Last year, we saw the first cookbook from a Black pitmaster since the 1980s in Rodney Scott’s World of BBQ. This year, two were released in the same week, with Matt Horn and Kevin Bludso having the honors. Both have joints in California, but Horn’s barbecue is no doubt influenced by Texas, and Bludso now lives in Corsicana. These days, the reach of Texas barbecue is undeniable, with smoked brisket covered in books from New York City, the UK, and an Argentinian chef whose restaurant is in Maine. Here are the best barbecue books of 2022, so far.
Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook: A Family Affair in Smoke and Soul
by Kevin Bludso, with Noah Galuten
The entertainment value of Bludso’s unvarnished story (it sets a “motherf—er” record I’m certain will never be broken by another barbecue cookbook) of how a Compton kid became interested in Texas barbecue is reason enough to buy the book. Growing up in California, Bludso had a dad who was a cop, a mom who was an activist for the Black Panthers, and a great-aunt who ran an illegal barbecue joint out of the back of her house in Corsicana, where he spent his summers. He channels that story into a cookbook of considerable breadth.
It’s a barbecue book first, but there are plenty of dishes in here that are smothered, stewed, baked, and boiled. Bludso heats up the fryer for fried chicken, pork chops, and even ribs, and a whole section on seafood includes shrimp and grits, gumbo, and étouffée. The hard-core barbecue section is refreshing because it’s not so hard-core. Bludso provides instructions for preparing various barbecue cuts in an offset smoker, and for cuts other than brisket and pork shoulder, he offers another specific set of instructions for working with a charcoal grill. Throughout the book, he reminds backyard cooks that making barbecue is supposed to result in a good time, and to “not take it too damn seriously.”
Most intriguing recipe: Smoked oxtails birria, because it’s one of the best things I ate last year when I was fortunate enough to be in Corsicana during a recipe-testing session with Bludso and his crew.
Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques From a Master of the Art of BBQ
by Matt Horn
Matt Horn details his journey in barbecue, from the terrible pork ribs he served to a girl he was trying to impress, to almost quitting after a disastrous pop-up outside a bar, to running two successful restaurants with the girl he didn’t impress with those ribs. The book’s smoking instructions read like notes to Horn’s former self. If he’d known the basics, he shares, he would have had a leg up when he threw his first brisket in the smoker.
Like in any West Coast barbecue cookbook, a recipe for smoked tri-tip is included, but you’ll also find unexpected turns like smoked boudin, hog’s head cheese, and smoked rabbit. Plenty of photos are included to document the preparation process of Horn’s Oakland restaurant’s signature brisket at various stages of prepping and smoking. Some of the recipes can make an arduous process sound too simple, like the scant instructions for pulling off a whole hog that describe neither the type of pit required nor how to produce the wood coals needed for the long cooking process. But if you’re looking to re-create the menu from Horn Barbecue, it’s all in there.
Most intriguing recipe: Nine different cake recipes are included, so you know it’s an important dessert for Horn. The key lime cake is an interesting take on the classic pie.
Life of Fire: Mastering the Arts of Pit-Cooked Barbecue, the Grill, and the Smokehouse
by Pat Martin and Nick Fauchald
Every barbecue book seems to begin with a similar, brief explanation of wood, charcoal, smokers, and grills, but they rarely get as in-depth as Pat Martin’s does. He provides descriptions of wood types that are useful and a thorough explanation of the difference between green and seasoned wood. Martin also describes the varying stages of fire, from ignition to ash, and the book is organized around cooking in each of these stages (hence the title).
In addition to barbecue basics, you’ll learn how to cure and smoke meat in a smokehouse and become familiar with terms like reverse spatchcock, sock sausage, and the punch-and-fluff method. The heart of the book is whole hog barbecue, which is no surprise, because Martin’s Bar-B-Que in Nashville carries on the legacy of West Tennessee whole hog. Martin pores over every detail through forty pages in hopes of growing the popularity of this dying barbecue tradition. What Rodney Scott and Samuel Jones did for South and North Carolina, respectively, with their whole hog cookbooks, Martin does for Tennessee. It’s a cookbook, but it will live on as an essential historical document of an American barbecue style.
Most intriguing recipe: Open-pit whole cabbage rubbed with vegetable oil and salt is about as simple as barbecue recipes come, as long as you have a wood fire to char and tenderize this underutilized vegetable.
