Barbecue Bros Book Club: Barbecue by John Shelton Reed

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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.

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Monk: The Savor the South cookbook series from the University of North Carolina Press covers one “beloved food or tradition” of the South at a time (like bourbon or pecans – those books are written by Charlotte Observer food writer Kathleen Purvis). One of the latest in the series from 2016 is “Barbecue” from John Shelton Reed, who along with his wife wrote one of my favorite barbecue books ever, “Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue” back in 2008.

Reed acknowledges that the world doesn’t necessarily need another barbecue cookbook – heck, he himself already owns a couple dozen – which is why I appreciate that he attempts to make this particular cookbook more educational than the average one. In his usual dry humor tone, Reed gives a baseline of the history of southern barbecue in the Introduction chapter before exploring the variations in meats and sauces in the subsequent chapters. Finally, he moves on to sides and ultimately desserts by the end of the book.

I may or may not get around to the trying some of the recipes, but the history and education is what really makes “Barbecue” a good read.

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Barbecue Bros Book Club: The One True Barbecue by Rien Fertel

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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.

IMG_8196A collection of profiles on whole hog pitmasters throughout the southeast, “The One True Barbecue” by Rien Fertel is an enjoyable if not somewhat controversial read. In particular, Fertel ruffled feathers with his chapters on Wilber Shirley and Ed Mitchell. He portrayed the former’s restaurant as a joint with a racial division of labor between the front of the house and the back and the latter as a marketing gimmick in overalls that cooks hogs in a non-traditional manner (hot and fast rather than the traditional low and slow). However fair Fertel’s representation may or may not be (and he is but one man with his opinion), the fact that he spoke with neither for the purposes of this book only added more embers to the burn barrel.

Fertel ties the profiles together through narrative, following his path from New Orleans to the Carolinas and back, with even a stop in Bushwick to visit Arrogant Swine. Each chapter not only explores the pitmaster(s) themselves but in some cases the history of an entire town with Ayden, NC and its two joints Skylight Inn and Bum’s. He particularly favors Scott’s-Parker’s Barbecue in Lexington, TN, visiting with pitmaster Ricky Parker in the first chapter and then his sons after his death in the last chapter. In between, Fertel visits 12 other whole hog joints in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, and the aforementioned Arrogant Swine in NY.

I enjoyed Fertel’s writing and found this to be a quick read that I devoured over just a few sittings. Fertel cut his teeth writing oral histories for The Southern Foodways Alliance, and his experience writing on southern food showed. A small complaint would be that the only color photographs are confined to a section at the center of the book – I would have loved to see them throughout as opposed to the smaller black and white ones within the chapters. In any case, I can’t recommend “The One True Barbecue” enough.

Monk

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke by Elliott Moss

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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.

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“Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke” is a book of recipes from Chef Elliott Moss, the head chef and pitmaster of, you guessed it, Buxton Hall Barbecue. It also functions as a coffee table book of sorts with its beautiful color photography. Finally, it also contains narrative from Moss; among other things, he explains the history of how Buxton Hall came to be, his own family history of barbecue, inspiration for the restaurant, and his philosophy when it comes to barbecue and food.

In terms of the recipes, Moss divides the book between pit smoking techniques and meats, favorite foods found at Buxton Hall, sides, and desserts. While this section of the book is heavy on the recipes themselves, Moss still gives a couple paragraphs introduction on each dish so his voice continues throughout the book past those initial pages.

This was a quick read but I enjoyed reading Elliott Moss’s writing on barbecue (his passion is quite evident) and particularly the food porn-y full color photography (something I wish more barbecue books would have). “Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke” will sit on my shelf as a beautifully laid out reference book that I will go back to try some of the recipes and techniques in the future (hello, cinder block pit and burn barrel).

Monk

Barbecue Bros Book Club: The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America by Johnny Fugitt

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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.

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Monk: From October 2013 to October 2014, barbecue writer Johnny Fugitt ate at 365+ barbecue restaurants across the lower 48 United States and compiled his own rankings into a book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America. His rankings were not based on marketing or TV exposure or from compiling previous lists together into one mega list (as many barbecue lists tend to be), but by one man driving across the US in a Subaru judging barbecue through his own palate.

Speedy and I met up with Johnny last year in Charlotte and was able to get a private tour of the commissary kitchen of Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen where they smoke their meat and do their prep work for the food truck. We’ve continued to keep in touch with him via email and Twitter and consider him a friend of the blog. Full disclosure and all that: Johnny was kind enough to provide complimentary signed copies of his book to both Speedy and me. Though Speedy forgot and bought another one from Amazon anyways (never a bad thing to support a writer, however).

