Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A trio of new barbecue books adds sizzle to the grill

It's summer time and the living — or at least the entertaining — is definitely easy. After all, what could be easier than hosting a barbecue for the Fourth of July when you can fire up the grill, dry rub the steaks and whip up some side dishes, slathers and slops, with a little help from our towering pile of new barbecue cookbooks.

This season's crop of BBQ cookbooks features expertise from Southern grill masters and pork devotees, as well as Spike Mendelsohn of "Top Chef" fame and world champion pitmaster Chris Lilly, culinary consultant for Oakland's Kingsford Charcoal.

It's an inspiring, overwhelming array. So we enlisted the help of a few foodie friends and started plowing through the books, testing recipes, tossing aside anything that required digging pits, roasting whole pigs or expending 14 hours on a single meal.

When all was said and done, we were left clutching just a few, sauce-spattered books, whose interpretations of sliders, slabs and sides knocked our socks off. Here's what we're serving at our next barbecue.

When Spike Mendelsohn first appeared on Bravo-TV's "Top Chef" with his signature pork pie hat and larger-than-life personality, he was riding high as the chef de cuisine of New York City's Mai House, the critically acclaimed Vietnamese restaurant run by prolific restaurateur Michael Bao Huynh (who is slated to open an Oakland eatery later this year). But these days, Mendelsohn is all about comfort
food as the chef-owner of Washington, D.C.'s Good Stuff Eatery, a burgers and shakes joint frequented by the Obamas.

His "Good Stuff Cookbook: Burgers, Fries, Shakes, Wedges and More" (John Wiley & Sons, $24.95, 256 pages) may not be a barbecue book per se, but everything in it will wow guests at your next grill fest. And each flavorful component does double duty in other dishes. For example, the homemade chipotle barbecue sauce you use to top his Colletti's Smokehouse Burger, which we served as sliders, adds sizzle to Big B's Baked Beans, an incendiary bacon, molasses and chipotle-spiked side dish. And the zesty pickled carrots and daikon that top his Vietnamese-inspired Blazin' Barn slider give a neon-hued, mint-flecked Red Cabbage Slaw unbelievable pop. You may never make traditional coleslaw again.

Chris Lilly, executive chef of Alabama's Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q and holder of 10 world barbecue championships, takes a more traditional approach with his "Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book" (Clarkson Potter, $24.99, 256 pages). We took a pass on his recipe for whole pig (it takes 14 hours and serves 70), and we groaned over the number of ingredients required for his Memphis-Style Championship Red Sauce. While we're still not convinced that you need 23, the resulting sauce is sweet and zesty and gave our grilled baby back ribs a glossy, succulent shine.

Lilly may be a Southern gentleman, but he's got Bay Area connections, too, as spokesman for Oakland's famous charcoal company and an instructor at "Kingsford University," the company's barbecue school. And Lilly's suggestions for honey-balsamic-glazed grilled vegetables and a layered chopped salad that evokes everyone's favorite Seven-Layer Dip would be at home at any California barbecue, especially if you add some chopped romaine to the layers of cornbread, salsa and beans.

Florida grillmaster and Food Network regular Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe has condensed 20 years of barbecue know-how into "Ribs, Chops, Steaks & Wings" (Chronicle Books, $19.95, 132 pages), a tidy little hardcover with tasty photos by San Francisco photographer Leigh Beisch. We eyed Lampe's recipe for Peanut Butter and Jelly Chicken Wings with something akin to horror. But his instructions for chili-rubbed rib eye steaks with cilantro butter and barbecued ribs are clear winners. And you can use his Rib Rub #99 on just about anything.

By Jackie Burrell
Contra Costa Times

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