Barbecue Books


The following books have to meet a strict criterion: They are all part of my personal collection which I consult from time to time. Some more than others. The reviews are not intended to be exhaustive, and certainly not comparative, but I hope the short descriptions are helpful to determine which books you wish to add to your collection. The reviews below are in no particular order.


Peace, Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills, with his daughter, Amy Mills Tunnicliffe

This is not only my favorite barbecue book, it is one of my favorite books period. Most barbecue books are not intended to be read cover to cover. This one is. It is far more than a recipe book. It is even far more than just a barbecue book. It is a book that uses barbecue to explore the importance of family and friends. Barbecue is a means to that end, and Mike Mills shares tons of insights, and even secrets, regarding his championship barbecue throughout the book. It has even lead to a new tradition in my family. Mike shares a recipe from a friend for home made watermelon ice cream with chocolate chips for seeds. My kids thought it sounded so good that they bought me an ice cream maker for Father's day. I made that ice cream and a new Father's day tradition in our household was born.

Instead of breaking his book into the routine chapters of other barbecue books such as pork, beef, chicken, ribs, etc., Mike's book has chapters such as "Barbecue = Food + Family + Love," and "Barbecue Police and Evangelists." Other extensive chapters include "Living Legends," and "Shrines, Shacks, Joints, and Right Respectable Restaurants." Mike sets the table with exploring what barbecue meant to him and his family. How he enjoyed watching his dad cook over a pit he dug in the ground and the contributions his mother and other relatives contributed to create an overall barbecue experience which included food, family and love. Along the way, he reveals his recipe for his famous "Magic Dust" and teaches you how to build your own rub. Thereafter, a large portion of the book is dedicated to individuals whose contributions to barbecue as an American culinary tradition. I have had the honor of meeting many of these living legends and right respectable restaurants. Mike's instincts for good food and good people are uncanny.

Mike shares various recipes, of all types, throughout the book. In all, there are eight chapters in the book, only two of which are solely dedicated to competition tips and recipes. With Mike's background as a competition world champion, one would think the entire book would be dedicated to that alone. Mike has enough knowledge to write an entire book on nothing but the competition aspect. But Mike has so much more to say which is why the book is so special. If you want to know only about how Mike prepares his competition barbecue, flip to the last chapter and take notes. It is worth the cost of the book just for that. However, if you want to know the evolution of how Mike developed his love of barbecue and grew the heart of a champion, read the entire book. You will be glad you did. This book needs to be on everyone's shelf who enjoys food in general and barbecue in particular.


Championship Barbecue by Paul Kirk

Paul is known as the Baron of Barbecue for good reason. The very first contest he entered was the American Royal. He won Grand Champion. That alone is an entire resume, but Paul was just getting started and he has any number of championships which prove his first win was no fluke. Mike Mills even dubbed him a "Living Legend" in his book. Paul is no longer affiliated with a restaurant, but he maintains a consulting and catering business.

This book places an emphasis on competitions, especially Kansas City Barbecue Society competitions. Paul is on the Board of the KCBS. After giving his thoughts, tips and a checklist to get started in competition, the balance of the book is full of Paul's recipes. He has chapters developed to the meats, but also has chapters on sauces, mops, marinades and slathers. It is clear Paul is a big believer in matching the proper spices and layering flavors with marinades, slathers, and mops. Who can argue? If you are thinking about competing, new to competition, or an experienced competitor wanting to compare notes with one of the best, this book is a must.


Championship Barbecue Sauces by Paul Kirk

As stated above, Paul is a big believer in layering barbecue with the proper spices, as well as marinades, sauces, mops and slather. He even discusses sops. He has one recipe after the other of all different types of sauces. He places an emphasis on Kansas City sauces. That is not unusual for the Kansas City native, especially when you consider Kansas City style is the most popular style of sauce, by far, in the country. But, he doesn't stop there, he ventures into other styles and offers some quirky unique recipes as well. However, the true worth of the book is the chapter where he teaches how to make your own sauces. Everyone who grills or barbecues in the backyard, at the very least, spices up their favorite commercial sauce in their own way. This is better. Paul Kirk takes you step-by-step in how to make a winning sauce. He explains how to strike the right balance, how much of a sweetener do you need to add to balance heat? What about spices and savory ingredients? You learn the basics from someone who builds championship sauces. He lists the most common ingredients and how they are traditionally used to create sauces. He then gives you tips and insights on how to go outside the box to develop your very own sauce. What could be better?


