Clarkson Potter, 2009, 256 pages, paperback, many recipes, many beautiful color and B&W photos.
Chris Lilly is the Executive Chef of one of the nation's classic old joints, Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q, in Decatur, AL. He is also the head of the restaurant's much decorated competition team, winner of more championships than he can count. Surprisingly thin with a pointy chin and piercing eyes, his angularity is significantly softened by his drawl.
Most barbecue chefs have a pretty small repertoire, limited to the classic Southern barbecue canon, ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken, sausage, and sides like beans, cornbread, and slaw. Yes, they're all there in this superb book, but Lilly also includes fun riffs on Caribbean Jerk Pork, Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, and beyond. There is also a version of Big Bob's famous white chicken sauce, but he clearly felt restrained from giving away the restaurant's secret recipe, and frankly, I think my reverse engineering of the ingredients comes closer to the real deal.
The photos by Ben Fink are rich and rustic, and it's a shame he is only mentioned in small type in the back of the book. He deserves cover credit. The images really make the recipes look worth cooking and make Big Bob's look like a destination. Likewise the historic images give the reader a real sense of the heritage of the recipes.
I have one other nit to pick, and that's the table of contents, which contains only chapter titles and not a listing of the stories and recipes. If classic Southern Barbecue is your goal, this is the one book you need.
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The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue, A Practical Guide For the Outdoor Cook
America's Test Kitchen, 2005, 420 pages, hardbound, more than 450 recipes, many B&W photos and excellent line drawings, 28 color photos.
As I have exclaimed perhaps too often and too breathlessly elsewhere on this site, Cook's Illustrated, the magazine, the website, the book publisher, and producer of America's Test Kitchen on PBS, is my favorite source for no-nonsense, thoroughly tested info. The editors take little for granted and they are constantly questioning and testing accepted wisdom and wives' tales. And these folks really understand barbecue.
Here's a sampling: "Ounce for ounce, hardwood lump charcoal burns much hotter than briquets. However, the differences are less dramatic when the coals are measured by volume. (Because of their shape, briquets compact more easily so you can fit more coals into the same amount of space.) For all practical purposes, a heaping chimney of charcoal briquets will make a fire that is as hot as a level chimney of hardwood lump charcoal. So if you need to substitute briquets for hardwood, use slightly more briquets to achieve the same heat level." They then show a chart of equivalent volumes.
The limited illustrations are mostly high quality black and white pen drawings with a handful of beautiful large color plates scattered throughout.
Charred & Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang
Workman Publishing, 2012, paperback, 265 pages, many recipes, many color photos.
Perry Lang is a serious classically trained chef, a veteran of Le Cirque and Daniel, and, as the proprietor of Daisy May's BBQ USA in NYC and as a competitor on the barbecue circuit, he knows a lot about barbecue and grilling.
This new book shows off his macho cooking philosophy and several clever concepts, chief among them, board dressings, which I describe in detail on a whole page devoted to the subject. That page includes a video of APL in action. He mixes oil and minced herbs on the cutting board and then cuts the meat rolling it around in the herbed oil. So simple, but this is a super way to add flavor to grilled foods, and I use it often now that he has taught me how.
Scruffing is his word for what I call gashing, a technique for roughing the surface of meat to create more surface for marinades to penetrate and for more browning. I write about it on my page about marinating and every cook should add this method to his or her repertoire.
Pleasantly, his attitude is very laid back, informal, educational, and fun. His standard "Four Seasons Rub" is simply salt, cayenne, black pepper, and garlic salt. He is photographed at work not in his professional kitchen dressed in chef's whites, not at poolside in the Hamptons, but in T-shirts on cheap grills, usually a Weber kettle, in what appears to be a humble back yard.
As enamored as I am over his methods there are a few iconoclastic things he does that I cannot abide. One is using a microplane to grate lump charcoal and use the powder as a seasoning. I am not convinced that all lump charcoal doesn't havea few chunks of chemically treated lumber in the bag, and I don't get the draw of putting pure carbon on my food. I work hard not to carbonize my meat!
He also takes a beautiful bone in beef rib roast and pounds the bejeezus out of it with a baseball bat until it is sort of flat like a huge thick steak. I just don't get it. Rib roasts are already tender, they don't need help. And if you want steaks, it's a snap to cut perfect even thickness ribeyes from the roast. Yes, it is dramatic and it will get him on TV, but you won't see me doing this anytime soon.
He's also fond of what he calls clinching, just laying the meat on hot coals. I don't wantto get into it here, but I think there are better ways to sear meat.
I see this book as a source of ideas and inspiration more than a cookbook of recipes. For example, one recipe is for a spectacular looking thick frisbee size steak he says is called a "mansteak" in England. He says it comes from the rump and surrounding musckes, but gives no info about how to order it. I've never seen one, and my butcher had no idea how to cut one.
Still, there is a lot to learn from Chef Perry Lang, this is unlike any of the hundreds of cookbooks I own, and no other barbecue book has inspired me and gotten me thinking like this one.
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Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste, and Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking by Adam Perry Lang
The recipes are creative, insightful, and beautifully photographed. This came out before Charred & Scruffed, and is full of goos stuff, but the ambiance is much different.
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How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques by Steven Raichlen
Workman, 2001, 498 pages, paperback, many recipes, many color photos.
Nobody knows more about barbecue than Steven Raichlen. This author has had a greater influence on the meteoric growth in popularity of barbecue in the US than anyone since George Stephen invented the Weber kettle grill in 1951. With several other books on barbecue and grilling (see below), a cooking school, two television series, a lecture tour, and a line of outdoor cooking tools, Raichlen has had the kind of influence on men who cook, that Julia Child had on women who cook. This book won an IACP award.
Ten years old, this book comes closest to my concept than any other. However, it is out of date. For example there is no mention of pellet grills, the niftiest new technology in grilling since the propane grill. Food science (some of it my original research) has since debunked several popular myths in this book. My book will be better organized, more instructional, and less recipe driven.
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Planet Barbecue! by Steven Raichlen
Workman, 2010, 638 pages, paperback, many recipes, many color photos.
Beautifully photographed in color, this book won a Julia Child Cookbook Award. Raichlen's most recent book, it is the best of his five barbecue books. He visits 60 countries and brings back recipes for everything from Spanish chocolate sandwiches to kangaroo. He begins with the history of barbecue, and the last small chapter covers different grill types and how to use them. Discussion of concepts and technique are scattered throughout this huge book in the methods for individual recipes.
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The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen
Workman, 2008, 556 pages, paperback, 500 recipes, many photos.
The Barbecue! Bible was Raichlen's first book on the subject. Published in 1998, this 556 page tome with 500 recipes covers everything from hamburgers to bread. Alas, there are not many pix of the finished recipes.
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BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen
This is my favorite of Raichlen's books. Published in 2003, it is a whopping 774 pages with 425 recipes. He begins with a history of barbecue that is fun and enlightening. Then there is a primer on grilling and barbecue with lots of great tips. Most of the recipes come from restaurants, from joints to white tablecloth temples of food. There are more useful tips and fun facts in the sidebars. I love the sepia toned photos of pitmasters and plain folk cooking, but I'd love to see some color photos of the finished products.