Speedy: That’s right, Monk. I was being supportive, not forgetful. Anyway, in terms of the book itself, I really like the way Johnny went about it. There’s so much subjectivity to these lists that Johnny made sure to tell the story behind why he did this in the first place, his methodology, and a little bit about each trip he took. He was very specific about both what he liked and didn’t like at each place.

Monk: As for the list itself, it’s broken up between ranking his top 25 and then the remaining 75 restaurants are unranked and listed by state. While there are some of the usual suspects on the list, there are some glaring omissions that he wasn’t able to get to (Scott’s Bar-B-Que, La Barbecue, or Killen’s Barbecue) or some that folks might scratch their head at (a non-Franklin or La Barbecue Austin pick for #1 overall, a Florida joint in the top 5, etc). But that’s ok, because that was the whole point of the book.

For NC and specifically Charlotte, I was happy to see some of our favorites represented on the list. We covered this in a previous post, but Midwood Smokehouse and Boone’s Bar-B-Que Kitchen were both decently represented in the book – both in terms of the restaurants themselves on the unranked list of 75 but also particular dishes (brisket for Midwood and brunswick stew and sauce for Boone’s). Speedy, what were your thoughts on the list?

Speedy: As I mentioned above, I like the way Johnny went about it, but of course, I don’t agree with the rankings 100%. I think it’s a little Texas heavy and anything that doesn’t have Lexington BBQ in the top 25 (it does make the top 100), doesn’t line up with my taste completely. However, I think that’s the point. What I do like is that anywhere in the continental 48 I go, I know someone has been there before me to figure out if there’s anywhere worth trying. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Monk: Agreed. If I had any minor complaints, I would have liked to have seen full color photos, but I’m assuming that came down to a budget issue. In any case, while I may not agree completely with how the rankings shook out, I can’t fault Johnny’s hustle. Definitely a worthy read.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Barbecue Crossroads by Robb Walsh and O. Rufus Lovett

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Not that I’m 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.

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Barbecue Crossroads: Notes & Recipes from a Southern Odyssey, written by multi James Beard Award-winning author Robb Walsh (who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year) with photographs by O. Rufus Lovett, is exactly the type of book I’d love to research and write some  day. The two take a roadtrip from Texas to the Carolinas and back, discovering and investigating the traditions and regional styles of barbecue in the American South. Its a travelogue that doesn’t just focus on the restaurants the two visit but also the community barbecues that don’t often get covered in the typical barbecue book. It also contains recipes and some of the most vivid color photography of barbecue culture – seriously, with enough practice in maybe a few decades I’ll be able to take photos half as good as Lovett.

Texas, Memphis, and North Carolina are well represented in the book but Grant of Marie, Let’s Eat! was a little miffed that they only devoted 5 pages to Georgia barbecue due to a perceived lack of effort or trying. This did not bother me as much as it did him, but then again thats easy to say for someone from North Carolina. Who knows what the reasons may be, but I can understand that time and resources are limited and they may have wanted to focus in predestined locations known. In any case, I really enjoyed this book and blew right through it in a matter of  a few days and would recommend it to any barbecue blogger.

Monk

Barbecue Bros Book Club: Barbecue: The History of An American Institution by Robert Moss

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Not that I’m 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. First up is what I would consider an essential book to understanding barbecue.

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In order to better understand where barbecue is heading today, I think its vital to understand the history and foundation of barbecue in the US. Robert Moss is a barbecue historian from Charleston and the current barbecue editor of Southern Living Magazine, so he is as qualified as any to write about the origins of barbecue in the United States and how the regional styles popped up. And that is exactly what he does in Barbecue: An American Institution. In it, he traces the Caribbean origins of the word to the American roots in Virginia – thats right, South Carolina, you are decidedly not the birthplace of barbecue despite what your ludicrous campaign says – through the decline during the fast food era and its current rebirth.

Moss’s book is comprehensive in its documentation of barbecue’s trends across America, and while it does devote some space to detailing the regional styles of barbecue (North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, etc) if you are looking for more in-depth knowledge about a particular style you will have to look elsewhere. Still, this is as good a starting place as ever if you are looking to read up on American barbecue. Lots of great archival photos and ads are sprinkled throughout as are some barbecue-related recipes. Highly recommended.

Monk