If you’re reading this, you’re probably not a renowned grill master or chef. Neither am I, for that matter. But the difference between you and one of them isn’t as big as you might think. Practice is a big part of cooking, as is access to certain ingredient, but the real difference between an amateur and an expert is KNOWLEDGE. How much do you really know about barbeque?
Not just its history, but the mechanics behind it. Do you really know how to make your grill work for you, or are you just guessing? Even at a more basic level, look at recipes: why do some flavors compliment certain meats better than they do others?
These are the kinds of thing that reading literature on the subject is great for. These authors did the research and trial and error so you don’t have to, passing on their wealth of knowledge of the mechanics and flavors involved with barbeque straight down to you.
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Best BBQ and Grill Books (2021 Reviews)
1. Steven Raichlen: Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades
This is a fascinating, well made recipe book from Steven Raichlen, sometimes referred to as “the man who reinvented barbeque”. This one is all about the sauces, one of the most important components in any kind of barbequing endeavor.
The book has a lot of really neat recipes in it, and I appreciate that it goes worldwide with the ideas for sauces. Raichlen clearly did his research here, and he has collected some delicious sauces from all sorts of international locales. I especially like that the recipes don’t feel limited by what we usually think of as barbeque; most people (myself included) generally think of barbeque first and foremost as something distinctive to the American South and to a certain extent Latin America, but while both of those are perhaps the most iconic barbequing regions, every country in the world has its own unique barbequing traditions to be appreciated.
For the price it’s quite good, though I’d avoid the spiral bound option. It’s more expensive and is less durable. I know some like this style of book, but my clumsy fingers have an issue with tearing pages in books like that, so I personally don’t want to shell out extra for it.
2. Nadine Horn: VBQ – The Ultimate Vegan Barbeque Cookbook
So, full disclosure: I’m not a vegan. I’m not even a vegetarian. But hey, vegetables are tasty, and having unique and interesting ideas for cooking vegetables on your grill is very welcome. Necessity is the mother of invention, and limitations breed interesting solutions.
I’m not going to lie and say everything in this book is going to be useful to you if you’re not a vegan; I like me some mushrooms, but I probably am never going to make “pulled mushroom sandwiches” for myself, but there’s still something here for everyone.
Whether you’re a vegan or vegetarian looking for really great recipes for your diet or just someone looking for interesting ways to flavor and cook vegetables, this is a solid book, especially with how dirt cheap the Kindle version is.
I don’t really recommend buying the paperback give it’s so much more expensive here, and the book is also fairly short; only 80 recipes to go through here, and some of them might be hit or miss for your own tastes regardless, so the value of this book is greatly enhanced by the significantly cheaper price and more convenient access.
3. Aaron Franklin: Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Smoking Manifesto
Part recipe book, part memoirs, this cookbook by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay is a really good insight into what makes some of the best barbeque in the world so good. Franklin explains in part the mechanics, but also the mindset needed for smoking; you need passion, attention, and hard work to get the most out of your meat. Recipes aren’t entirely superfluous, but really this man’s career in itself is proof that the most important thing when it comes to barbeque is experience and patience.
This book is really good; an interesting insight into the mindset of a barbeque grandmaster and some great recipes for unparalleled barbeque flavors.
This one is well worth shelling out for the hardcover copy, not just because it’s only a couple of bucks more expensive than the Kindle copy, but because it’s just an excellent book to have around for grilling and smoking enthusiasts.
4. Meathead Goldwyn: Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling
Cooking is undeniably an art…but it is equally as much a science, and while there’s a lot of intuition that goes into cooking, it always pays to understand the very real scientific concepts that underlie everything related to cooking.
This takes the form of quite a few things, from basic concepts about searing and the proper use of salt, to commonly held myths and misconceptions about certain cooking topics. The addition of Prof. Greg Blonder’s input really makes a difference on this book, and augments an already great recipe book (with some truly mouthwatering recipes sure to become new staples of your grilling game) with the concepts of why these recipes work the way they do.
This is helpful in more ways than one, because it sets you on your journey to being able to create your own memorable recipes. If you understand WHY something works, you can work out the how and when to change something else to suit your own tastes without throwing off the flavor.
This book is an indispensable addition to any grill afficionado’s collection, and another I recommend shelling out for the hardcover of where available; it’s just that good.