Here's a typical passage: "A great deal of ink, beer, and maybe even blood have been spilled over the great debate: charcoal or gas," he starts. He praises the convenience of gas grills, and then tells us "If I could use only one grill for the rest of my life (or take it to a deserted island), it would be my trusty charcoal kettle. Why? For starters, charcoal burns hotter than gas, so it sears better (better searing makes for bolder flavors). It's also easier to smoke on a charcoal grill. Charcoal imparts a distinct flavor all its own, one that's less pronounced that that from grilling over a wood fire (which, by the way, is easy to build on a charcoal grill), but definitely more discernible than what you get from gas. And, of course, charcoal gives you the thrill of playing with fire."
Raichlen sums this book's concept up with this quote: "When I grew up, barbecue meant the main course. Today, we grill everything, and I mean everything from appetizers to desserts."
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Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades by Steven Raichlen
Workman, 2000, 320 pages, 500 recipes, only a few B&W illustrations and photos.
The BBQ guru with the oval sunglasses and denim shirt dishes up more than 200 savory liquids to soak your food in or slather on it. A wide range of creative flavors from around the world.
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Peace, Love, and Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe
Rodale, 2005, 312 pages, paperback, numerous recipes, numerous B&W photos.
Mike "The Legend" Mills has earned his nickname with achievements as a restaurateur (17th Street Bar and Grill in Southern Illinois and four Memphis Championship Barbecue restaurants in Las Vegas), an award-winning chef (three-rime Grand World Champion at Memphis in May), president of the National Barbecue Association (2004-2005), and now, with the help of his daughter (herself an accomplished chef, writer, and photographer), he has created a classic in the pantheon of barbecue literature. Peace, Love, and Barbecue, published in 2005, not only contains the expected count of excellent recipes and cooking tips, but includes interviews with the legends of barbecue, and visits to the "shrines, shacks, joints, and right respectable restaurants." This is a first rate reference and a fun read.
Here's a quote: "I never told either of my wives the recipe [for our secret family barbecue sauce]. Let me tell you, this didn't set well with either one of them. I have had it in my head, so it isn't written down anywhere. It's not as thou they could've found it in the recipe box.
"My first marriage lasted only seven years, so keeping a secret wasn't too much of a problem, although Wife #1 wasn't amused. Marriage to Wife #2 lasted for only 27 years, so she didn't make the cut either. Now if we'd made it to 30 years, I might've broken down and spilled my guts. But she would've had to change her ways."
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Low & Slow: Mastering the Art of Barbecue in Five Easy Lessons by Gary Wiviott
Running Press, 2009, 256 pages, paperback, no photos, only a few illustrations.
If you have a new Weber Smoky Mountain smoker you absolutely positively must buy Gary Wiviott's book. Although not specific to this cooker, nobody knows more about it than Wiv, and his step by step guides can be applied to a wide range of low and slow devices.
He is a purist, and Chapter 8, titled "Master the Art of Barbecue on a Gas or Electric Grill" has just one page that says "Gotcha! Shame on you for even thinking it. You cannot make low and slow barbecue on a gas or electric grill." And that's all he wrote. Well, he's right about electrics, but if you follow my tips on how to set up your gas grill, you can make darn fine low and slow barbecue on it. Wiviott, who is extremely knowledgeable about food, may seem dogmatic in his tutorial, but if you follow his procedures you will be rewarded.
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Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook Edited by Ardie A. Davis, Chef Paul Kirk, and Carolyn Wells
Andrews McMeel, 2010, 318 pages, hardcover, more than 200 recipes, many color photos.
Pure fun. Founded in 1986, the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) is an international association with thousands of members. They sanction and administer more than 400 barbecue competitions.
The intro material is about the history of KCBS and how the judging works. The recipes were all contributed by members, and the photos are all amateur snapshots which give the book a friendly family album feel. There are short bios of the contributors, sidebars with short tips, a glossary in the rear, and only three pages of bullet-pointed cooking tips.
I would give this book a gold medal, but, because the recipes come from so many sources, and many are scaled down from restaurant quantities, there is a lot inconsistency in the recipe presentation. I am sure the cooks have perfected them, but the best cookbooks use recipe testers to double check and polish, and editors to make sure everything is consistent and easy to understand, and that is not the case here.
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Fire it Up, More Than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim
Chronicle Books, 2011, paperback, 416 pages, more than 400 recipes, many beautiful photos.
A big, heavy, beautifully photographed book that feels authoritative. The intro material is short, but high quality. It emphasizes creative recipes and has large sections on fish and veggies for folks who don't eat meat. On the other hand, many recipes call for hard-to-find ingredients such as elk, lamb kidneys, agave, epazote, etc. Not easy to find at the local grocery. Sure wish the type wasn't so small.
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Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue Sauces: 175 Make-Your-Own Sauces, Marinades, Dry Rubs, Wet Rubs, Mops, and Salsas
Paul Kirk is known as the Baron of Barbecue. He teaches classes in barbecue and, as a competition cook, has won more awards than can be counted. This book has 175 sauces, marinades, dry rubs, wet rubs, mops, and salsas. Nothing fancy, no long-winded tales and stories, just tried and true recipes, mostly from his buddies on the competition circuit. He's not the best writer, but he has a lot to teach.
Here's a quote: "People ask me what is the most important aspect of barbecue: the rub, cooker, smoker, fire, wood, charcoal, meat, what? All things being equal, my answer is without a doubt the rub or barbecue seasoning! If you have good rub, your chances of being the neighborhood Barbecue King, or this year's big winner in barbecue competitions, are very good. The next thing people usually want to know is what's in my rub and whether I'll give out my recipe. My answer is, sure, you can have what's in my rub, but I won't give you the proportions. My rub consists of sugar, salt, paprika, chili powder, pepper, and other spices."
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Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef by Mark Shatzker
This book is great story telling as we follow an inquisitive writer on his quest for great steak. He travels the world learning about the history of bovine culture and breeds. Here he unearths a small herd of animals in France that are the closest relatives of the ancient ancestors of todays cattle: Aurochs.
"The herd numbered at least sixty, with a big bull, maybe 1,200 pounds, standing out front. By the looks of things, they were all competing in a who-can-grow-the- biggest-horns contest, and the big bull was in the lead, his own set being thicker and curving out wider than any of the others.
"A blond eelstripe ran down his ample back, and he had more muscle hanging from one shoulder than could be harvested off my entire physique. The bull was walking heft. The bull was confidence wrapped in black leather.
"Convinced that we represented the same threat level as the flies buzzing around his head, the bull sauntered off to join three smaller cows. Safe, I thought, but not for long, because a younger male with smaller horns—a male with something to prove—caught sight of me and set off my way. His pace was brisk, and as he approached he lowered his head and picked up speed. Horns pointed forward, he thrashed his head from side to side in the manner of a puppy destroying a slipper."
He survives and goes on to discuss how the Nazi geneticists preserved the breed and how it tasted. Fascinating stuff.
Steak Lover's Cookbook by William Rice
A former columnist for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and editor of Food & Wine magazine, Bill Rice is one of the great food writers of our time. In this 246 page book he teaches us how to come close to great steakhouse porterhouse steaks with the classic accompaniments like creamed spinach and steak fries. He teaches us how to buy steaks, store them, prep them, carve them, cook them outdoors, cook them indoors, how to season them, garnish them, and what to serve with them. The beef recipes range from stewed to stuffed, fajitas, curry, orange beef, and even pot roast. The sides include mango guacamole, chicken liver pate, gazpacho, fried zucchini, cowboy beans, apple Stilton cole slaw; and the desserts include a grilled dessert pizza, cobbler, mud pie, and bread pudding.
