“Summer and Smoke” is the title of a Tennessee Williams play, yes, but it’s also an accurate description for the latest crop of outdoor cooking cookbooks. Smoking is getting much attention this season as a technique, a flavoring agent and even a book theme — three new works have “smoke” or “smoking” in their titles.
Authors seem intent on proving yet again that outdoor cooking is more than slapping meat patties on a hot grill. They’re reaching around the world for recipes, flavors and inspiration. Reverse-seared steaks, smoked deviled eggs and homemade bacon are among the hot topics; lamb and mutton are getting encouraging nudges; and the grill and/or smoker is being used for almost everything, from first course to dessert. Do-it-yourselfers get help, too, as books offer master recipes on, say, curing bacon or making sausage — and then offer recipes to use these products.
So, crack open a cold one, find some shade and break out these outdoor cookbooks for some delicious summer reading — and cooking.
“Around the Fire,” by Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton with Stacy Adimando (Ten Speed Press, $35).
Everyone needs a cookbook to dream by. This book from the chefs/owners of Ox Restaurant in Portland, Ore., is mine this summer. Ox offers “Argentine-style grilling with a Pacific Northwest approach,” the book says. Grilling is at the center of the book, with three chapters devoted to meat, seafood and vegetables, but there are also salads, cold seafood, desserts and cocktails. Grilling fans looking beyond the obvious will find, among other choices, lamb heart, wild halibut on the bone, roasted spaghetti squash and turkey butt — a conversation starter if there ever was one. The writing is clear and the passion for fire cooking strong, and there’s a good grilling how-to chapter to get you started.
“Master of the Grill,” by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95).
This book boasts that it offers 692 recipes, ratings, tips and techniques for every ability level. No, I didn’t count. Each is numbered, a graphically appealing device that also poses an unspoken challenge: Just how many can you check off in one summer? Start with “The Basics,” then move to “The Easy Upgrades” and “The Serious Projects” (among the latter, grilling steaks over a chimney-style charcoal starter). Move from “Great Backyard Burgers” (No. 1) to “Preparing Lobster for the Grill” (No. 692). An authoritative “Why This Recipe Works” paragraph kicks off each recipe. Instructions for charcoal and gas grills are included in the recipes, followed where appropriate by variations to try.
“Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling,” by Meathead Goldwyn with Greg Blonder (Rux Martin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35).
Meathead Goldwyn’s myth-busting in his eponymous book has surely raised some eyebrows and, maybe, some voices. But Goldwyn, editor of the website AmazingRibs.com, knows his stuff and is willing to share. He spends so much time on the whys and how-tos (it’s not at all boring, trust me) that the recipes don’t begin until halfway into the book. They cover the bases, from barbecue sauces (Goldwyn’s explanation of regional Carolina styles is particularly useful) to Baja fish tacos to an American steakhouse steak burger so juicy he serves it in a bowl. Only one outdoor cooking book this summer? Make it “Meathead.”
“Project Smoke,” by Steven Raichlen (Workman Publishing, $22.95).
A companion book to the public television series “Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke,” this work seeks to prove that “all barbecue is smoked, but not all smoked foods are barbecue.” So, you’ll find the usual suspects, like brisket, ribs and ham, as well as more unusual items like gazpacho, flan and ice (the cubes will melt during the smoking, yes, but you refreeze them). Raichlen even offers ideas for adding smoky flavor when you don’t have a smoker — choices range from liquid smoke to bacon to chipotle peppers. Raichlen’s book is very practical, with useful information on grills and smokers, notes on the various woods best for smoking and ideas for flavoring your food before, during and after smoking.
“Smoking Meat,” by Will Fleischman (DK, $19.95).
Will Fleischman’s book promises to “perfect the art of cooking with smoke” and the Texas pitmaster laudably sets out to help you do just that with very clearly written and sharply photographed instructions to smoking meat on all sorts of equipment. He outlines the pluses and minuses and troubleshoots common problems. He recommends tools, offers a glossary of barbecue terms, provides safety tips. The book contains more than 50 clearly written recipes for beef, pork, poultry, seafood, game and lamb. (Fleischman is keen on lamb necks.) A very useful and graphic touch is found in the info rail at the top of each recipe; at a glance you can see what the recipe’s protein is, preferred wood for smoking, times for prep, cooking and resting, and servings.
“The Smoking Bacon & Hog Cookbook,” by Bill Gillespie with Tim O’Keefe (Page Street Publishing, $21.99).
“The Whole Pig & Nothing But the Pig BBQ Recipes” is the subtitle for this fun book, which goes whole hog over pig. It contains not only the how-to for a bacon weave — reason enough to buy it, I say — but recipes for a bacon weave breakfast burrito and bacon weave quesadilla. You’ll learn to cure your own bacon, smoke ribs, jazz up a ready-to-cook ham and cook a whole hog outdoors. Some recipes need a smoker; others can be made on a backyard grill. There are enough recipes, I think, to work with any one type of outdoor cooker, but don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly hungry for a second (or third) piece of equipment to fully enjoy this book.
“Weber’s New American Barbecue,” by Jamie Purviance (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99).
Summer means grilling and, just as often as not, a new book on outdoor cooking by Jamie Purviance for the Weber-Stephen Products, makers of the iconic Weber kettle grill. “New” is emphasized here, in essays on Chicago’s evolving barbecue restaurant scene, the South’s “Nouveau ’Cue” chefs and Korean barbecue of Los Angeles. The recipes are as global as America today: Chicken thighs with a sweet apricot-hoisin sauce are followed by thighs with a black cherry barbecue sauce and then a thigh and sausage gumbo. Purviance cleverly uses the grill at multiple points in a recipe. A warm artichoke dip, for example, calls for grilling the artichoke hearts and then baking the dip in a cast-iron skillet on the grill.