5. Adam Rapoport: The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit
I spend perhaps way too much time watching videos on Bon Apetit’s channel; I chewed through at least 3 of them while writing this article. The videos they put out are light and breezy, but also very informative and science based; you get an easy understanding of what exactly is going on with each recipe they cook, whether it’s through “gimmick” videos like recreating snack foods from scratch or blindfolded taste tests of top chefs, or more standard fare showing you how to cook an excellent steak or dried egg yolks and other random assortments of useful tools.
I say all this because this book takes the same approach: simple, easy to understand, fun to read, but extremely informative breakdowns of how and why you should cook certain things the way you do.
This is what I’ve come to look for over the years in a cookbook: something that gives me not just a list of ingredients and methods, but what each of those methods actually does for me in the kitchen. As an example, I live in a very wet, very low elevation climate, which changes a lot of assumptions about what I should do to cook a great many dishes, especially baked goods; it wasn’t until a book like this explained to me exactly why those environmental factors MATTERED that I was able to adjust them.
The same premise applies for this book and any other science based cookbook; it doesn’t exist just to give you recipes, but a solid foundation to make yourself a better cook.
6. Roger Murphy: Wood Pellet Smoker and Grill Cookbook
This is a great, simple cookbook. This is less a “how to” (though it does have a bit of that scattered in) and more of a straight recipe book. Still, as these go, it’s a pretty good example for wood smoking recipes.
These are solid recipes, though a bit simplistic for the most part; nothing here is really going to surprise you. The layout of the book though is quite nice, clearly delineated into the Meat, other Ingredients, and a Method section, letting you easily find your place in the cookbook a bit more than certain other cookbooks, which might be a bit more jumbled. It makes the recipes very easy to read, which I appreciate. Over time I’ve had less and less patience for cookbooks over just searching an online recipe, and this borrows a similar format to something you’d find on most recipe websites.
This is not the greatest book out there, but there are some great recipes in here, and it has the added benefit of being available as part of a Kindle Unlimited subscription if you want toc heck it out risk free before buying it.
7. Andrew Koster: Master the Wood Pellet Grill
This is a great one for beginning grillers and smokers. A large portion of this book is separated into three “Mastery” chapters: Mastering the grill, the smoke, and the meat.
It is a great little primer for what goes into mastering your grill and smoker, and explains in detail (but succinctly enough that you can get an easy grasp of it without getting bogged down) everything you need to know about your tools, giving you info on how a grill works, what makes a good smoke, and the different preparation or cooking times ad attention you need for different kinds of meats.
The recipes that follow don’t enthuse me as much, but there are some good ones in here among the ones I’d consider “classics” (i.e. recipes you’re going to find inside every single grilling cookbook ever written) like the Cajun rubbed ham; I’m always on the lookout for new ham recipes and this one looks like a real crowd pleaser.
The pricing on this one is good. It’s worth shelling out for the paperback, but you can check it out beforehand with Kindle Unlimited to see if it has anything you really like in there, which is nice.
8. Greg Mrvich: American Barbecue Sauces
At first glance, I hadn’t expected to really like this book very much. Unlike Steven Raichlen’s book on sauces above, this one is more focused on the American sauces, as the name implies. You know these sauces, probably love them, and may or may not even need a book focused on making them.
But a more focused book has its own merits, and this one really shows. In having a more limited region of the world to work with, it’s possible to go much, much deeper in-depth on the four major regions of barbeque tradition in the US (the Carolinas, Memphis, Kansas City, and Texas) as well as a lot of other commonly used accoutrements for barbeque and other foods.
I really like that there’s a section on making condiments in this book. You might think it’s not worth the effort to make your own ketchup, but having the ability to tweak ratios of ingredients or even add something new is always welcome. As an example, name brand American ketchup tends toward being a lot sweeter than something like a UK pub style ketchup, which has a bit more vinegar in it, making it somewhat thinner and less sweet. If your tastes, like mine, run toward the latter, it’s great to have that kind of control when you can’t seem to actually find that kind of ketchup sold in most stores where you live.
9. Bryan King: 12 Bones Smokehouse Updated Edition
This is a solid recipe book, though it should be noted that this one is pretty much just a recipe book, not an explanatory barbeque book.
Still, it’s an incredibly good cookbook with some excellent recipes that run the whole gamut of dishes. You have your traditional grilling recipes, of course; excellent rib recipes, mouthwatering pork and chicken ideas, and several kinds of sauces.
But this book goes a step further, and gives you some very interesting side and dessert recipes as well, things that actually appeared on the 12 Bones Smokehouse menu at some point or another.
