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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Smoke Signals: Cookbooks, not coal, for Christmas


A little paper kindling to spark a barbecue enthusiast's imagination this holiday season. (Jim Shahin for The Washington Post)
For the barbecue student on your Christmas list, cookbooks come in elementary, advanced and post-grad levels. Some picks here are reprised from summer, when barbecue books are published, but they’re still relevant in December, when any smoked-meats enthusiast would love to find one of these under the tree:

Weber’s Time to Grill: Get In. Get Out. Get Grilling,” by Jamie Purviance (Oxmoor House; $24.95). Face it: Most grill guys are graduates from the School of Hard Knocks, not the Culinary Institute of America. Enter Purviance. One suspects that the recipes, overwhelmingly basic, are not quite up to the chef’s training (smoked chicken with homemade coleslaw, teriyaki lamb chops). But the illustrated step-by-step instructions and detailed prep (trussing a chicken, butterflying a pork chop) makes for a good text for those needing to take Grilling 101.

Smokin’ with Myron Mixon,” by Myron Mixon (Ballantine Books; $22). The self-described “winningest man in barbecue” and TLC “BBQ Pitmasters” judge, Mixon, a Georgia native, personifies the hard-knocks school. He learned at his daddy’s knee and writes in an almost comical Southern drawl about his nearly two decades on the competition circuit. But his knowledge is undeniable. This is not required reading so much as a useful reference work, an alternately irritating and fun romp through an egoist’s know-it-allism — although one who really does know it all and, if you pay attention, learns you good.

Fire It Up: More than 400 Recipes for Grilling Everything,” by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Chronicle Books; $24.95). This book is for the guy whose skills, knowledge and interest have shown he’s ready for college-level challenges. Although it has detailed charts and illustrations, “Fire It Up” assumes a mastery of the basics. One recipe has you haul out a hair dryer or leaf blower to scatter the ash before placing the item (tuna) directly onto the fire.

The book’s title does not lie. Everything you can imagine is indeed grilled, from goat and gator to bok choy and Belgian endive. Recipes are clearly worded and smartly presented, often accompanied by a well designed box for easy “side” instructions.

This is a book for those who want to further their learning.

The Japanese Grill: From Classic Yakitori to Steak, Seafood, and Vegetables,” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat (Ten Speed Press; $25).

Ready to move up from the usual ribs, pork shoulder and beef brisket? How about salmon with shiso pesto or green tea-smoked duck?

This book is less about smoke than about fire; with its use of high direct heat and two-zone fires, “The Japanese Grill” is a graduate course in fire management.

As I noted when singing the book’s praises this summer, using lemon, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger to flavor foods is a nice departure from the usual slather of ketchup-based sauces.

“The Japanese Grill” is a terrific gift for the barbecuer who thinks he knows everything about barbecue — but secretly suspects he doesn’t.

Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb, and Pork,” by Ryan Farr with Brigit Binns (Chronicle Books; $40). Suddenly, butchery? Several books this year piggy-backed on the trendy home-butchering movement, but this one by San Francisco chef and butchery teacher Farr is at once comprehensive and accessible. Think of it as a post-doc course taught by a kindly professor, who happens to wield a very sharp knife.

The book is part manifesto for those who “want to eat meat responsibly,” but mainly an instruction manual for cutting up the animals. The photos help the novice visualize what to do and how to do it. The recipes, such as beef tongue pastrami and onion-braised beef neck, use every bit of the animal.

“Whole Beast Butchery” is not a barbecue cookbook, but, given barbecue’s elemental association with the carnivorous, it is something like a scholarly work for the truly obsessed grill guy.

Send tips, ideas, and opinions to Smoke Signals at jimshahin@aol.com. Follow on Twitter @jimshahin.

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 12/13/2011

Categories:  Chefs, Smoke Signals | Tags:  Jim Shahin

 
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