Summer is the time for barbecue, but this year’s crop of cookbooks, in which Texas authors are particularly well-represented, don’t just teach you the basics of how to smoke a brisket. Instead, they offer opportunities for home barbecue innovation, from charred radicchio to peanut butter and jelly wings. Here are some of our favorites, from within our great state and beyond.
by Paula Disbrowe
Disbrowe is a prolific writer with an obvious adventurous streak when it comes to grilling. With a baker for a husband, she’s found plenty of uses for grilled bread. I’ve also never seen so many options for cheese done on a grill. Disbrowe encourages a good char with many of the recipes, like for wedges of cabbage, radicchio, and butternut squash. Those burnt edges provide a flavor element unlike what you’ll get when simply seeking proper grill marks. There’s meat too, like chicken thighs smoked with rosemary and a “Rebel Tomahawk” ribeye steak finished directly in the coals.
Most intriguing recipe: smoky ratatouille
by Paula Forbes
Forbes wrote a love letter to Austin food with this collection of recipes. She covers all facets of Austin dining with recipes straight from the restaurants. Expect plenty of tacos and Tex-Mex alongside kolaches. A good portion of the book is dedicated to barbecue, with brisket tips from Lance Kirkpatrick of Stiles Switch and a smoked kielbasa recipe from Tom Micklethwait. Kerlin BBQ offers up the details on their jalapeño dill potato salad (one of my favorites) and there’s even a banana pudding recipe from yours truly to finish off your meal.
Most intriguing recipe: braised pig tail puffy tacos
by Adrian Davila
Davila’s Barbecue was established in Seguin in 1959 by Adrian’s grandfather, Raul Davila. The book includes a few recipes straight from Davila’s, like their renowned mesquite smoked lamb ribs, but it’s more than a restaurant cookbook. The author connects his family’s cooking traditions to those of the cattle-tending vaqueros and highlights Latin dishes like pozole, fideo, and a variety of taco recipes. There’s not quite enough detail in the brisket or sausage recipes to be useful for beginners, but the series of photos for the barbacoa de cabeza are helpful to anyone willing to dig a massive hole in the ground.
Most intriguing recipe: butternut squash with chile and lime
by Jess Pryles
Australian-turned-Austinite Jess Pryles shares barbecue recipes she developed for her popular website. It’s not strictly a Texas barbecue cookbook, so don’t look for a brisket recipe, but it offers plenty of smoking and grilling. Lesser-used cuts like smoked beef cheeks and wild game get plenty of attention, and I did spot a recipe for kangaroo loin. There are also a few surprises, like a detailed look at making your own lamb leg pastrami and a recipe for parisa, a raw ground beef dish that hails from Medina County, just west of San Antonio.
Most intriguing recipe: peanut butter and jelly wings
by Wyatt McSpadden
Wyatt McSpadden has become a prolific Texas photographer, especially known for capturing images of barbecue. He has contributed to Texas Monthly for forty years, and we shared a number of images from these pages in our July issue. This book is a continuation of his journey chronicled in the 2009 Texas BBQ, but here, McSpadden focuses on the difference between small town joints and big city barbecue. Each photo caption includes the population of the town where the barbecue joints resides to provide an unusual but helpful bit of context. The book includes more stories from McSpadden himself than his previous publication, including a tribute to his hometown Doug’s Bar-B-Q in Amarillo and some recollections of an early job as a photographer for a seed company. It’s great to see big city upstarts like Fort Worth’s Heim BBQ and Micklethwait Craft Meats featured right alongside some of McSpadden’s new small town discoveries like Ronnie’s in Johnson City and Kolacny’s in Hallettsville.
