Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Tar Heel Traveler Eats” by Scott Mason

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: “Tar Heel Traveler Eats” by Scott Mason is equal parts travelogue, memoir, and in-depth description of the journalistic process for a local feature newscaster. Mason has been doing “Tar Heel Traveler” segments for WRAL in Raleigh since the early 2000’s after working his way up through local news stations around the country. Mason has a folksy tone to his writing that is easy to read and the book goes by pretty quickly. While Mason’s writing is easy to read, all photos in the book are stills from the WRAL telecasts of his “Tar Heel Traveler” segment. I certainly get the practical reasons why, but it seems like such a missed opportunity given the number and breadth of the places he visited.

Subtitled “Food Journeys Across North Carolina,” his journey starts with profiles of hot dog restaurants before moving on to hamburgers then barbecue and finally ending with sweets and desserts. Along the way, he visits many of the iconic North Carolina institutions that should be on everyone’s list – barbecue or otherwise. But of course, what I was most interested in were the chapters on barbecue.

After a chapter where he acknowledges how much of a no-win situation writing about barbecue is in North Carolina (what with the east vs west/Lexington rivalry), Mason nevertheless delved into barbecue restaurants after getting his fill of the hot dog and hamburger joints. Despite being born in North Carolina he is apparently not a huge fan of barbecue and would almost always prefer a juicy cheeseburger or two mustard dogs over it. I’ll just assume that’s because he moved to Massachusetts shortly after he was born.

In any case, the barbecue restaurants he writes about his visits to are Bill’s Barbecue (Wilson), Parker’s (Wilson), B’s Barbecue (Greenville), Pik N Pig (Carthage), Wilber’s Barbecue (Goldsboro), and Clyde Cooper’s (Raleigh). Certainly not a comprehensive list, and more a list of easy-to-drive-to places from Raleigh. Each chapter deals with the circumstances that led him to that town or restaurant from his newscaster perspective and how he obtained the footage for the feature story, whether it was interviewing the owner of the restaurant or by going table to table to get sound bites from willing customers. Mason usually has an interesting anecdote or two before reflecting on his experience at the restaurant and closing out the chapter. It’s certainly a different reading experience from other books that might offer more of a profile of each barbecue restaurant, but not an unwelcome one.

If you’re interested in not only North Carolina barbecue restaurants, but classic southern ones, read “Tarheel Traveler Eats” and keep a pen and paper handy so you can jot down all the places you should visit across the state.

Available at Amazon or wherever you buy books

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Southern Smoke” by Matthew Register

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.

Matthew Register’s first cookbook “Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions, and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today” came out in May 2019 on the same day as books from both Sam Jones and Ed Randolph. While Sam Jones’ told the story of his family’s barbecue legacy (with some recipes) and Randolph’s book featured profiles on various pitmasters and barbecue personalities (with recipes), Southern Smoke is more of a traditional cookbook heavy on the recipes from a few specific regions of the South. And its not all about just barbecue.

Matthew Register’s barbecue star has been on the rise since this book was published last year, between features in Southern Living and Garden & Gun magazines as well as stops on the food festival circuit at Charleston Wine + Food as well as Atlanta Food & Wine. As for the Southern Smoke barbecue restaurant itself, it has been on my list for years to visit but between the fact that Garland is 3.5 hours away and the store is only open on Thursdays and Fridays (due to their catering business), so far a visit there has yet to come to fruition.

The first quarter of the book is dedicated to barbecue, starting off with the basics of smoking as well as traditional North Carolina barbecue and slaws (both eastern and Lexington). Nothing earth shattering there if you’ve read other barbecue books or have done any smoking yourself. From there, Register continues with non-barbecue North Carolina dishes such as collard chowder as well as several seafood dishes like Lenoir County fish stew and fried Spanish mackerel harp, reflecting his hometown of Garland’s position not far from the Atlantic Ocean beaches of NC. Register introduces each dish and his personal history with it and in many cases is able to provide some history on it.

Then, what really sets the book apart from the usual barbecue cookbook is the subsequent chapters featuring recipes from the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia as well as from Memphis and the Mississippi Delta. I don’t expect you would find recipes in other barbecue books for dishes such as Country Captain Chicken, James Island shrimp pie, delta tamales, or Kool Aid pickles.

Register finishes the book with a chapter on baking, as well as some supper menus (like “Low Country Boil” or “Surf and Turf Carolina Style”), a list of recommended pantry items, and a list of barbecue and southern cookbooks that Register recommends.