Dr. BBQ's Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook by Ray Lampe, aka, Dr. BBQ

Ray Lampe's biography is the epitome of the American barbecue dream. Ray was a truck driver in Chicago who decided to join a competition with some friends in 1982. From there, he began competing and formed the Bonesmokers barbecue competition team. He went on to win hundreds of awards, moved to Florida to further his BBQ career, and his license plates read DR BBQ. Due to his success on the competition circuit, he writes, teaches, caters and sells barbecue. He even operates his own roadside stand in Lakeland, Florida. Ray can be very opinionated and he is not afraid to share his opinions. For example, here are his opinions on mesquite wood: "... I can't believe the first guy who used mesquite for cooking actually tried it a second time. Now we have access to all the different woods and they are all good and should be tried, with the possible exception of mesquite. To borrow a line from Maxim writer Paul Bibeau, mesquite smoke smells like it came 'straight from the devil's ass crack.'" Ray covers all the bases with his recipes and shares his techniques. He is a big believer in using logs to chart your cooks, and he includes blank pages of logs to encourage his readers to do so. One unique chapter is completely dedicated to turning barbecue leftovers into main course dishes. He has multiple "Top Ten" lists throughout which reflect his sense of humor. It may not be groundbreaking, but it is a solid book to add to your collection.



Steven Raichlen is a distinguised and prolific cookbook author, among other things, and has several books on grilling and barbecue. I have to believe Steven has logged the most miles, by far, of anyone in search of grilling and barbecue recipes and techniques. You can learn more about Steven by following the barbecue bible link in our "Favorite Links" page. I will be discussing several of his books below. There will be one common thought for each of his books. If you are a backyard griller who wants to take your skills to the next level to create truly gourmet dishes on the grill, Steven's books are a must.


If you fall into the category of a backyard griller who wants to take your skills to the next level, and most of us do, there are three books in particular that everyone must have. I call these books the trilogy of backyard barbecue and grilling: How To Grill, The Barbecue! Bible, and BBQ USA. Each of these three and more of Steven's books are discussed below. Once you own the trilogy, you can fill in with the other books mentioned below.

The Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen

This is the first of the trilogy, and the first barbecue and grilling book put out by Steven Raichlen. This book is a wealth of knowledge regarding the history of barbecue, equipment, fuels and tons and tons of unique recipes. Steven traveled all over the world collecting recipes and techniques from all different areas and shows how different cultures cook barbecue differently. He explains how, for example, Asian or Middle-Eastern cultures utilize various spices in order to turn out their unique dishes. This book is particularly invaluable for those who are a little adventurous with their taste. In other words, what spices and grilling techniques make, for example, Indian chicken taste Indian. It is not just a book on different types of burgers or hot dogs. As you might expect, most people will not have the equipment for every recipe. For example, there are recipes that call for use of a hibachi or other specialized grill. No problem, Steven explains how you can adapt your common backyard kettle to most situations. One dish calls for use of a hairdryer in order to super heat the charcoal in one instance. This big book is filled with similar types new twists on dishes cooked around the world. For those dishes where the international ingredients are hard to find, many times recommendations will be made on suitable substitutions.

Steven and Workman Publishing will be putting out a 10 year anniversary edition this year. As a matter of fact, Steven's current project is BBQ Planet, in which he travels the globe in search of recipes and techniques. It will be interesting for me to see how that book differs from this, because that is how I always felt about this book. For those interested in putting your grilling skills to the challenge and thinking outside the box, The Barbecue! Bible is the book is for you.