Authors Outside of Texas:
by Tuffy Stone
Tuffy Stone is best known in barbecue circles for his prowess in competition barbecue, but he is a chef at heart. His first cooking job was in a French restaurant, and plenty of his chef perspective comes through in this cookbook. There are good overall lessons on the importance of moisture during cooking and tips on checking the doneness of barbecued meats. If you’re looking for tips on improving your competition barbecue, you can skip right to his recipes for Cool Smoke’s competition ribs, pork butt, brisket, and chicken thighs. There’s plenty more, though, like Stone’s thoughts on how he prefers cook each cut when not trying to please competition judges. The recipes don’t stop with smoked meats, either: Thumbing through recipes like charred tri-tip and dove breasts with bacon and chipotle white sauce, it seems like the contents of the book could have been stretched out over two cookbooks. I guess you can consider it two for the price of one.
Most intriguing recipe: goose pastrami with sautéed cabbage, sun-dried cherries, and spiced pecans
by Mark Bittman
As the name suggests, this book is expansive. There’s a huge variety of recipes, and few of them are the same old grilling recipes you’ve seen elsewhere. The recipes build up from vegetables to seafood to poultry (including a chicken Caesar salad burger) to red meats. Nearly every cut of meat that’s not wild game gets a recipe. Bittman gets inventive with vegetarian fare too, like the savory grilled applesauce seasoned only with salt. I plan to try his tip of charring fresh vegetables like broccoli, fennel, and radishes before pickling them.
Most intriguing recipe: smoked beef tongue
by Bill Kim and Chandra Ram
Chef Bill Kim of Chicago’s BellyQ tells his story of how a seven-year-old Korean immigrant who didn’t speak English went on to become chef de cuisine for Charlie Trotter in Chicago, all thanks to a cake. Kim eventually opened his own restaurants, including a Korean barbecue joint. In this book, he breaks down Korean food for home cooks to replicate, including building a pantry with togarashi and gochujang. He explains his own seven master sauces and how to use them with different cuts of meat. The book is built for teaching the basics in a way that encourages experimentation, and it even includes a salad matrix, bowl matrix, and sandwich matrix to use up any leftovers.
Most intriguing recipe: Seoulthern pimento cheese
by Michael Symon
Michael Symon’s restaurants have been a fixture of Cleveland dining for decades, but with Mabel’s BBQ, the chef has become the king of Cleveland barbecue. The book covers Symon’s at-home smoking approach when it comes to meat, but this book really serves as a cookbook for the barbecue joint. Symon describes his philosophy of creating a local barbecue style, which led him to choose using local apple and cherry wood instead of oak or hickory. The Polish sausages for Mabel’s are made by J & J Czuchraj Meats (a local butcher shop which generously shared its kielbasa recipe in the book), and a barbecue sauce that uses Bertman Ball Park Mustard instead of Pittsburgh’s Heinz ketchup.There’s plenty of cooking knowledge from Symon, but also commentary from some of the best pitmasters in America, including Pat Martin, Samuel Jones, Rodney Scott, and Lockhart’s own Kent Black.
Most intriguing recipe: smoked lamb meatloaf
by Steven Raichlen
With his 31st title, Steven Raichlen is as prolific an author as he is a cook. His previous book, Project Smoke, was coordinated with the release of Raichlen’s PBS show of the same name. Much like it, this latest one is the companion book for his new show, Project Fire. It’s a continuation of his previous grilling recipe collections, but includes equipment, techniques, and ingredients that are new to the chef. With 46 pages of basic instructions for grilling before it ever gets to a recipe, the book is a strong teaching tool for the uninitiated.
Most intriguing recipe: breadless pork loin Reuben
by Nadine Horn and Jorg Mayer
The creators of Germany’s most popular vegan blog want you to become a vegan pitmaster. VBQ offers plenty of instructions for how to treat meat substitutes on the grill like tofu, seitan, and tempeh. Despite my obvious preference for meat, I’m curious about how these different vegetable proteins would fare on a grill or a smoker. I could certainly see using the grilled vegetables recipes, like “steaks” of eggplant, celeriac, and cauliflower, and the smoked onions and Sichuan cucumber salad both sound like good pairings with smoked brisket.
Most intriguing recipe: eggplant hot dogs