A quote: "Do not try to dry-age steak in your home. Only large primal and sub-primal cuts are suitable to the process. The bacteria that will collect on a single steak could cause illness. Keep fresh steak in the refrigerator, well wrapped, for no more than four days. If you choose to freeze uncooked steak, do it under the coldest temperature possible because the faster it freezes the less fluid loss there will be when you thaw it."
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The Bacon Cookbook by James Villas
Is there anything that bacon doesn't enhance? Yes, even that is enhanced by bacon. This paean to pork bellies is a winner. The standards such as quiche, carbonarra, BLT, are there among 168 intriguing recipes by an experienced cookbook author, including chocolate truffles with peanut butter and bacon, bacon Parmesan biscuits, cauliflower with bacon and pimento, conch and bacon stew, peppered bacon cornbread, Maryland crab and bacon chowder, bacon wrapped salmon, and a whole bunch of stews and salads. Only one complaint. No bacon ice cream. Yes, there is such a thing, I have seen the recipe, and people I know who have tasted it say it is the perfect dessert. He also explains how bacon is made, defines all the different kinds of bacons, tells us how to buy bacon, and tells us about some of the best artisan bacon makin' places.
A quote "Virtually all bacon is cured, but not all bacon is smoked... Smoking not only imparts more flavor to the bacon but also enhances the curing process and renders some of the fat. Smoking methods vary enormously from one craftsman to the next, but most American and European Artisinal producers smoke their cured sides of bacon naturally and slowly in smokehouses over wood logs or chips (hickory, applewood, oak, cherry, maple, beach) or dried corncobs, a time-consuming technique that can last up to a week or longer for double-smoked bacon. Giant commercial companies can either smoke their bacons with sawdust in stainless-steel smokers for four to six hours or simply inject the meat with liquid smoke. Since long smoking partially cooks bacon and reduces fat content, a pound of raw artisinal bacon yields about three-quarters of a pound cooked, whereas more ordinary, quick-smoked bacon produces as little as a quarter to a third. The ideal result of long, careful smoking is a dense bacon with firm, smooth fat and dark to mahogany lean meat; one that does not shrink excessively in the frying pan; and one that delivers just the right rich balance of meat and crackling fat and a mellow smoky flavor."
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America's Best BBQ by Ardie A. Davis and Chef Paul Kirk
Andrews McMeel, 2009, 224 pages, paperback, 100 recipes, hundreds of color photos.
This wholly wonderful book is meant as a cookbook, as described in the subtitle "100 Recipes from America's Best Smokehouses, Pits, Shacks, Rib Joints, Roadhouses, and Restaurants". But it is much more. Davis and Kirk probably have visited more barbecue joints than anyone I know, and they know the good stuff from the bad. For this book they have picked some of the best barbecue restaurants, describe them, and share a recipe. Davis and Kirk are not professional photographers, but their snapshots do a fine job of conveying the ambiance of the restaurants, the personalities of the people, and the taste of the food. I have used it more than once as a reference when I hit the road, and they have never steered me wrong.
The narrative is folksy and personal. Here they are discussing pig snoot sandwiches: "Ardie hasn't made it through a whole snoot sandwich yet, even after downing a shot of Pig's Nose Scotch first. Paul downs them with gusto reminiscent of a New Yorker eating clams or oysters on the half shellArdie says they taste like bacon fat with barnyard rub. When he gets to the whiskers, he stops and orders a tenderloin sandwich or a cheeseburger." Yes, they offer a recipe that even Ardie will eat.
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Buy Americas Best Ribs from the Apple iBook Store
Buy America's Best BBQ - Homestyle from the Apple iBook Store
Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses by Robb Walsh
Chronicle Books, 2002, 269 pages, paperback, plenty of traditional recipes, scores of B&W photos, but not of the recipes.
This book is a wonderful piece of scholarly research that is also a great read. Walsh has delved into the history and lore of Texas barbecue, it origins, its ingredients, its personalities, and its tall tales. He recommends the best places to eat when in the Lone Star State, what to eat, and provides recipes from pitmasters to help you replicate the real thing at home. Even the photos are fascinating.
A quote: "The majority of Texas barbecue joints now serve a little bit of everything. You'll always find some kind of beef offered, and usually German-style sausage along with Southern-style pork with barbecue sauce, Mexican tortillas, West Texas beans, and sides from all over the place. Not to mention banana pudding, coconut cake, and sweet potato pie. Some places try to maintain a degree of stylistic purity, but few succeed. That's why when you say "Texas barbecue," no one can ever be sure about what you are talking about... The best way to preserve our tradition is to constantly disagree about what Texas barbecue really is."
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Also By Robb Walsh
Buy The Hot Sauce Cookbook from the Apple iBook Store
Buy The Tex-Mex Grill and Backyard Barbacoa Cookbook from the Apple iBook Store
Buy The Texas Cowboy Cookbook from the Apple iBook Store
The Chili Cookbook by Robb Walsh
Ten Speed Press, 194 pages, beautiful color pictures
Walsh is a cook, a cultural historian, and a heckuva writer, and he brings all his talents to this fun book. There's classic Texas chili, red and green, no beans allowed, as well as Cincinnati, loaded with beans and ground meat. He shares Detroit chili, the African American chili tradition, Tex-Mex, and more. Lobster chili, turkey chili, There's background info on chile peppers, chili powders, and much more. The recipes come with the story behind the recipe,and if you were ever tempted to enter a chili cookoff, you better start experimenting with these formulae long in advance.
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The Prophets of Smoked Meat, A Journey Through Texas Barbecue by Daniel Vaughn
Daniel Vaughn knows Texas barbecue so well that in 2013 Texas Monthly magazine hired the Dallas architect to write about the subject full time. He's the only guy who might have a better job than mine. Published by Anthony Bourdain's division of Harper Collins, the book takes us along with Vaughn and his architect/photographer, Nicholas McWhirter, as they taste their way across the state to truck stops in the dessert and chic restaurants in the metropolitan areas in search of the truth in Texas barbecue. In all, their hegira took 35 days, covered 10,343 miles, and made stops at 186 joints. Along the way we meet the characters and artists who set the state's signature food apart from any other state and he enlightens us on the various styles and his favorites.
A quote: "The people who pack Cooper's crave the unique flavor of the meat offered there, but man y don't realize that it is the result of a barbecue method that is completely different than the one used in the smoked meat temples in more famous barbecue towns like Lockhart, Luling, and Taylor, Texas. But then, that is Central Texas, and this is the Hill Country." He then goes on to describe the cooking method at Cooper's, one of my all-time favorites, and how it differs.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay
Ten Speed Press, 2015, hardbound, 212 pages, a few good recipes, plenty of photos and illustrations
Franklin Barbecue in Austin is widely considered the best in the world and people stand in line for hours to get in. He got to the pinnacle the old fashioned way, patience and skill. He uses massive old school offset pits, logs, and fire control. Franklin shares his secrets for building and maintaining a fire that produces clean smoke, and how to prepare the classic meats of the Texas barbecue canon, beef brisket, the meat that made him famous, beef ribs, and pork spare ribs. He throws in turkey breast, four sauces, and three sides. But if you crave the simple excellence of Texas barbecue, salt and pepper only, no sauce, brilliant meat standing on its own, this is the manifesto. It is clearly written with a wry sense of humor typical of Franklin, and his infectious smile runs cover to cover.
