Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Revised and Expanded Second Edition” by Robert Moss

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 you have an interest in barbecue outside of recipes, personal memoirs, and restaurant guides, Robert Moss is one of the best barbecue writers working these days and a must-read. Sure, Moss does some of that other stuff too, but what I love is how he really digs into the history of barbecue in great detail, scouring archives going back several centuries for mentions of barbecue or barbecued meats to help him truly understand the history of the food in the US.

In this “Revised and Expanded Second Edition” of his 2010 book Barbecue: The History of an American Institution, Moss further expands on the history of barbecue after his years of research as part of his role as the contributing barbecue editor for Southern Living magazine, where he periodically files blog posts on his findings in addition to contributing his best barbecue joints lists.

Research from other barbecue writers such as Daniel Vaughn, Barbecue Editor of Texas Monthly, J.C. Reid of the Houston Chronicle, and Joe Haynes, author of several books on the history of barbecue in Virginia, has been added to round out Moss’s historical breakdown. Particularly, he beefs up the pre-colonial and colonial origins as well as provide more color on the beginnings of barbecue stands and ultimately restaurants starting in the late 19th century.

Moss also includes the barbecue traditions of Kentucky and the south side of Chicago, which were not included in the original book.

Additionally, whereas Moss’s original edition left off with barbecue in an uncertain place with the move to gas and electric smokers, by this point we are all aware of the big explosion in barbecue; or as Moss refers to it in his Afterword, the “second golden age of barbecue.”

Since the original publication date of the first edition of the book, barbecue in the US has seen a move to more of a craft-sensibility, bringing back all-wood smokers that require constant attention and rejecting the “set it and forget it” nature of the gas and electric smokers that had become favored by national and regional chains as well as the smeller joints who were looking to cut corners.

Moss points to Aaron Franklin as the turning point in the second golden age of barbecue not only in regards to the return to all-wood fired pits but also the prominence of Texas barbecue and platters in the meat market style of central Texas. That was the dominant trend until roughly 2015 where whole hog barbecue has come back into prominence thanks to Rodney Scott, Sam Jones, Dr. Howard Conyers, Bryan Furman of B’s Crackling Barbeque, Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall Barbecue, Tyson Ho of Arrogant Swine, and others.

Conveniently, Moss is also able to speak to the assertion by Washington Post writer Jim Shahin in that to see the future of barbecue, you can look to Charleston, where he just so happens to reside. The Lowcountry town that had been more known for fine dining now seemingly has all of the barbecue trends within its city limits, and sometimes all within a few blocks radius. Texas barbecue from John Lewis, whole hog from Rodney Scott and Swig & Swine’s Summerville location, the move back to all wood smoked barbecue from Melvin’s Barbecue, plus independently owned barbecue operations instead of chains.

In this revised and expanded second edition, Moss ends the book certain in the knowledge that American barbecue, the food intertwined with the very history of our great nation, is in a very solid place with its future secure.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South” by John T. Edge

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: John T. Edge’s book “Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South” is the latest in a series of similar-but-unrelated books I’ve read recently that fall into a similar bucket. That is, short profiles on classic restaurants – be they southern, soul food, barbecue joint or otherwise. What ultimately sets “Southern Belly” apart is that it covers the entire south state-by-state from East Texas to Virginia as well as the writing of John T. Edge. Man, that guy knows how turn a phrase.

Any posts or stories about John T. Edge should acknowledge the recent accusations of him. A New York Times story from the summer called him the “white gatekeeper of southern food” and noted the numerous calls from current and former staff members and contributors for him to step down as director of the Southern Foodways Alliance after 20 years in favor of a person of color. What a 12-person audit conducted over the summer ultimately led to was Edge keeping his position for the time being but promising “to make immediate improvements and launch a long-term strategic review of the nonprofit group to diversify a predominantly White staff and leadership tasked with the study of a food culture created largely by enslaved people.” Critics of the audit outcome note the lack of specificity when it comes to a plan or even a timeline for Edge’s departure. Worth following for sure if and when more specifics are announced.

In a year when the James Beard Awards was cancelled allegedly due to no black winners, it seems as if 2020 is the year of chickens coming home to roost for the historically white food institutions.

Ultimately, I decided to still read “Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South” in light of all of the recent accusations regarding John T. Edge. It’s still a worthy read and can point you to some great restaurants (at least those that are still around since the original 2007 publish date). Take that for what you will, but if you do check it out, be sure to read with eyes open.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries” by D.G. Martin

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: For whatever reason, several of the books I’ve been checking out during quarantine are of a similar ilk. That is, books compiling profiles of different classic eateries – some North Carolina and some not, some barbecue and some not – accompanied by personal anecdotes from the author. These books can serve as guidebooks for older places that should be celebrated and visited and are usually pretty quick and interesting reads.

