Barbecue Bros Book Club: “On Barbecue” by John Shelton Reed

Not that we’re anywhere close to being qualified enough to evaluate books but more so as a public service announcement we will periodically discuss barbecue and barbecue-related books.

Monk: If John Shelton Reed writes a book on barbecue, I’m reading it. Because he writes about the subject so intelligently and (not to mention wittily) from both a historical as well as a cultural viewpoint, his insights always make me think and often chuckle.


“Holy Smoke: The Big Book of NC Barbecue” was co-written by Reed, his since-passed wife Dale Volberg Reed, and William McKinney and is likely my favorite book on the subject (certainly the case when it comes to North Carolina barbecue). His “Barbecue” book for UNC Press’ Savor the South Series is more than just a barbecue recipe book. And any freelance work from him that comes across my Google Alerts I read immediately.

In addition to being an accomplished author, John Shelton Reed is the co-founder (along with Dan Levine) and “Eminence Grease” of The Campaign for Real Barbecue, also known as True ‘Cue. There, he advocates for wood-smoked barbecue (sometimes ruffling the feathers of folks like Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker). Again, I’m a huge fan.


With that buildup, “On Barbecue” is his latest book and is a collection of his barbecue writings over the years (by far is his most written-about subject), which includes book reviews, freelance articles, some True ‘Cue newsletter writings, and an excerpt from “Holy Smoke.” Our friend John Tanner wrote up the book nicely over on his blog but I’ll add to the praise chorus as well.

In it, Reed is able to connect his previous works into a cohesive narrative across a fairly quick read. From the true origins of barbecue (both the practice and the word itself) to the current state of it to the invasion of gassers into barbecue restaurants to the nuances of barbecue in the state of North Carolina, I read the 157 pages in a couple of sittings but could have easily read in just one. And what a great cover.

I was graciously provided a copy of the book by Reed in exchange for an honest review (which you’ve just read) but the honest truth is that I would have purchased it with my own money no matter what. I urge you barbecue fans out there to purchase it at your nearest independent bookstore and give it a read.


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