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Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook
St. Martin's Griffin, 2005, paperback, 302 pages, many recipes, about 50 B&W photos.
Very few people know barbecue and grilling like Ray Lampe and he's got a room full of trophies to prove it. The former truck driver from the Chicago are writes just as he speaks, friendly, unassuming, and with an understated wit. Nothing snobby about Dr. BBQ. His tips on technique and tools are scattered throughout the book. Here he is talking about Wisconsin Bratwurst, cooked the "right way": "This is a subject I have researched for many years. Like much of my research, it involves me, a grill, a lawn chair, and a cooler of beer." He then wanders off into a lament on how his favorite beer, Old Style, changed when it went from being made in Lacrosse, WI, to when it was bought out by a big corporation. Then he gets around to the recipe. This much we can be sure of. His recipes will work.
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Barbecue: A Texas Love Story
A 46 minute DVD narrated by the late Governor Ann Richards and directed by Chris Elley. This clever 2005 documentary features some of the characters and culture of Texas barbecue including the Sowpremes (women who dress like hogs and root for barbecue), and Kinky Friedman (novelist, humorist, former candidate for governor, songwriter, and leader of the band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys). "Jesus loved barbecue. That's well known," asserts Friedman.
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BBQ Secrets Deluxe: The Very Best Recipes, Tips & Tricks from a Barbecue Champion by Rockin Ronnie Shewchuk
Shewchuk is a Vancouver based competitor who really knows his stuff. This is a good beginner's guide to serious barbecue with many of his competition recipes. Unfortunately there are only two recipes for ribs. One is called "Cheater ribs" for people in a hurry, and it involves boiling water. This oversight is balanced by the quality of the other recipe for ribs and his great advice on everything from brisket to smoked duck salad. Ingredients are measured in both standard English measurements (pounds, cups, tablespoons, Fahrenheit) as well as metric (kilograms, liters, Centigrade).
From a section called "All I ever needed to know, I learned from barbecue" here's a quote: "Think of what a better world it would be if we all, the whole world, had barbecue and peach daiquiris about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down for a nap with a bag of charcoal for a pillow."
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Startin' the Fire by George Hensler
George Hensler is the captain of a barbecue team, and he has written a very helpful short book on what you need to know before entering your first Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) contest.
Startin' the Fire is informative, friendly, funny, and conversational, with a real homespun feel. There are 29 chapters in the 99 pages with titles such as Team Building, Selecting a Team Name, Transportation, Equipment Selection, Site Safety, Box Building 101, and more.
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25 Essentials: Techniques for Grilling Fish by Karen Adler & Judith Fertig
This pretty, little, inexpensive, spiral bound cookbook explains the simple guidelines for grilling seafood beautifully. The authors, widely known as the BBQ Queens, do a nice job of classifying many popular fish as "Firm Texture", "Moderately Firm Texture" and "Delicate Texture" so you know what you've got going in.
Because the techniques for most different fish are similar, there are only 25 recipes, but they are solid, and almost all have a sauce, dressing, or marinade than can easily be copied and pasted to other fish. Lovely photos, too.
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300 Big and Bold Barbecue and Grilling Recipes by Karen Adler & Judith Fertig
Robert Rose, 2009, 416 pages, paperback, 300 recipes, 24 color photos.
As the title says, this book is all about the recipes, and they look wonderful. It has a strong international flavor, and employs ingredients and methods from all over the world. One feature I like: All recipes offer measurements in both traditional and metric units.
Also By Adler & Fertig
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Buy Patio Pizzeria from the Apple iBook Store
Hot Dogs and Hamburgers
Hot Dog: A Global History by Bruce Kraig
A well regarded culinary historian and Professor Emeritus of History and Humanities at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Scholarly yet clever and entertaining, Kraig probably knows more about the history of the hot dog than anyone and he meticulously dismissed the many myths about the origin of the frankfurter, the bun, and its name. He does a good job of explaining how hot dog culture spanned the nation and even the world.
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Also by Professor Kraig
Buy Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture In America - Bruce Kraig & Patty Carroll from the iBook store
The Great American Hot Dog Book by Becky Mercuri
Up to date on the latest historical research, a fun read, and fascinating profiles of the iconographic hot dog stands around the nation with recipes from most.
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The Hot Dog Companion by David Graulich
Entertainingly written, well researched, contains a good history, profiles local legends, describes how a dog is made, and cooking tips. No recipes.
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Hamburgers & Fries: An American Story by John T. Edge
Culinary historian, John T. Edge is a fun read. This book follows him cross country as he seeks regional styles and historical techniques that will help him unravel the story of the All-American hamburger. Here he describes his encounter with Jucy Lucy at Matt's in Minneapolis, MN: "The burger at bottom right begins to wobble, ballooning outward and then quaking like a capsized turtle. Remember Alien? It's not unlike that. If you missed Sigourney Weaver's money shot, I'll be more precise: it's as if something is trapped inside that burger; it's as if something wants out.
"Finally a minor geyser erupts, a thin stream of cheese spouting upward in a textbook exhibition of fluid dynamics. I hear a treble-register swish, an exhalation. And I watch as a blob of cheese exits the side of the burger... I learn from a woman two stools down that I have just witnessed what Jucy Lucy cultists know as a blowout."
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Hamburger: A Global History by Andy Smith
Culinary historian Andy Smith is a thorough researcher. I once attended a seminar he did on researching cultural history through food and was blown away by his thoroughness and the tricks of his trade. This definitive little book unwraps the mystery of the origin of the hamburger and its name, and traces its spread across the globe. The stories of White Castle, McDonald's, and other chains and Mom & Pop burger stands is worth the modest price of admission. He debunks the myths that the Tartars invented hamburgers, that they first appeared on a menu at Delmonico's in NYC in 1834, that Ray Kroc founded McDonald's, and that the first Mickey D's is in Desplaines, IL. All untrue.
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Hamburger America: One Man's Cross-Country Odyssey to Find the Best Burgers in the Nation [Book & DVD] by George Motz
George Motz has traveled the four corners of the nation to find the best and most interesting burger joints. Many are cultural and community icons, and Motz interviews the owners, writes about their burgers, and photographs the places beautifully.
Buy Hamburger America: Completely Revised and Updated Edition from the Apple iBook Store
The Hamburger: A History by Josh Ozersky
A cleverly written, well researched, fun tale of the history of the hamburger and how it has evolved in step with American culture. Ozersky, a writer for TIME magazine, is an insightful and witty fellow, capable of connecting the rise of McDonald's with the fact that "Conformity, it will be remembered, was a serious social issue in the 1950s." He does a good job of dispelling a few myths, and puts the achievements of such giants as Ray Kroc and Dave Thomas in perspective. There are no recipe or evencooking tips in this book, just a look at how this iconic American sandwich is America and America is a hamburger. Sadly Josh died in 2015. A good friend, here's my tribute to a great food writer who died much too young.
