With grilling season solidly upon us, let's all take a moment to reflect on the various ways we send our food to the fire.
There is, of course, Monday through Friday grilling. This is when the intense heat of the grill helps us along that painful march to what we call "weeknight dinner." This is where we crank the grill — gas only, thank you very much — slap some chicken or salmon or veggies on the grates and call it good about 15 minutes later.
Then there is weekend grilling. Real grilling. This is when we have the luxury of getting our geek on. This is when we break out the charcoal and the wood chips and the water pans. This is when we marinate, baste, rub, soak and slather, then use a heat that is low and slow to nuance thick slabs of pork and beef.
And every year, book publishers unleash a deluge of grilling and barbecue books to help you navigate all of this. Selfless man that I am, I waded through them all so you don't have to. The short take — this is going to be a great year to be a grill geek. There are some fine new books ready to walk you down that fiery road.
— "Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto" by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (Ten Speed Press, 2015)
This is more text book than cookbook, and that is a delicious compliment. Aaron Franklin — co-owner with his wife, Stacy, of Texas' cultishly popular Franklin Barbecue — spends 122 pages walking the reader through every step of classic smoke-based barbecue, from how to build a smoker and what sort of wood to burn to which meats work best and how to trim and slice them. And that's all before he ever gets to the recipes.
For that, you get another 75 pages that take you through everything from how to make a great dry rub to how to maintain an ideal cooking temperature. Finally, he gets to the actual recipes, and he spares no detail. Fourteen pages to cook a pepper-rubbed brisket? Yes, please! Ten pages for pork spare ribs? Why not?
— "Feeding the Fire" by Joe Carroll (Artisan, 2015)
Where Franklin is steeped in Texas barbecue culture, Joe Carroll is more have-it-your-way. This New Yorker — the man behind a string of big deal barbecue shops, including Fette Sau — found his own way in the barbecue world, borrowing ideas and approaches from various Southern traditions. The result is more freewheeling, but no less educational or delicious.
Carroll starts off teaching you how to barbecue no matter what your equipment, whether gas grill, charcoal smoker or kettle grill. He doesn't spare the how-to details, but he gives equal time to the recipes, including sides and drinks. And everything packs big, bold flavour. I kind of want to take a bath in his "tiger sauce."
— "Smoke it Like a Pro" by Eric C. Mitchell (Page Street Publishing, 2015)
When it comes to gear, true barbecue geeks generally go one of two ways. They either build their own rig or the buy a Big Green Egg. And if you don't know what the latter is, you aren't a grill geek.
For those who are, Eric Mitchell has written the definitive guide to walk you through your favourite toy (though he also covers other ceramic-style grills). He keeps the front matter to a minimum, instead focusing on the many ways low and slow charcoal cooking can be a transformative experience. The "Sully's marinated steak tips" sounds trashy (Coke and Italian dressing are ingredients), but I can't help but want them.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at email@example.com