Which leads me to “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries: A Traveler’s Guide to Local Restaurants, Diners, and Barbecue Joints” by North Carolina author D.G. Martin. During his travels as a lawyer and politician, he had the good fortune to visit many a classic restaurant across the state of North Carolina. Originally published in 2016, an update has been put on hold due to the coronavirus calling into questions the status of many of the restaurants featured in the book. Regardless, its still a good document of the times even if it grows more and more outdated by the day.

Smartly, Martin organizes his chapters by the interstate highways that crisscross North Carolina (i.e. Interstates 26, 40, 85, 77, etc.). From there, he profiles restaurants that are easy stops off the highway and that he has personally visited, oftentimes name dropping politicians and friends along the way.

Of the 120 or so restaurants profiled, roughly 50 are barbecue joints. Predictably the chapter on Interstate 85 is heavy on barbecue, followed by 40 and 95. The usual suspects are there, but Martin covers the undercelebrated ones such as Backyard BBQ Pit in Durham, Hursey’s Bar-B-Q in Alamance County, the recently shuttered Hill’s Lexington Barbecue in Winston-Salem, and Fuller’s Old Fashion Bar-B-Q in Lumberton and Fayetteville.

After this book from D.G. Martin and similar ones from Bob Garner, the Tar Heel Traveler Scott Mason, and John T. Edge (in a future book club entry), I am looking forward to a different perspective from “Soul Food Scholar” Adrian Miller in his forthcoming book “Black Smoke.” That book will focus on the contributions of black pitmasters and is scheduled to come out next year from UNC Press, the same publisher as this book. Regardless, “North Carolina’s Roadside Eateries” is worth checking out and even sticking in your glovebox for future roadtrips.

Barbecue Bros Book Club: “Franklin Steak” by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay

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: As I mentioned in my prior book club entry, it took me years to finally read “Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Smoking Manifesto” as I (wrongly) assumed it was just yet another barbecue recipe book. As is the case with “Franklin Steak,” these books are more textbook than cookbook.

In “Franklin Steak,” Aaron Franklin and his co-writer Jordan Mackay, a California-based food and wine writer, take much the same approach as they did on “Franklin Smoke.” They take their time getting to the actual cooking of the meat; in the three parts of the book (each with three chapters), they don’t get to the cooking until midway through Part III.

The book starts with “Know Thy Beef” and educates the reader on the history of beef and how the evolution of cattle and beef has coincided with the evolution of man (seriously), before getting into the different breeds of cows on the market today and the different cuts that make them up.

Part II handles the aspects of steak leading up to the actual firing of the grill. It dedicates an entire chapter to dry aging and the science behind it. For the curious home chef, it even shows step by step how you can dry age at home by utilizing an old fridge (which may be the only way to get it outside of a restaurant).

There’s also a chapter on the different styles of grills, from the basic Weber Kettle to a Kamado-style cooker (such as a Green Egg) to the PK Grill to a Santa Maria style grill. After reading about the PK Grill (Aaron’s preferred grill), my interest is definitely piqued into potentially getting one of those, which can be used for steaks or for smoking and I think would be a perfect complement to my old Weber and my Oklahoma Joe offset.

Finally, Part II ends with an exploration of different types of fuel; that is – the various types of charcoal found around the world as well as all the varieties of woods suitable for grilling.

Finally, its grilling time, and Part III (“Steak Perfection”) gets down to business. After a short chapter on lighting the grill and some different set ups (in particular, the charcoal and accent long two-zone method known as the “Franklin Formation”), it’s time to grill the steaks. Using a science and evidence-based approach, the book walks through how to do each method (hot and fast, reverse sear, on the coals, and blast furnace over the top of a charcoal chimney) and pros and cons of each. Finally, the book ends with the self-explanatory “Sides, Sauces, and Drinks” to pair with steak.

Sprinkled throughout the book are short profiles on the best steakhouses in the world, from New York to Spain to Japan. Interesting but not essential for 99% of the us who will likely never make it to any of these hallowed institutions of beef.

Franklin and Mackay’s writing is smart and sharp but also accessible. You can tell they both know their stuff when it comes to the science of beef and steak. As was the case with “Franklin Barbecue,” throughout the book are wonderful photos by Wyatt McSpadden, the fantastic Texas photographer who has two barbecue books of his own (one of which we previously featured).

Rest assured, I will be purchasing the “Franklin Barbecue Collection” gift box set so I can have both of these books on my shelf. They are filled to the brim with so much information, that it will be nice to be able to return to them time and time again.

Available at Amazon or wherever you buy books