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Food Science Books
The Food Lab, Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji L—pez-Alt
W.W. Norton & Co., 960 pages, 250 recipes, more than 1,000 photos and charts and illustrations
This is the best cookbook I own.I am a huge fan of Kenji and you will find him cited many times on these pages. He went to MIT, worked in top restaurant kitchens, worked in the test kitchens of Cooks Illustrated magazine and TV, and is the most popular contributor to the extremely popular website, SeriousEats.com. This New York Times Best Seller is much like his SeriousEats articles: Funny, informative, fascinating, creative, and precise. Kenji understands food science and culinary arts, two specialties that rarely inform a single cook at the same time. A self-proclaimed nerd, you will want to make sure you have on hand a digital thermometer, a digital scale, and a sous vide machine will come in handy too.
This huge volume can compete with any other all-in-one cookbook in my large collection. It beats Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, The Gourmet Cookbook, The New Best Everything, La Technique, even Escoffier. He starts with explaining energy and heat transfer, covers pots and pans and knives, and all the basic tools of the trade. The chapter on frying alone is worth the price of admission. Then there are the recipes. He focuses on the beloved American classics and shows that often the traditional methods can be improved upon. His 2 minute foolproof Hollandaise sauce is a revelation.
"We all love potato gratin, correct? The creamy layered casserole of potatoes and cream with a crisp browned top. We also love Hasselback potatoes, those cute side dishes achieved by making thin, parallel slices almost all the way through a potato, stuffing butter and cheese between them, and roasting them until golden brown and crisp. What if I were to combine the two into one gloriously crispy, creamy, crunchy, cheesy casserole?" And so he creates the "Cheesy Hasselback Potato Gratin." I've done it. It. Is. Spectacular.
The book is organized a bit differently than normal. Instead of chapters on, say, chicken, beef, etc., they are sometimes organized by cooking method, sometimes by type of food. After you dive in you see his logic, he is teaching concepts, but I have found myself relying heavily on the index since chicken can be found scattered all over the place.
One of his strengths is his ability to explain complex physics and chemistry in lay terms. "Like grandmothers and movie theatres, some onions smell more than others."
If you have spent any time on this site, you will understand my admiration for Kenji. We approach food and cooking similarly. We both rely heavily on measuring things, we both do a lot of experimenting, we both take our own photos (seriously), we both have a corny sense of humor, and you will often see our dogs in the kitchen. We are brothers by different mothers.
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee
If you want to know why we do what we do in the kitchen, not just what to do or how to do it, this fat tome is a must have. It is a fascinating and easy to read textbook that explains what food is made of, and how it reacts with heat and other foods. McGee describes scores of different kinds of foods and their characteristics as well as every cooking method and how it changes the food. The meticulous black and white pen and ink illustrations are illuminating, and if you have the technical bent, the molecular drawings will give you the real nitty gritty. This book belongs in every kitchen.
Here's a typical passage: "Get down on all fours and 'graze,' and you'll notice that the neck, shoulders, chest, and front limbs all work hard while the back is more relaxed... Tenderloin is appropriately named because it is a single muscle with little connective tissue that runs along the back and gets little action; it's tender."Here's something more technical: "The basic texture of meat, dense and firm, comes from the mass of muscle fibers, which cooking makes denser, dryer, and tougher. And the elongated arrangement accounts for the 'grain' of the meat. Cut parallel to the bundles and you see them from the side, lined up like logs of a cabin wall; cut across the bundles and you see just the ends. It's easier to push fiber bundles apart from each other than to break the bundles themselves, so it's easier to chew along the direction of the fibers than across them. We usually carve across the grain, so that we can chew with the grain." And here's my favorite tip. He tells us how to have a safe rare hamburger! He explains that rare hamburger is dangerous because fecal contamination can get on the surface of the meat, and it then gets mixed in as the meat is ground. When you cook a rare steak the surface is sterilized, but when you grind meat, the interior can be contaminated because the surface is mixed into the interior. So here's his solution: "Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, immerse [unground pieces of meat] in the water for 30-60 seconds, then remove, drain and pat dry, and grind in a scrupulously clean meat grinder."
Buy On Food and Cooking from the Apple iBook Store
Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes by Harold McGee
McGee is a food scientist and a columnist for the New York Times and author of the best general food science book ever (above).
This book is a (mostly successful) attempt to cover this academic subject in user-friendly fashion. McGee has a great ability to boil down a complex idea to very few words and bring clarity to the subject.
The book is designed so readers can just dive in anywhere, so he often repeats things, almost word for word, from chapter to chapter. Lots of great tips. Penguin, 2010, 576 pages, hardcover, few recipes, few illustrations.
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The Science of Good Food by David Joachim and Andrew Schloss
In this food science reference book, ingredients and methods are listed alphabetically from Abalone through Frying to Zucchini and the authors explain what ingredients are made of, how they behave when cooked, and how various methods work. There are good photos, tables, charts, and tips, and the design is friendly and contemporary. Some techniques have recipes. Very helpful, but it falls just short of being definitive. For example, under brining the authors recommend a 5% brine and have a table for how long to soak various meats. But nowhere is there a recipe for a basic 5% brine. Robert Rose, 2008, 624 pages, paperback, numerous recipes and color photos.
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What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained by Robert L. Wolke
What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel: Further Adventures in Kitchen Science
Wolke possesses that rare ability to communicate complex scientific concepts into easy to understand language. Alas, there is little on barbecue and grilling in his books. First volume: Norton, 2002, 368 pages, paperback, a few recipes, fewer illustrations. Second volume: Norton, 2005, 368 pages, paperback, a few recipes, fewer illustrations.
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Buy What Einstein Told His Cook 2 from the Apple iBooks store
Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter
A food science book, the author writes as if all his readers are software engineers. He focuses on interesting phenomena and creates science experiments, includes lots of data and facts. This book is informative, but not much help to someone wanting to learn to cook. O'Reilly, 2010, 432 pages, paperback, a few score recipes, many B&W photos and illustrations and clip art, not graphically integrated.
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The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
This may be the most important book about food since Upton Sinclair's The Jungle drew back the curtain on the Chicago stockyards in 1906. Both books take an analytical and critical look at how food gets to our table. The New York Times named The Omnivore's Dilemma one of the 10 best books of 2006.
Pollan documents in fascinating detail how food and feed are grown, how government influences what we eat, and how what we eat influences our health, our environment, our politics, and our humanity.
He begins by reminding those of us old enough to remember that a cross country trip in the 1970s meant the strobe of farms populated with horses, beef cattle, dairy cattle, chickens, pigs, a seasonal vegetable, and fruit trees. Now such a trip reveals unbroken rows of corn and soybeans, monotonous "monocultures." Corn, it seems, has subsumed everything beginning with some innocent sounding decisions by the Nixon administration, and it now is the vast industry whose by-products find their way into 25% of the products in the packaged goods in the grocery store. It is in all the animals we eat, and just about everything we eat with them. It is even in the toothpaste we use to clean up after. "Tell me what you eat," said Brillat-Savarin, "and I will tell you what you are." We are corn.
He goes on to demonstrate how corn has allowed a handful of politically powerful huge multinational conglomerates to control pricing of almost all farm products and have driven calories per acre yields to incredible records while driving the profit per acre for the farmer to the point of bankruptcy.
He shows how the quest for cheap calories has impacted our diets and the far reaching impact on everything including our health care system. He shows the relationship of our dependance on corn on our dependance on foreign oil, and I'm not talking corn oil.
