What you want is something sure-fire and no-hassle. For the barbecue fanatic on your list, a cookbook is that gift. Here are five published this year that will appeal to the novice and the accomplished griller alike. For five more, see my recommendations from earlier this year.
“Wicked Good Barbecue” by Andy Husbands and Chris Hart with Andrea Pyenson (Fair Winds Press, $21.99). “Smoke-Vide” Beef Ribs With Blues Hog Foam? Come on, man! Sous-vide barbecue? Talk about an oxymoron. And not sauce, but foam?! Since when did Ferran Adria join “BBQ Pitmasters”?
And yet it is that very experimentation that recommends “Wicked Good Barbecue,” a book that, if it does nothing else, helps all but the staunchest traditionalist view modernist barbecue as just the latest reinvention of a cuisine that has a long history of innovation.
Tradition and modernity meet in such recipes as Smoked Duck Confit, Pig Ear Terrine and Whole Hog, Porchetta Style. Not everything succeeds, but overall, the book helps the ambitious backyarder reach beyond his grasp. The authors are, in their own words, “Damn Yankees,” Bostonians who have won numerous barbecue contests. Oh, and those sous-vide beef ribs? They’re wood-smoked first.
“Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue” by Ray “Dr. BBQ” Lampe (Chronicle Books, $22.95). Written by another highly successful competitor, “Slow Fire” holds down the other end of the spectrum, delivering the basics in a folksy language.
The book provides a solid overview of techniques, tools, woods and cookers. Recipes show just how far barbecue has come in the last decade when Cuban-Style Leg of Pork, Orange-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce and Smoked Tilapia Spread are considered basic. They are a step above dry- and wet-ribs, beef brisket and pork butt (all represented, incidentally). A barbecue columnist and author of five cookbooks, Lampe gives readers good information deep in their comfort zone.
“Ruby’s Juke Joint Americana Cookbook” by Ruby Dee (Bando Press, $21.95). This volume comes with a 14-song CD of “Americana Music to Cook By,” fitting for a book written by the lead singer of a band called Ruby Dee and the Snakehandlers. This isn’t a barbecue book per se. But its simplicity (Coca-Cola Baby Back Ribs, Smoked Chicken and Pumpkin Pie) somehow feels right for the barbecuer in us all.
The effect is that the book sometimes reads like a 1950s relic for new housewives. But the Drunken Beans, a good barbecue side, and grilled Citrus BBQ Trout help “Joint” dust off America’s past.
“Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family and Love” by S cott Roberts and Jessica Dupuy (The Salt Lick Press, $39.95).
For years, Texans have traveled to the Salt Lick in an idyllic setting about a half-hour southwest of Austin. There, surrounded by trees, they sit at communal tables and eat smoked brisket, ribs and sausage that hangs in rings over an open pit in the restaurant. That original location has spawned two others and, now, a cookbook. Part family memoir and part Driftwood, Texas community history, the book and its lovely photographs evoke a gentler way of life.
The beautifully designed book includes the evolution of Texas country cooking, from Fruit Ambrosia to Fire-Roasted Tomatoes with Goat Cheese and Parsley Pesto. Fans of the little restaurant with the big reputation (pitmaster/owner Roberts is a TV celebrity) can make Tamale Pie, Lemon Chiffon Pie and, of course, smoked beef brisket, ribs, sausage and chicken. One disappointment: There’s no recipe for Salt Lick’s fabled sauce. You’ll still have to visit — or order it online.
“Fire in My Belly: Real Cooking” by Kevin Gillespie with David Joachim (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $40). This debut cookbook from the “Top Chef” contestant and co-owner/executive chef of Atlanta’s Woodfire Grill strikes a perfect balance between ambition and common sense.
The Grilled Lamb Blade Steaks With Mint Julep Syrup and Slow-Cooked Ribs With Chile-Lime Butter are but two examples. It’s a serious book, with recipes such as Smoked Trout Puffs With Bacon Jam. But fun, interesting ideas, such as Grilled Grapefruit With Yogurt, keep the cookbook from taking itself too seriously.
Hardbound with more than 340 pages, the book boasts lots of non-smoked and non-grilled recipes, ranging from the Savory Fig Tart to the African Squash Cremeux. At first, that bugged me. (Had I read too much into the title?) But there is plenty for the grill-obsessed, and taking a break from the embers to remember why you also have an oven and a stovetop is not a bad thing.
Sad news: Jake Adam York, 40, died Sunday. The author of four books wrote a poem called “Grace” that I published for Thanksgiving. My thoughts go out to the York family.