How To Grill by Steven Raichlen

On the heels of success after the Bible, Steven's next book is How To Grill. This book takes a step back from the Bible and gets back to basics. This book is loaded with pictures and helpful "how to" hints in order to arrive at excellent grilled and barbecued dishes. Make no mistake, it is not for only beginners. Rather, it goes through different cuts of meat and gives great detail on how to make, for example, the perfect porterhouse steak. Instead of giving several different recipes and techniques for the meats and other dishes prepared, detail is given to how to perfect a specific cut. Would you like to know how to trim your own beef tenderloin to save a lot of money? Steven walks you through how to do it step-by-step with a lot of pictures. So, no worries when you plunk down $100 on one piece of meat. Don't worry, he will walk you through how to grill it, too. Don't let the title fool you into thinking that it is below the level of a proficient backyard chef. For instance,

BBQ USA by Steven Raichlen

This is my favorite of the trilogy, and one of my favorite cookbooks of all-time. What the Bible is to barbecue across the world, BBQ USA is for barbecue here in America. Steven traveled all over the country analyzing what makes barbecue unique in various regions of the country. He researched the raging controversy between Eastern and Western Carolina barbecue. The culprit? Ketchup. It is a long story, you are going to have to get the book. He discusses mutton in Owensboro, Kentucky, pork steaks in St. Louis, brats in Wisconsin, beef in Texas, seafood all over both coasts, and God knows what in California. Just kidding. Anyway, literally from clams in Rhode Island to Southwest Green Lightning Shrimp in San Diego, and everywhere in between, this is a fascinating and painstakingly researched huge volume that explores in detail all aspects of barbecue, the most uniquely American of all types of cuisine. He hits all the major regional dishes, and some of the most obscure dishes that most of us had no idea were part of the American tradition in certain places. One of my favorite parts of the book is the numerous features he has of various pit masters from all over the country. The book is full of recipes and tips from all sorts of well-known, and not-so-well-known pitmasters and barbecue joints from across the country. Raichlen does not try to take credit for their recipes. Rather, he features them and provides interviews and background on these individuals and their restaurants to provide background and depth. This is truly a celebration of all types of barbecue across America. It bears repeating, everyone needs to have a copy of this.


As I mentioned above, it is a must for backyard grillers to own the Raichlen trilogy. After you purchase and become proficient with those, you should also include in your collection these two books to further specialize. Both of the Raichlen books discussed below are much, much smaller volumes and are far more specialized. That doesn't stop the fun, though.

Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs by Steven Raichlen

Not surprising, in this book you won't find chicken, seafood, sides, salads, desserts, or pork and beef other than ribs. It is a rib lovers fantasy. It covers the different types of ribs, how they are cut and where they are from. He even explains the term "high on the hog." I won't ruin it for you, you will have to buy the book. Like most of the United States, Raichlen concentrates on pork ribs. There are some "dinosaur bone" beef rib recipes, though, for those of you in Texas and Oklahoma. All types of ribs are covered from "Memphis style" dry ribs (I have tried these, they are yummy!) to all sorts of ribs and sauces done the more traditional messy way. Of course there are several recipes for spares, babybacks, country style, tips, and my favorite, St. Louis style. However, Steven also covers lamb, veal and bison ribs. I did not know anybody cooked lamb ribs. You will start with "First timer's ribs," that taste like anything but beginner's ribs, and become familiar with terms like the 3-2-1 method. If you want to find a myriad of recipes and tips to spice up ribs that may have become ho-hum, this book is perfect. I like making two or more completely different recipes during a cook and having my family or friends tell me which they like and why. I even got a free instant-read thermometer for free when I bought the book. What a bargain!

Beer - Can Chicken and 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill by Steven Raichlen

Beer can chicken. What a crowd pleaser. I have never cooked anything on the grill that routinely gets the reaction from family and friends when I bring it in to let it rest. A whole bird on a stand is unique enough, but then when removing the bird to reveal it was, shall we say, sitting, on a beer can, that always brings a smile to peoples faces. As we all know, we eat with our eyes and noses before we actually taste the food. The look of the bird and the smell of the beer and spice steam go a long way to convince people the food will be good even before they eat it. This book, again a smaller volume than any of the massive trilogy books, covers almost every imaginable combination of beer, other liquids, and spices that could be used for cooking a bird in this manner. Not content to just explore beer, Raichlen employs soda, juice and various other liquids, combined with unique spices, in order to impart different aromas and taste into the bird. A substantial part of the book is also dedicated to "off the can" recipes, such as "stoned" chicken, as well as fish, sides and desserts. Frankly, I am somewhat skeptical as to whether the liquid and spice steam imparts any special flavor into the bird. If you believe, however, I am not trying to burst your bubble. Nonetheless, the presentation and aroma factors are more than enough reason to buy the book and experiment on your own regardless of whether you believe that any special flavor is imparted to the meat through steam. The bottom line is beer can chicken should be in every backyarder's repertoire and this is an excellent resource.

Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs and Marinades by Steven Raichlen

I love this book. Steven Raichlen is a true gourmet and this volume is as creative a barbecue book that I have ever read. Like the ribs and beer-can chicken volumes, this is a smaller book than the prodigious Raichlen trilogy cookbooks. He covers all the traditional sauces, and mixes in many unique and quirky entries ranging from Apricot Horseradish to Tamarind Banana. His entries reflect all different regional preferences for barbecue sauce and usually has several unique entries for all regional favorites. There is some overlap between this and his other books, which is to be expected. Similar to Paul Kirk's book on sauces, Raichlen also dedicates space to teaching you how to build your own sauce. In addition to sauces, there are chapters dedicated to glazes and butters with suggestions for which meats and sides are complimented with each. Coming up with home made sauces, butters and other condiments will certainly allow you to wow your family and guests. Because there is some overlap, make sure to get the trilogy books first. After that, you will definitely want to fill in with this offering. It will take your cooking and presentation skills to the finishing level.


Smoke and Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison

There can be no doubt that barbecue has currently reached the "craze" level in American pop culture. Not coincidentally, this book is directly associated with the current craze. The original version of this classic came out in 1993 by the authors of Born to Grill, among others. The book caught on and sold so well that a revised edition, with over 100 additional recipes, tips and updates. As the authors originally explained in 1993, "It's time to graduate from grilling. American cooks have been enrolled in 'Introductory Barbecue' for a half century now, since the days when we all liked Ike. We've enjoyed cooking outdoors, but we're weary of wieners and charred chicken, yearning more and more for the full flavor of old-time, real barbecue, the kind popularly known as 'Bar-B-Q,' food that dances on your senses and gets your lips to rejoicing. This is a complete guide to the genuine article, where we move beyond searing and sizzling into really smoking." Here here! Don't get me wrong, I appreciate grilling. It was my first love and I continue grilling to this day. However, the Jamison's words strike a chord with me now just as they did with the public at large more than 15 years ago. I can't describe the book any better than they did themselves. Just read their Introduction, and the first chapter, "The Secrets of Success" and you will want to make your way to your backyard and get smoking. They cover all the basics and have tons of great recipes in the 461 page book. The recipes are so good and classic that I don't need to write about them. Just take my word, and the word of about 1,000,000 people who have bought the book. My favorite part of the book, though, is the enormous amounts of tips, blurbs, facts, trivia and tall tales sprinkled throughout. They are on virtually every page, and some pages have multiple such entries. Such entries include BBQ related stories about Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. One of my favorite entries is this: "Racial integration of the South began at the barbecue pit. African-Americans owned and operated many of the original Bar-B-Q joints, but the food attracted everyone in town, even when churches, schools and other restaurants were strictly segregated." I think Adam Scott would agree.


Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook by Rick Rodgers

The first thing I want to say is I like Kingsford charcoal. In my opinion, briquettes in general, and Kingsford specifically, get a bad rap from the barbecue purist police. The fact is plenty of championships have been won using briquettes, and Kingsford is the most popular briquette which has been part of many of those championships. Now to the book. First of all, there are several passages that are virtually "commercials" for Kingsford. That is certainly fair enough and I don't begrdge Kingsford for that. However, under the section "Lighting the Fire," the first method covered was using lighter fluid. There was even a picture, and there are plenty of pictures throughout the book, of someone demonstrating the proper method for using Kingsford lighter fluid. That is just wrong in my opinion. Lighter fluid should be discouraged and used as a last resort, but that was never mentioned in the book. When I read the book, I had a sneaking suspicion the author was not a true barbecue type. My suspicions were confirmed. Rick Rodgers has many accomplishments in the culinary world, and I certainly make no attempt to diminish them. Barbecue is not one of those accomplishments. There just seemed to be a disconnect between what he was writing and my understanding of barbecue, giving me the impression that the author was just a "hired gun" Kingsford brought in to write a book with no real expertise. For example, let's take a look at the recipe for "Pork Shoulder." There was no discussion of using the whole shoulder as opposed to choosing the smaller cuts of picnic or butt. There was never a discussion of using a smoker, and frankly, there just wasn't any discussion of what equipment was to be used other than a "grill." There was no discussion of how long a whole shoulder would take. Rather, he just explained that the shoulder should be put on the grill, at a temperature of 350*, and every 45 minutes 10 briquettes and a handfull of wood chips need to be added. The picture of the finished product showed no pink. I think the 350* had something to do with that. This one just fell flat to me.

Dear Kingsford: You make great charcoal. You need to either upgrade or discontinue your cookbook product.


Weber's Charcoal Grilling, the Art of Cooking with Live Fire by Jamie Purviance

This is a big, glossy picture-filled volume with a wide range of excellent recipes. Jamie Purviance is not just a contract chef/writer hired by Weber to write its books. He is a certified judge by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and has judged at the Jack Daniel's championship competition. Reportedly, over a half-ton of charcoal was burned while writing this book. Unlike other Weber books, this one is dedicated solely to charcoal grilling. It is organized in typical fashion from equipment through deserts with all meats, seafood, sauces and sides in between. They also walked through use of the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) smoker and the rotisserie accessorie to the Weber kettle. It includes several great recipes including not-so-typical burgers to caribbean spiced grouper with yellow pepper sauce. Virtually every recipe has a nice condiment recipe to compliment the featured entree. The recipes definitely lean toward the gourmet style of grilling. Every recipe has a big color picture to help the cook aid in presentation. One of the more interesting aspects are various features of "Charcoal Fanatics." One such feature is Jim Minion, a KCBS Board Member and inventor of the "Minion method" for keeping a WSM warm for 20 hours. Everyone should try his recipe for brisket at pp. 86-87. Included in the back are helpful resource charts for grilling times of various meats and seafood. It also includes step-by-step methods on how to trim certain cuts, of course, all are accompanied by big color pictures. This volume is heavy on grilling and limited in barbecue. Nonetheless, it is an excellent cookbook and should be included in everyone's collection in my opinion. That is, unless you cook on gas!


Mastering the Grill: The Owners Manual for Outdoor Cooking by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim

Alright class, everyone get in your seats, pay attention, and don't be tardy. This book is no fluff recipe book. For those interested in the technical aspect of grilling, this is your book. And I mean grilling. The authors do not cover barbecue except for brief mentions. This volume is over-sized, 400 pages long, and absolutely loaded with interesting information. It is not just a cookbook. As a matter of fact, the recipes don't even start until p. 89. As the authors explain, "In this book, we approach the grill from the perspective of science and mechanics. Our goal is to impart an understanding of what happens during grilling, so that you can make better-tasting grilled food." For everyone that has passed 6th grade science class, have a quiz for you. What are the three types of heat transference that take place during grilling? Don't be embarrassed, I did not know either. The answer, of course, is conduction, convection and radiant. Frankly, I am not convinced there is much convection heat going on inside my Weber. However, I am not going to argue with these guys because I know I would lose. The authors explain understanding each method "is basic to mastering all grilling techniques." I think a lot of grillers need to start studying. Before the recipes start, there are entire sections on equipment, technique, ingredients, mastering meats, and mastering spices and other flavors. Once the recipes begin, they cover everything from burgers to desserts and everything in between. One chapter even covers "The Big Kahuna" Hawaiian luau, suckling pig, whole spring lamb, and turducken. This book is as unique as it is interesting. If you want another recipe book, maybe it is not your thing. If you want to understand what goes on in the grill and inspire your brain cells as much as your taste buds, you need to have this book in your collection.

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