His descriptions of the confined feedlot operations (CFOs) on which cattle are fattened for slaughter are revelatory. But he is not just another food Nazi. Some of his greatest surprises are found in his section describing the organic food industry and how far it has strayed from its roots.
In the final chapter, he hunts wild hog and enters into a tortured debate with himself over the morality and the benefits and disadvantages of eating meat. He asks all the right questions, and quotes positions of proponents of many of the various positions. It is one of the most informed unbiased debates I have seen on the topic.
Pollan is insightful, thoughtful, deadly serious without being pedantic (well, just a little), and occasionally witty.
There are some slow spots in the book, but the first 200 pages are riveting. This is a must read for people who love food, love the commonwealth, and wonder what the future holds.
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Food Rules: An Eater's Manual by Michael Pollan
A short paperback that you can easily swallow on a short airplane trip, Pollan, the author of such important books as the Ominvore's Dilemma (above), In Defense of Food, and The Botany of Desire, summarizes what he has learned about good eating habits in the form of "rules" which he describes in a few sentences. A sampling:
- Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.
- Avoid food products that make health claims.
- Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
- If you have the space, buy a freezer.
- Eat like an omnivore.
- Have a glass of wine with dinner.
- Stop eating before you're full.
- Buy small plates and glasses.
- Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.
He summarizes the whole book perfectly in one rule: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
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The Meat Buyers Guide: Meat, Lamb, Veal, Pork and Poultry by NAMP (North American Meat Processors Association)
This is the definitive reference on all the different cuts of meat, with charts, excellent photos, a glossary, and nutritional info. It is aimed at butchers, chefs, and ranchers, but a home chef can learn a lot.
A quote: "Spareribs shall consist of at least 11 ribs and associated coastal cartilages and may include portions of the sternum and diaphragm. The membranous portion of the diaphragm, close to the lean, and any portion of the diaphragm not firmly attached close to the inside surface of the ribs, shall be excluded. The lean shall not extend more than 2.0 inches (5.0 cm) past the curvature of the last rib and coastal cartilage. Heart fat on the inside surface of the ribs shall not exceed 0.25 inch (6 mm) average depth. Leaf fat shall be trimmed practically free from the diaphragm and transverse abdominis." OK. So it's a bit technical. But don't let this deter you if you really want to learn about meat. The charts and pictures are worth the price alone. You might want to wait for a new edition since some of the names were changed in 2013.
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The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today's Meat by Bruce Aidells
Bruce Aidells has chops. Literally and figuratively.
He has been a working butcher. He founded a sausage company and I'll bet you've seen Aidells Sausages on your grocery shelves. He sold the company. He married a chef. He's had his own TV show. He's written my favorite book on sausages Bruce Aidells's Complete Sausage Book. His byline appears regularly in the food mags. And now this.
The Great Meat Cookbook is a thorough compendium on all things meat, 630 pages worth. Not just superb recipes, both classic and creative, but up to the moment introductory chapters explaining meat labeling and grading. He writes intelligently on the legal meanings and culinary implications of such terms as "grass fed", "natural", and "organic". There are photos of all the common cuts of meat and then some.
The recipes don't limit themselves to common cuts. He includes bison, goat, leftovers, and, no surprise, sausages and cured meats.
Here's a quote with typical Aidells insight: "I've had the pleasurable (and sometimes not so pleasurable) experience of tasting grass-finished beef from all over the world. For example, I have had grass-fed beef from Uruguay and Argentine (Estancia brand) and Australia (Greg Norman brand). Ranchers have sent me samples from many parts of the United States as well, and I've tasted grass-fed beef raised locally here in northern California. When I haven't enjoyed the meat, it's usually been because it was harvested from pastures that were not in their prime, such as during the summer months in northern California, when the weather is dry and grass is sparse."
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Buy Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book from the Apple iBook Store
Buy Bruce Aidells' Complete Sausage Book from Amazon
The Cook and the Butcher: Juicy Recipes, Butcher's Wisdom, and Expert Tips by Brigit Binns
Weldonowen for Williams Sonoma, 2011, 223 pages, more than 100 recipes, many beautiful color photos of the dishes.
Four chapters: Beef, Pork, Lamb, Veal. A lifetime of incredible recipes for cooks who are bored with the same old same old.
Brigit Binns is simply amazing. She is the author of more than two dozen cookbooks, many of them for Williams-Sonoma, including this one. She knows so much and is so inventive.
Binns shares more than 100 recipes and, on almost every page, weaves through the book tips and quotes from butchers across the nation. An example from Frank Castrogiovanni of Ottomanelli Brothers in NYC "Select a flank steak that is short and thick with some of the white fat remaining. The longer flank steaks are usually chewy". I didn't know that!
The recipes are a mix of indoor and outdoor, and they are beautifully photographed by Kate Sears. What stands out is the creativity. For example, Steak Au Poivre. As Binns explains "This classic French preparation is a luxurious combination: the cooked meat, as tender as butter, is finished with a bracingly piquant and creamy pan sauce. While some recipes call for the peppercorns to be ground and pressed into the meat before cooking, I prefer to season the steaks simply, with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper, and to feature the green peppercorns in the easy pan sauce." Well every recipe I've ever seen says to coarsely crack the peppercorns, smask them into the meat, and then panfry. The problem is that you end up with serious pepper overload, you can barely taste the meat, and it is almost impossible to get a good flavorful sear with all those huge chunks of pepper holding he meat above the hot pan surface. That's one reason I quit making this dish. Until now. Binns' approach, which boils green peppercorns and uses them in a pan sauce of shallots, butter, Cognac, heavy cream, and beef consommé, is so much more sensible and elegant. Just like the lady herself.
Then, on the next page, she turns Philly Cheese Steaks from caterpillar to butterfly. Other recipes include Oven Browned Spareribs with Lemongrass, Honey, And Soy; Roasted Flank Steak Stuffed with Olives and Pecorino; Maple Brined Pork Chops With Pear Chutney; Pork Shoulder Braised in Milk; Double Cut Lamb Chops Stuffed with Prunes and Pine Nuts; Grilled Veal Chops with mustard Tarragon Aioli. Among the salads, sides, and toppings are Mango Salsa; Sun Dried Tomato Jam; Lime, Cabbage, and Jalapeño Slaw; and Onion Rings.
The menu sounds like a 4-star restaurant, but the recipes are easily managed with the help of a good butcher, a well stocked kitchen, and the guidance of a great cook, like Binns.
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Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork by Ryan Farr with Brigit Binns
Chronicle, 2011, 239 pages, 15 recipes, hundreds of color photos.
Farr is a classically trained chef, butcher, and butchery instructor, at his 4505 Meats in San Francisco. In three chapters, Beef, Pork, and Lamb, he demonstrates his craft in hundreds of photographs. Each chapter is followed by five recipes without photos.
The photos are action shots showing us how he butchers carcasses rather than the carefully posed and retouched photos in Kari Underly's book (below) where the end product is emphasized. Oddly, perhaps to make raw meat look less slippery and red than it really is, the images aren't color corrected very well so there is an old-fashioned hue to them.
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The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California's Central Coast by Brigit Binns
This beautiful book whisks readers back to a lyrical time when California was a simpler place—before it overflowed with too many people seeking Paradise—to a fertile region nestled between Monterey and Santa Barbara.
