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.
Lilly is a fine story teller, and he shares with us what it is like to work at a small town barbecue joint, as well as the fascinating legend of Big Bob and his family all the way back to 1925.
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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