Pig Beach BBQ Cookbook: Smoked, Grilled, Roasted, and Sauced
by Matt Abdoo and Shane McBride
What happens when a couple big-time New York City chefs decide to enter the Memphis in May barbecue competition? If the pair is Shane McBride and Matt Abdoo, they take home first place in poultry and second in whole hog, go on to open a couple barbecue joints in New York (Pig Beach and the late Pig Bleecker), and write a cookbook about all they’ve learned since leaving fine dining.
The book is packed full of inventive recipes, from barbecue appetizers to desserts. For the barbecue portion, the recipes provide time and temperature cooking directions rather than explaining much of the process, so some experience with barbecue is expected. Backyard smokers will likely find inspiration in a section devoted entirely to pork ribs, which includes Lebanese ribs with NYC white sauce, pork ribs char siu, and Caribbean jerk ribs.
Most intriguing recipe: Smoked duck lasagna was a stunning special at Pig Bleecker (RIP), and it requires completion of four other recipes before commencing.
Seared: The Ultimate Guide to Barbecuing Meat
by Genevieve Taylor
Taylor’s book serves as an introduction of American barbecue to a British audience that thinks of the word “barbecue” primarily as a gathering around a grill. Her inventive recipes are more than a mere introduction of the basics, however. The first section of the book explains how to properly grill and smoke and describes the best fire to choose for the right meats. Taylor provides straightforward directions for grilling that can be applied to most any thin cut of meat, and she goes into the science of smoking as well. She gets properly detailed when it comes to a Texas hot link recipe, and a bean-free smoked beef-chuck chilli (the Brits spell it with a double l) that is sure to be Texan-approved.
Taylor’s approach to grilling is welcoming to various culinary influences, but she’s also not afraid to be blunt about process. She describes why cold meat straight from the refrigerator is best for grilling and shuts down the popular idea of cooking steaks “dirty,” or caveman style, directly on the wood coals with a little science. “Slap a big cold steak onto a bed of hot glowing coals and what you do is shut off the oxygen and pretty much instantly you put that bit of fire out,” she writes. And I agree.
Most intriguing recipe: Pulled-pork pot stickers, because it’s a fun way to make your barbecue leftovers more interesting, whether you use pulled pork, chopped brisket, or smoked chicken.
The Lost Fire Cookbook: Patagonian Open-Flame Cooking
by Germán Lucarelli
Chef Lucarelli is an Argentinian native who has cooked over fire in kitchens around the world. He eventually settled in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he opened the Lost Fire restaurant, serving Patagonian barbecue, in 2018. The book is as much a meditation on building and maintaining a wood fire as it is a cookbook. Lucarelli’s passion for cooking over wood coals will have you feeling guilty if you cook steak using charcoal briquettes.
The many recipes for each steak cut are so similar they become redundant, but the basic lessons are solid. One unique step for Lucarelli is that as the steaks cook, he brushes them with salmuera, which is a mixture of oil and vinegar seasoned with paprika, garlic, and herbs. Besides the various beef steaks, there are lots of instructions for smoking and grilling other proteins like chicken and lobster. Other recipes include Argentinian specialties like empanadas, chimichurri, and choripan sausage, and there are plenty of vegetable-heavy side dishes to counteract all that meat.
Most intriguing recipe: The smoked brisket that is brined for one to seven days and smokes at 150 degrees F for the first three hours before the temperature is raised to 210 degrees F for the remainder.
Watermelon and Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations
by Nicole A. Taylor
The “first cookbook to celebrate Juneteenth,” according to Taylor, is not a historic cookbook documenting the Juneteenth celebrations of long ago, but a book of current recipes for use in celebrating Juneteenth this year and beyond. The food photography has a retro feel, but the styling is modern and vibrant, which helps communicate her purpose.
Juneteenth‘s identity has historically been associated with the consumption of watermelon, red drinks, and barbecue, and this cookbook covers all of those and more. Taylor clarifies up front that the barbecue section is geared toward those with charcoal grills rather than smokers, so the recipes may be more approachable to the amateur backyard cook. And her recipes for barbecue sauces made with figs and vinegar, rhubarb and brown sugar, and peaches and molasses will liven things up on the grill, as will pickled blueberries, squash spears, and purple carrots on the side. You’ll also find a whole lineup of red drinks that’ll have you forgetting all about Big Red.
Most intriguing recipe: Smoked beef ribs rubbed with horseradish and basted with harissa.