Using ingredients indigenous to California's Central Coast, like citrus, pomegranates, artichokes, king salmon and various shellfish, Binns creates delicious dishes for all palates. She calls on local winemakers to help pair her dishes with the perfect wines.
The New Wine Country Cookbook features more than 100 luscious landscapes and mouthwatering food photographs, plus 25 intimate profiles of local food artisans and family wineries interspersed throughout, this sunkissed cookbook radiates my radiant friend's passion for the region, giving readers a whole new perspective on the fastest-growing wine region in California.
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Buy Williams-Sonoma The New Slow Cooker from the Apple iBook Store
Buy The New Slow Cooker from Amazon
The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professional's Guide to Butchering and Merchandising by Kari Underly
Wiley, 2011, 232 pages, no recipes, spiral bound hardback, numerous color photos.
The best teachers can address the novice and still educate the expert, and that is exactly what Kari Underly does in this fine guide. Aimed at protein pros, this book belongs on the shelves of any serious carnivore.
Underly is a third generation butcher and consultant to numerous merchants, universities, chefs, farmers, and trade associations, among them the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
This is the book that will settle those barroom arguments such as "what is the difference between a T-bone and a porterhouse?" Answer: Both have two muscles, the toploin, and the tenderloin, and on the porterhouse, the tenderloin must be at least 1.25" diameter. If the tenderloin is smaller, it is a T-bone.
Worth the price of admission for the beautiful carefully retouched photographs of the different bovine cuts, and step by step pix of how they are carved out of the larger primals. The invisible retouching helps the reader clearly understand the different muscles and subsections.
There is a lot of inside baseball talk here aimed at chefs and butchers, including a chapter called "Cutting for Profit" where you can see how a butcher can calculate the resale price and profit margin of a large hunk. There is even a complete table of all the professional meat cutter's product names and descriptions with the names of the component muscles. This may seem superfluous for a backard cook, but this is knowledge that can help keep you from being fooled when cash is at stake when you are buying steak. The sections on knives, sharpening, safety, and cutting techniques are unique and useful to all.
Spiral bound so it lays flat, there are no recipes, just some generic cooking tips, but this is not a cookbook, it is a buyer's guide for buyers of all sort.
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Catching Fire, How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham
Basic Books, 2010, 309 pages, no recipes, no photos.
Wrangham is a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, Curator of Primate Behaviorial Biology at the Peabody Museum, and Director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project in Uganda. He does a remarkable job of telling the fascinating tale, and backing it up with ample research data, of how human evolution was drastically influenced by the capture of fire and the invention of cooking.
He describes in detail how cooking changes the chemistry of food and how that made it easier for proto humans to chew, digest, and extract energy and nutrients, and how that impacted their body shape, lips, jaws, teeth, intestines, and most importantly, brain size, allowing the emergence of Homo erectus, our direct ancestors. He also explains how cooking was largely responsible for the differentiating of male and female roles in early societies.
Despite his impressive credentials, there is nothing academic or textbook about this fascinating read. Witness: "Humans are adapted to eating cooked food in the same essential way as cows ar adapted to eating grass, or fleas to sucking blood, or any other animal to its signature diet. We humans are the cooking apes, the creatures of the flame."
Without being argumentative, Wrangham uses data from the raw food movement and related research to build an irrefutable case for the role of meat in past and present diets.
Wrangham has added a rich new layer to the story of human evolution, an ah ha moment, and a particularly satisfying insight for thos of us who love to hang out at the grill.
This innovative lucid account demonstrates that, not only did humans create cuisine, cuisine created humans.
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The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin
The Tummy Trilogy is actually three books in one, all long out of print, but occasionally available used. Trillin is witty, urbane, observant, and ironic, and he has written intelligently on everything from politics to barbecue. These three books, American Fried (1974), Alice, Let's Eat (1978), and Third Helpings (1983), are insightful recountings of meals, eateries, and eaters. Although so much has changed on the culinary scene since then, Trillin is a great storyteller, and his wisdom paved the way for people like us to openly admire "common" food like ribs, hotdogs, and burgers.
The American Fried, the first in the trilogy, speaks directly to rib eaters with its first sentence: "The best restaurants in the world are, of course, in Kansas City. Not all of them; only the top four or five. Anyone who has visited Kansas City and still doubts that statement has my sympathy: He never made it to the right places." A few pages later he drives home his point: "It has long been acknowledged that the single best restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant's Barbecue at Eighteenth and Brooklyn in Kansas City." There are a lot of folks I know who agree with this statement to this day.
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Other Recommended Books
The Foie Gras Wars: How a 5,000-Year-Old Delicacy Inspired the World's Fiercest Food Fight by Mark Caro
Most of us have never tasted foie gras. If you're among them, I'm here to tell you that there is nothing like it, and that, if you love food, you must try it. When prepared properly, the taste is unforgettable.
But the delicacy has been at the center of a controversy that has given it a bit of a bad taste. So I came to Mark Caro's book hopeful that he would answer the question for me: Is the way they make foie gras cruel?
Caro is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and when, out of the blue, the Chicago City Council, decided to ban the serving of foie gras, even though many members admitted to never having heard of it, no less tasted it or studied its production, he was assigned to cover the story. It grew into a fascinating tale that weaves together Chicago politics, animal husbandry, physiology, Philadelphia politics, history, culture, California politics, the animal rights movement, new age farming, New York politics, food fights between chefs, and cooking. And he does it well, with more than a few chuckles along the way.
How can the livers of geese and ducks be so controversial and interesting? It seems that, as long ago as 5,000 years, hunters discovered that geese and ducks, when preparing to migrate, gorged on food to build their fat reserves for the long journey, and at that point in time, their enlarged livers were spectacular tasting. Rich, complex, not like any other liver, more akin to eating a stick of the richest buttery cream cheese imaginable. They wanted it year round, so they came up with a method of replicating the process on their farms. The took a funnel, stuck a tube on the end, and inserted it in the mouth and down the throat of their geese and ducks. Then they poured in the feed.
French farmers became experts at the technique, where it is sold in groceries and gas stations. In the US, at one time, the dish was served only in fancy French restaurants, but in recent years, it's popularity has grown slightly, showing up on upscale menus, and even occasionally in unsuspecting places, like embedded in hamburgers.
Despite the fact that very little of it is made and it is sold only to the wealthy, animal rights activists, especially vegetarians, saw foie gras a low hanging fruit, an easy target for advancing their cause. They declared the method of feeding, called gavage, to be torture, made some video of the birds being fed, and started showing it on the web and to politicians.
Caro gets to know the animal rights activists and introduces them to us, as well as the farmers, the chefs, importers, physiologists, and the politicians, and weaves their fascinating personalities and tales into a fine story. He visits farms in California, New York, Minnesota, and even stays on a farm in France, where he is allowed to observe the process.
So, is gavage as painful? Alas, if you come to this book hoping that Caro will give you a simple answer, you will be disappointed. There are only a handful of legitimate studies, and the results are inconclusive. Among them, there are documented cases of animals coming towards the feeder willingly, while others shy away. Scientists point out that the throats of ducks and geese are a lot different than ours, and they have no gag reflex. Remember, they swallow spiny fish whole. Caro reports these studies and more in detail.
Early in the book he tells us how superstar chef Charlie Trotter quietly, without fanfare, decided to stop serving foie gras. Caro mentions this to another star, Rick Tramonto, who calls Trotter's decision hypocritical. "Either you believe in eating animals for sustenance or you don't." Ouch.
