Here in no specific order are my 10 must read barbecue books. You’ll notice that most of them are not really cookbooks. I believe the perfect barbecue book should be 80% stories and 20% recipes. The problem with writing a BBQ book is that you quickly run out of material. It’s like writing a book on sushi. Yes there are a myriad ways of properly prepping different fish for sushi but you can only say “press rice into ball and top with fish” so many times. Without fail the average BBQ book will hit on the official BBQ canon meats – Butts, brisket, chicken, ribs, and then go off into filler land where somehow giving recipes for lemon pound cake or balsamic glazed pumpkins.
Functionally speaking, for anyone truly interested in BBQ, you want the stories. Barbecue is a philosophy not a series of recipes. The best and oldest pits in the nation rub their meats with nothing more than salt and pepper, they couldn’t tell you what temperature they cook at or what temperature they pull their product off as there’s no thermometer in sight, they really don’t have secret sauces and if they do they’re not telling just to not tell as the sauces aren’t that great anyway.It never fails that people come into BBQ trying to “chef” it. It’s common to see people who have never cooked a brisket in their life start off with some 20 ingredient rub and some weird injection along with some convaluted wrapping technique. A far departure from just toss meat in pit, close lid, feed fire. Realistically if you wanted to work on something complicated, making the French sauce Borderlaise is more fun than making a mustard sauce.
Smokestack Lightning – The ORIGINAL BBQ roadtrip book. This alone is the place to start your reading because it gives you an unsalesman view of the American South and it’s barbecue. It shows how much work needs to be done to revive a neglected American artform.
Legends of Texas Barbecue – A shining example of what a barbecue book needs to be. Great story, lots of history.
Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue – Well no surprise here. I’m a North Carolina stylist so I’m a bit biased. But there’s everything you want in a BBQ book here – recipes, histories, interviews with pitmasters, a PhD study in BBQ.
Big Bob Gibson – This one is actually more cookbookish and if you were to buy only one BBQ cookbook you need to buy this one. Chris Lilly is a master storyteller and vividly brings out the Depression-era Patriarch which spawned a BBQ dynasty. The book is filled with humor as reflected in the quirkiness of the founder. The Barbecue Goat story alone is worth the price of the book.
Peace, Love, & Barbecue – The BBQ world is filled with people who think they’re legends and places which call itself the “BBQ Capital of the World”. Mike Mills is one of the few that not only holds the title of “The Legend” he has no detractors. The next time you see someone hose their ribs down with apple juice, tip your hat to master Mills.
Barbecue: The History of an American Institution – Nuff said. There’s a great story about the protest long before the Boston Tea party during the American Revolution. I won’t spoil it, buy the book.
The Whole Beast – There’s not a single wood burnt in this entire book. In all fairness though, there’s plenty of fraudulent bbq recipes out there that involve a crockpot. Again barbecue is a philosophy not a recipe and there’s plenty of philosophy in here. Fergus Henderson is recognized globally as the pioneer of offal eating and eating the entire animal. Henderson’s philosophy is the same as my teacher’s who was the only whole hog barbecue place in North Carolina that served not only whole hog barbecue but all the other stuff like offal and trotters in his “Pig Bar”.
The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and BBQ – My all time favorite food show is “Good Eats” produced by Alton Brown. The best thing about the Cook’s Illustrated series is that they run several experiments so that you don’t have to. It’s also great for debunking old myths and accepted dogma.
Texas BBQ: Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden – If a picture’s worth a thousand words, there’s a lifetime worth of conversation in here. A great collection of our tradition and heritage and visual argument of why it’s so critical to preserve them.
Wicked Good Barbecue – There’s only one competition book on this list as it should be. Competition barbecue really should be the last place that people look. Competitions create environments that are artificial and requires the creations of flavors that do not correlate with anything we eat on a normal basis. That being said, if you had to get one competition book, Andy Husband’s book is the one to get.