It’s nice to have a barbeque book that give you good ideas for every course, and many of these are unique or interesting in some way or another, if only because it’s rare to find good baked good recipes for the grill, even though you can get some very good results out of baking on a grill.
In this case the pricing is a bit odd though. I recommend the hardcover since for whatever reason it is significantly cheaper than the e-book option.
10. Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire
This book comes from Michael Symon; Iron Chef and host of The Chew. He has an interesting take on barbeque, a unique “Cleveland style” that he has, if not invented, brought to prominence.
That makes the recipes in this book unique among many types of barbeque, as that Cleveland style designation isn’t just for show; it means all of the sauces used are mustard based rather than tomato ketchup based (as many barbeque sauces are).
This gives the barbeque here a distinctive Midwestern flair, reminiscent a bit of Carolina mustard sauces (which if you’ve never tried it on a rack of ribs, you’re doing yourself a disservice).
If you’re a fan of tangy, full bodied flavors, the sauce and rubs found in this book are a very welcome change from the usual sweeter sauces. Not that this book has a lack of those either; it pulls recipes from all over the US, but those are not the main draw for me, as they are fairly standard (if well made and easy to follow) recipes from the more well known “big four” traditions of barbeque here.
The Cleveland style recipes are the make or break factor here; if you’re into the idea, give the ebook a try. If not, I wouldn’t bother, really. There are better cookbooks out there for the other recipes in this book.
11. Linda Ly: The Backyard Fire Cookbook
Ending us off is a really fascinating one. This one is less about coking with grills, but more techniques for cooking directly over an open flame, with tutorials for how to build your own fire pit and whatnot thrown in to round things out.
This book is light on recipes but satisfyingly heavy on techniques and how to material, giving you a very comprehensive look at the mechanics, advantages, and disadvantages of roasting over coals and flames that give a bit of a different perspective that many grilling and smoking books won’t give you.
I really like this book, though its appeal will definitely be dependent on how much you value a book like this and what it has to offer. Fire roasting isn’t for everyone, and you might not even have somewhere to put a fire pit.
Still, it offers a lot of valuable insight and really good stuff for its topic, and covers a lot of ideas that most cookbooks won’t bother with. Just don’t buy this expecting a plethora of recipes; there are only 70 here to choose from, though all are pretty nice.
For the price, it’s not too bad of a buy if you’re looking to get into fire roasting things more often.
All of these books are great. I put Steven Raichlen’s book on barbeque sauces up top, but it’s hard to choose a “best” book. That one takes the top spot largely for being so unique, wide ranging, and thorough, but of course it doesn’t “out perform” these other books, which also bring something interesting to the table in their own ways.
All of them essentially teach you how to do something specific, be it make sauces, condiments, rubs, smoke the meats themselves, learn how the grill works in general, or give you tutorials and insight into any number of other things.
I wholeheartedly recommend any of these, whether you’re looking to up your game in a more general sense, or just want some neat ideas for your next backyard barbeque.
What Kind of Barbecuing Books Should I Look For?
The first and foremost thing you look for in any book is how well it explains what it’s trying to explain. Barbecuing and grilling books are no different.
You’re looking for books that give you some insight you otherwise wouldn’t have had. A rote list of recipes is, frankly, worthless. Or at the least, not worth your money. Recipes are a dime a dozen; you could find ten identical copies of most recipes you’re likely to find in any cookbook online for free.
That means that what you’re looking for is stuff that explains to you the whys and hows of what you’re doing.
What kind of seasonings do you use for pork, beef, or chicken? Why are they sometimes the same and sometimes need to be different? How long and at what temperature do you need to cook each at, or does it vary? To brine or not to brine, and when should you dry brine instead of wet brine? What’s the best bbq in Memphis?
These questions and a hundred more being answered take you infinitely further into being a better cook than any list of recipes and methods. You could make someone else’s famous chicken recipe a thousand times, but if the author doesn’t explain why, exactly, the ingredients are what they are in the order they are, and why the methods that are used are done the way they are, you’re not going to be any better of a cook; a good cookbook should make you think, expand your knowledge base, and give you the tools to experiment and create your own “famous” recipes.
To that end I’ve mostly shied away from recipe books here, and the ones I do include do something special, either including just a wide enough variety of ideas people might not think of on their own, or go very deep into explaining why so many of our recipes have been the same for so long and why they work so well.
For a beginners guide crash course in grilling this is also a great resource to follow.
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