Caro asks Trotter for a response and gets this: "Rick Tramonto's not the smartest guy on the block. Yes, animals are raised to be slaughtered, but are they raised in a way where they need to suffer? To then be slaughtered for pure enjoyment? He can't be that dumb can he? You should quote me on that. What's up with that? It's like an idiot comment: 'All animals are raised to be slaughtered.' Oh, OK. Maybe we ought to have Rick's liver for a little treat. It's certainly fat enough." Touché!
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DIY Cocktails: A Simple Guide to Creating Your Own Signature Drinks by Marcia Simmons & Jonas Halpren
Adams Media, 2011, $18.99, 228 pages, paperback, numerous color photos.
I own several bartending guides and I've seen many others, but I have never seen anything like this. In an era where bartenders are becoming "cocktail chefs", and mixed drinks are now made with weeds and meat extracts, Simmons & Halpren, DrinkOfTheWeek.com editors, have managed to not only concoct something creative and unique, but something really useful.
DIY Cocktails is based on categories and ratios so we can understand the concepts of what the elements of a balanced mix. Their motto is "ditch the recipe, use the ratio".
They break ingredients into these categories: Strong (spirits), sweet (sugars, syrups, liqueurs, and fruits), sour (tart things like citrus, and berries), aromatic (a subset of sour including vermouth, and bitters), weak (water, club soda, tonic), and mild (a subset of weak including milk and cream).
They give you guidelines for creating a recipe with ratios, so a typical tropical drink has a flavor profile of 4:3:1, 4 parts strong, 3 parts sweet, 1 part sour. At the core of the book are 10 foundation ratios, and then scores of recipes built on these foundations.
There is also a section called "Tools & Techniques Cheat Sheet" that discusses prep, glassware and drink sizes, chilling, muddling, measuring, and mixing. Along the way they teach us about ingredients, like how to make infused spirits. If you haven't noticed, spirits steeped with herbs, citrus rinds, fruits, peppers, and vegetables are all the rage in bars nowadays.
But don't worry, it is not all conceptual. There are scores of recipes ranging from the old standbys like the Old Fashioned, to surprisingly tasty treats like the Watermelon-Cucumber Refresher. Then they show you how to customize them. Just reading it significantly enhanced my bartending skills.
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Magazines and periodicals
This is a great cooking magazine. The authors have grown from a really good magazine that people in the know swore by, to a great website, to a TV show, and have recently added another magazine.
The outstanding feature of their approach is that they test every assumption and often dispel myths. Their specialty is rethinking old recipes, and developing new techniques that work better than the tried and maybe no longer true. They will do things like cook a sauce at five different temperatures to determine what is the optimum. They also often develop techniques for shortening the preparation or cooking time for a dish. Or lower the fat. Or make it more flavorful.
In addition, they test equipment in a rigorous fashion similar to Consumer Reports. What is the best saucepan? They test nine of them by steaming rice, scalding cream, browning onions, and making pastry cream. They also have lots of little tips and tricks from their staff and their readers. There are no ads, and the painting on the front cover is elegant and mouth-watering. The back cover usually is a painted poster showing, for example, 12 different kind of peaches. The main body of the magazine is illustrated in realistic black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings, and small color photos appear on the inside back cover.
Here's how staffer Sean Lawrence approached the problem of developing a recipe for the ultimate Pepper-Crusted Filet Mignon: "I recalled the test kitchen's prior frustrations with peppercorn crusts. Peppercorns fall off in the pan, interfere with the meat's browning, and - used in sufficient quantity to create a real crust - delivering punishing pungency." He solved the problems by crushing the peppercorns by rocking a skillet on them; defanged them by simmering them in olive oil; improved adherence by pressing them into the filets and then covering them with plastic wrap and letting them rest for an hour; then sautéd the meat in a well-oiled skillet until the meat browned beneath the peppercorns; and finished them off by roasting them in the oven to complete the cooking and brown the sides. Clever, no?
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A big, sumptuous feast of recipes and ideas, drool inducing photos, probing interviews, memoirs, travel, tips on technique, culinaria, restaurant guides, product reviews, what to drink, trends, pop culture, and eternal culture. Emphasis on fast, easy, and fresh by authors who really know their stuff. The title may sound snooty, but don't let it fool you. I read every issue as soon as it arrives.
The offer on Amazon is "all access" including thei digital version and they throw in some cookbooks, too.
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All About Beer
Easily the leading beer magazine, each of the six issues per year contains features about different beer types, breweries, the interesting characters who make it, places to drink it, beer and food matching, the politics influencing the marketplace, insider news, new releases, ratings and reviews, travel, commercial brewing, home brewing, beer tasting, cooking with beer, results from beer competitions, collecting beer memorabilia, history, interviews, glassware, calendar of events, travel, book reviews, pub hopping, as well as brewery openings and closings. Publisher Daniel Bradford is well respected and brings great insight to the subject, as do columnists Michael Jackson, Fred Eckhardt, and the others.
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The leading wine periodical comes out 16 times a year, and it is rich in features about the endless range of wine types, the regions from where they come, and the fascinating people who make them. Each issue has hundreds of wine reviews and ratings on a 100 point scale.
There is a special issue devoted to their Restaurant Grand Award Winners, another on the Top 100 wines of the Year, and another on Great Wine Values. Every issue comes with a Wine Spectator Buying Guide, full of reviews and ratings for over 500 wine releases. While their articles occasionally sound boosterish, their ratings seem fair, despite occasional grumbling that they are influenced by advertising. I once published a magazine that competed with the Spectator, and I never saw evidence that they favored advertisers. There are also some great recipes and insightful travel pieces.
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Robert Parker is the most influential individual in the wine world. He and his associates taste thousands of wines each year, and that's pretty much all you'll find in this newsletter. No photos, no biographies swooning over iconoclastic winemakers, just ratings and descriptions of wines.
Occasionally they mention the better restaurants and hotels they've encountered on their travels. The problem is that the top rated wines sell out almost overnight and are practically impossible to buy. My biggest complaint is that they taste too many wines per day and as a result they seem to favor bigger, more powerful wines that stand out from the crowd. Delicate, more subtle, elegant wines seem to fall by the wayside. In addition, some wineries will not send them samples, so they are forced to taste these important wines at the winery, from selected barrels, with the winemaker hovering. Not surprisingly these wines seem to score very high. But if I owned a restaurant, I would read my copy of the Wine Advocate the same day it arrived.
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Aimed at commercial food service executives, Restaurant Hospitality is a beautiful glossy magazine that is well written and researched. They tend to delve into subjects a bit more than Nation's Restaurant News, and typically have good pieces on menu planning and marketing, design and decor, as well as operations ideas for managing people and expenses. The features include profiles of industry leaders, interviews, and product reviews. The recipes are often creative, and scaled for large production. Full disclosure: I write for them occasionally.
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Nation's Restaurant News
A classic trade publication, this glossy color tabloid comes out 50 times per year and is fat with trends, statistics, news, mergers and acquisitions, openings and closings, opinions, interviews with movers and shakers in the world of food and drink, profiles of restaurants and restaurant chains, analysis of government regulations, debates, and advertisements from vendors of everything from pork to paper goods. Nation's Restaurant News is a must for anyone currently in the biz or planning to get into the biz.
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