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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Smoke Signals: 'Cue the gift books

By Jim Shahin

Through December, I'm writing about gift ideas for that barbecue fanatic on your list. Each week’s post will focus on a different aspect of grilling and smoking. This week? Books.

Seems you can’t swing a dead whole hog without hitting a barbecue book these days, but I've zeroes in on three that came out this year. One is an excellent all-purpose cookbook, the second a fascinating sociological history, and the third a Marco Polo-esque globe trot of recipes from around the world.

Any one of them would make a great gift. The three together? Sugar plums -- smoked, of course – will dance in your favorite ‘cue hound’s head.

blog-smoke-kcbs.jpg“The Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook, 25th Anniversary Edition” by Paul Kirk, Ardie Davis, and Carolyn Wells (Andrews McMeel; $24.99). If they were a band, the three authors would be ZZ Top. Hailing from low-and-slow hallowed ground Kansas City, they are the power trio of barbecue. Wells is a co-founder and current executive director of KCBS, the largest competitive barbecue sanctioning body in the country. Kirk is a competition-circuit champion barbecuer and restaurateur. Davis is the country’s most famous sauce aficionado, and author of several bbq books, some with Kirk. In other words, they know their stuff.

The book offers a good primer on KCBS barbecue contests and an overview of barbecue techniques and terms. But mainly it is a cookbook. Its more than 200 recipes (not all of them barbecue) strikes the right balance between authoritative and downhome, with a touch of wacky thrown in. Take, for example, “Koolicles”: pickles in a brine and Kool-Aid mixture. The recipe, the book says, is a variant on a treat by Washington kids, who dip dill or sour pickles in a cup of Kool-Aid. Remind you of Pickle Sickles, perhaps?

blog-smoke-history.jpg"Barbecue: The History of an American Institution” by Robert Moss (University of Alabama Press; $26). Want to know the roots of American barbecue? Trick question. Of course you do. But let me ask you this: Did you know that New England was once a leading barbecue region? Or that in 1863, U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks, on the floor of the Senate, knocked Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner unconscious with a brass-handled cane, only to be rewarded in his home state with a barbecue serving more than 8,000 people?

Neither did I.

In approachable prose, Moss burrows into the nooks and crannies of barbecue lore and emerges with little-known anecdotes and bits of information that make larger points about changes in American society. Going from its origins as a frame of twigs used by American Indians to big wood-fired ovens in today’s restaurants, barbecue encompasses changes in technology, food and even the way Americans interact with one another.

Moss traces the evolution of barbecue to write a fascinating and readable social history of America.

blog-smoke-planet.jpg"Planet Barbecue!” by Steven Raichlen (Workman; $22.95). America’s foremost barbecue cookbook author is taking on the world. What’s next? The galaxy? (Intergalactic Barbecue! 700 zillion recipes – 8 planets.)

Here’s the thing. You know the Yankees and the Cowboys, and how their success is so much fun to hate? Well, I'll be honest: To me, Raichlen is a little like that. He has his own line of barbecue tools. His own TV show. His own classes – which cost thousands of dollars.

What's to like? Well, him, probably; I’ve never met him, so I can't say for sure, but I've heard good things. Unquestionably, though, I like his books. All of them are easy to follow, well laid out, filled with fabulous photographers, and – here’s where the hickory meets the fire – really good recipes.

Open any page of "Planet," and you land on something you want to try. Australian Chipotle-Glazed Lamb “Churrasco” (page 277). Hanoi-Style Griled Squid with Chiles and Lime (page 516). The classic Tuscan-Style Chicken Under a Brick (page 377). Washington’s own Jose Andres is represented with Grilled Bread with Chocolate (page 112). (Hey, Washington only seems like another planet.)

With more than 300 recipes from Reichlen's journeys around the globe seeking iconic dishes from far-flung pitmasters, “Planet Barbecue!” is a can’t-miss for that bbq adventurer on your list.

Follow Shahin on Twitter.

By Jim Shahin  | December 7, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Books, Smoke Signals  | Tags:  Jim Shahin, Smoke Signals, barbecue, holiday  
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