I’ll likely never attempt most of the recipes in “Southern Smoke” but its a wonderfully put together reference book that I’m happy to have sit on my shelf alongside some of my favorite barbecue history and recipe books.

Available at Amazon or wherever you buy books

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ” by The Editors of Southern Living and Christopher Prieto

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.

The first time I personally became aware of Christopher Prieto was when this book came out by the editor of Southern Living magazine “with Pitmaster Christopher Prieto.” Who was he, and how did he get this spotlight in a barbecue book from a national publication seemingly out of nowhere (at least to me)? Of course, I now know that he is pitmaster and owner of Prime BBQ in Knightdale, but in 2015 Prime BBQ was a cooking school and catering operation and Prieto was known on the competition barbecue circuit as well as from TV appearances on Food Network’s Chopped: Grill Masters, the Cooking Channel’s Man Fire Food, and Destination America’s BBQ Pitmasters. His star certainly continues to rise.

In addition to Prieto’s input, there is also tips and short Q&A’s from noted barbecue personality’s such as Carolina Cue to Go’s Elizabeth Karmel, Tim Byres of Smoke (Dallas), Justin and Jonathan Fox of Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q (Atlanta), Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker (Nashville), Skip Steele of Pappy’s Smokehouse (St. Louis), Harrison Sapp of Southern Soul Barbeque (St. Simon’s Island, GA), among others. So, Prieto was in nice company.

As for the book, Southern Living contributor Robert Moss wrote the foreword and refers to the book as “a comprehensive survey of the technique and styles of contemporary Southern barbecue,” and that hits the nail on the head. Officially titled “Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ: The Complete Year-Round Guide to Grilling and Smoking,” this book heavily focuses on recipes for the backyard and home cook, with a little barbecue 101 sprinkled in here and there.

After spending some time on a brief history of barbecue in North America, there is a section on the different cuts of meat as well as fuels for the fire, the recipes for beef, pork, and poultry come fast and furious. Starting with “Low & Slow” (smoking) before moving onto “Hot & Fast” (grilling) and then “Rainy Day BBQ” (ovens and crockpots) before wrapping up with sides, rubs, and a pretty extensive section on pickling(!!). The book comes in at over 200 recipes across 350 pages and is quite the tome, complete with beautiful food photography from Greg DuPree.

I personally used their recipe for pork spareribs recently and was extremely pleased with how the ribs turned out – perhaps the best ribs I’ve ever done. I didn’t follow the recipe to a tee in terms of rubs or sauces, but the guidelines on prep and timing served me well. Take a look for yourself:

There are a lot of seemingly great recipes in “The Ultimate Book of BBQ” that would be perfect to try out at a time when you are mostly home and have a lot of time on your hands. If that happens to apply to you, consider buying or even renting from your local library.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Smoked” by Ed Randolph

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.

On May 7th of last year, Smoked was released as well as several other notable barbecue books: Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue with Recipes from Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ by Sam Jones, Southern Smoke by Matthew Register’, and Myron Mixon’s BBQ&A with Myron Mixon. Of those authors, I knew the least about Ed Randolph, who is a Hudson Valley, NY-based competition cook and caterer who has announced his intentions to open his restaurant Handsome Devil BBQ in the town of Newburgh this summer.

As for this book Smoked is equal parts travelogue, recipes, and barbecue 101. He has chapters with recipes from the notable pitmasters you might expect – Sam Jones, Elliot Moss, Billy Durney, Carey Bringle, Pat Martin to name a few – but to me the best part of the book are the chapters on the less heralded or more up-and-coming pitmasters. Being a northeastern-based pitmaster, Randolph spotlights several pitmasters from states not normally known as barbecue hot beds. States such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. While it may be due to a function of Ed being able to travel to those restaurants more easily, it is nice to see some variety in pitmasters and restaurants in a barbecue book.

That’s not to say that Randolph only focused on the part of the country where he’s from, as he traveled from California to Texas and throughout the southeast to meet with pitmasters and get recipes, as noted by the map at the front of the book.

As for the recipes, there’s good variety in the types of meats that are represented – not just your typical brisket or pork butt – in addition to recipes for sides, sauces, and desserts. The book might be worth its price alone just for the chicken bog recipe from Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall.

Smoked is an easy read from an up and coming name in the barbecue world who followed up this book last year with a Traeger recipe book in April. Also of note is the beautiful photography from Ken Goodman and the foreword by Sean Ludwig of NYC BBQ and The Smoke Sheet.