Grilling books are getting a bit much these days, aren’t they? Either you’re commanded to build a veritable pyre to sear your steak, preferably on a Patagonian plain, or you must search out a whole hog whose bloodlines are bluer than yours, or you have to rassle almost to the death all those barbecue purists trying to slap that jarred sauce out of your hands.
Three new books refreshingly cut through the hoo-ha to bring home cooks back to the smoke-kissed joys that drew us all to outdoor cooking in the first place. Crack open a cold one — and any of these books — and get grilling.
“All Fired Up” by the editors of Southern Living, with Troy Black
Oxmoor, $24.95 (e-book, $9.99 to $10.16)
Nothing is hotter than Southern food these days, except perhaps the debate over which section of the South does outdoor cooking best. Southern Living’s editors wisely don’t choose one over the other in this book. They offer all the Southern specialties, from pulled pork with the vinegar sauce used in eastern North Carolina to a Memphis dry rub for ribs to an Alabama smoked chicken with its white sauce to a traditional Texas brisket.
Using simple, clear language and bold, no-nonsense photography, the book teaches you the techniques and explains the top 10 tools you need, to master all sorts of outdoor cooking with confidence, whether on a charcoal grill, a gas grill or a wood smoker.
“For me, barbecuing isn’t just about the ingredients, it’s about layering flavors with spices, marinades, sauces and fire,” writes Black, the Franklin, Tenn.-based competitive barbecue chef, in his introduction. “It’s more about knowing when it’s done and not necessarily how long it takes to cook it.”
Some of these recipes take hours of slow cooking to complete. The book smartly offers dishes you can spin off a master recipe, such as the smoked Texas brisket, which can be used later either in cowboy nachos or chicken and brisket Brunswick stew or brisket shooters.
“All Fired Up” contains plenty of traditional recipes, but there are also more modern, more global dishes, from Vietnamese BBQ tacos to grilled sea bass with mango salsa to grilled tomato bruschetta.
— Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune
“Where There’s Smoke” by Barton Seaver
Sterling Epicure, $30
There aren’t big pictures of flaming steaks on this book’s cover. And the word “sustainable” is in its subtitle (“Simple, Sustainable, Delicious Grilling”), which might put off folks who dare to barbecue, say, artichokes not grown within 200 miles of their kettle grill.
Yet chef Seaver doesn’t preach. Instead, the National Geographic Fellow and author of the cookbook “For Cod and Country” is a congenial guide for grill vets and novices.
In “The Mechanics” of grilling, he weighs in on the charcoal briquette versus lump charcoal debate. In “Techniques,” he tackles a dozen woods, from alder to wine barrel staves, describing their characteristics and smoke. Seaver, in fact, considers smoke an ingredient, as basic as stock or olive oil. “It adds richness and fullness to the inherent flavors of the foods it touches. But smoke can overpower if not managed properly.”
How to manage that smoke, to juggle multiple courses on a single fire and to move toward greener grilling are part of the book. It also boasts a large fish and shellfish grilling chart that includes smoke’s affinity for two dozen-plus species, from amberjack to shrimp.
Seaver is no slouch when it comes to providing intriguing recipes, from drinks and starters (smoked peach Manhattan, ember-roasted squash hummus) on through sides, meats and poultry and basics (brines, dry rubs, smoke-dried tomatoes). His special love: sides. “To focus a meal so strongly on proteins is to deny the vegetables that better reflect the season a place at the table.” Ember-burnt leeks with smoky romesco; charred Brussels sprouts with orange-pecan dressing.
“Many of my favorite memories involve food,” he writes. “The very best of those involve fire.” If you feel the same way, it would be a shame to pass up this book.
— Judy Hevrdejs, Tribune Newspapers
“The Grilling Book” edited by Adam Rapoport
Andrews McMeel, $45 (e-book, $16.99)
You know how to grill pork chops. You’re always grilling pork chops. Yet you’re tired of the same ol’ pork chops you always grill. How about Yucatan-style, with citrus, allspice, onion and cabbage?
Therein lies the beauty of Bon Appetit’s “The Grilling Book”: The depth and breadth of its recipe collection affords you options to last several summers.
More than 380 recipes are spread among go-to proteins, like beef, chicken and pork (each chapter with two or three dozen dishes, not counting relishes, sauces and variations), but also the meats less often chosen: fish, seafood, lamb — you’d be hard-pressed to find 22 lamb recipes in most grilling books. Then there are the vegetables, flatbreads and sides, and nongrilling items, like the 18 boozy drinks.
The editors include basic instructions on grilling about everything, plus technique breakouts that go deeper on trickier projects: five steps to a better burger, four steps to rack of lamb, four steps to grilling whole fish. The book passes along buying tips, such as the editors’ favorite hot dog brands, and a discussion of five varieties of American shrimp. And cooking tricks: par-cook sausages to avoid flare-ups from the high-fat links.
You’ll find examples of Bon Appetit’s chronicling of food trends with recipes for such recent of-the-moment foodstuffs as fresh sardines, kalbi (Korean-style short ribs) and flatbreads. Some of those may be for the more adventuresome cook, but everyone wants a new crostini topping (here are seven).
“That looks delicious, but not so hard,” you will say. “I can make that.”
This 432-page volume is a workhorse worth the space it takes up.
— Joe Gray, Tribune Newspapers