Staff Picks

Cookbook Roundup: Grilling and Barbecuing

Blyth Meier

July 31, 2020


If your garden harvest is overflowing, here are seven cookbooks to help when the only wise option is to throw everything on the grill.

Anyone who has a large home garden or subscribes to a CSA knows that when the harvest is coming in, it is coming in. It can be a race against the clock each day, each week, to process the glorious onslaught before it goes to waste. Which is why at my house, we have decided there is only one viable solution for speed and sweltering heat: throw everything on the grill. Hearty lettuces, sweet onions, thick planks of beets, fiery chili peppers, and summer squash of all shapes and sizes. For anyone else out there that is frantically trying to stay one step ahead of your garden, I have a treat for you: a big stack of cookbooks from the last year to utilize your outdoor cooking space, whether you are using a gas grill, a classic charcoal kettle grill, a steel drum barrel grill, a hibachi, a pig roasting box, or a plain ol’ open fire pit. Whatever your poison, we’ve got you covered.    


The Outdoor Kitchen: Live-Fire Cooking from the Grill by Eric Werner with Nils Bernstein, Ten Speed Press

Let’s start with a bang: do you want to build your own grill? This is the book for you. Eric Werner and his wife Mya moved to Tulum, Mexico a decade ago and have been cooking outside ever since. Their restaurant Hartwood sits where the jungle meets the beach and uses no electricity at all, just a big wood-fired grill that they designed and built themselves (with the help of an ironworker). Take advantage of their years of trial and error to set up your own outdoor kitchen wherever you live. Wener says “cooking outdoors over live fire defines what cooking is for me,” and it shows in this book where everything from rice and stock to garnish for cocktails and desserts takes a pass over the flames. His “modern version of outdoor cooking” translates the restaurant’s cooking style to American backyards and features dishes like Green Rice with Charred Broccoli, Ember-Roasted Onion Salad, Shrimp with Fermented Pineapple-Peanut Sauce, Hartwood Spiced Spareribs (made with his restaurant’s “Mexicanized version of Chinese five-spice powder”), and Black Peppercorn Panna Cotta with Stewed Plums. “Hopefully this book will broaden what outdoor cooking means to you.” For me, it does, indeed.


Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill: Classic Recipes for Seafood and Meats Cooked over Charcoal by Leela Punyaratabandhu, Ten Speed Press

It all started with an underwhelming chicken satay at an average American Thai restaurant. While she chewed on the bland, reheated meat on a stick, Leela Punyaratabandhu had a revelation. “The best place outside Southeast Asia to experience the region’s grilled and smoked dishes as they’re meant to be enjoyed is not, in fact, at an Asian restaurant. It’s in your own backyard.” For her third cookbook, the writer of the blog “She Simmers” shares with us dishes from the grills of her childhood in Thailand and the region at large as she travels between her homes in Chicago and Bangkok. Based on the Southeast Asian style of composing a meal (rice as the centerpiece and everything else is an accompaniment), the recipes in the book are highly seasoned to be the perfect counterbalance to the blandness of plain rice. You will be the envy of the neighborhood as your backyard is filled with aromas from Smoked Shrimp with Chile-Lime Dipping Sauce, Madura Chicken Satay with Easy Rice Cakes (which corrects my misconception that satay should be made with a long piece of chicken threaded onto a skewer), Grilled Pork-Sticky Rice Burgers (inspired by the sticky rice burgers at 7-Eleven in Thailand), Grilled Stuffed Lemongrass, and Grilled Corn with Coconut Sauce. And while the book is decidedly meat-centric, vegetarians can embrace the lime and fish sauce covered salads or easily swap out a plant-based protein to take advantage of the beautiful side salads or the multitude of sauces (for real, this book could just be sauces and I’d be happy) included here. 


Fire, Smoke, Green: Vegetarian Barbecue, Smoking and Grilling Recipes by Martin Nordin, Hardie Grant

It’s now time to introduce you to The Cabbage Butcher. Also known as Martin Nordin, he’s a chef, food stylist, and photographer based in Malmo, Sweden—and best known as the man behind IKEA’s veggie balls. His second book builds upon his previous, Green Burgers, and is a highly unique take on vegetarian grilling. He started his green grilling journey slowly with basics like portobellos and corn, but soon his curiosity took over, and “at some point, I was inspired to put an eggplant straight into the flames … suddenly a whole new universe had opened up to me.” This book that resulted from that initial impulse turns ideas of vegetarian food (unsubstantial!) and grilling (unrefined!) completely upside down, and I am obsessed. His singular take on the subject reveals recipes so unique that, truly, I don’t think I have seen any one of them in another cookbook before. This is just a small sample of what you will discover: Grilled Pimientos de Padrón with Crème Fraîche and grated kombu (on the cover), Leek: Four Ways (Pickled, Ash, Grilled, Mayonnaise), Whole Roasted Pineapple with Rum Coconut Cream, Salt-roasted Pears with Burrata and Grilled Black Kale, Charcoal-roasted Leek with Calypso Beans, Smoked Onions and Fennel Broth, and Fermented Potato Tortillas, which sound like an intriguing spin on Scandinavian lefse. Now: read that list again—slowly—and try to envision each dish. I promise you anything in your mind's eye will pale in comparison to the stunning food styling and photography in the book, all by Norton. Each page could be framed and hung in a gallery.


Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and Barbecue by Genevieve Taylor, Quadrille

If you’re looking for a more accessible introduction to vegetarian grilling, Genevieve Taylor is ready to help. In an industry dominated by men, Taylor founded the Bristol Fire School in the UK, a “machismo-free space in which to learn and enjoy fire, and most importantly, cook something great to share.” As you can tell from her helpful Instagram videos, it looks like a very welcoming place to learn the secrets of cooking with fire. What’s wonderful about this book is the flexibility of Taylor’s approach: “As a fire specialist most of my recent work centres around cooking outside, but I will always adapt recipes for inside cooking where I can.” To this end, she provides icons to flag recipes that can be adapted to inside cooking (oven, griddle, frying pan) for when the snow flies here wherever you live. Her recipes span a variety of global influences and feature dishes like Smoked Onion Soup, Black Olives, Thyme; Oyster Mushrooms and Baby Corn with Satay Sauce; Yakitori Tofu, Pineapple and Red Pepper,  Carrot and Cumin Fritters with Tahini and Coriander Yogurt; and Gozleme  — Stuffed Flatbreads with Feta and Spinach. This is a grilling book you can use all year long.


The Barbecue: Over 80 Recipes to Impress and Inspire by Alex Hamilton, HarperCollins

If you are looking for a good overview that also includes meat, this new book by another UK chef will fit the bill. Not overwhelming in any way, Alex Hamilton’s book is a great primer for someone new to the world of grilling, whether they are cooking with charcoal or gas. Her book presents easy to follow, flexible basics that allow you to mix-and-match proteins and marinades and sauces for maximum flexibility. (And as we all know from picky kid eaters or wide-ranging dietary preferences at large family gatherings, this is a key service she is providing here). Here you’ll find all the basics of barbecuing (kebabs, ribs, whole fish, pork pibil) along with with a few recipes further afield such as Pollo al Carbon with Achiote Marinade, Chickpea and Carrot Burgers, and Griddled Mango with Lime & Coconut. Helpful chapters on salads and desserts will round out your summer menu (The Ultimate Caesar Salad with Rosemary Croutons, Chocolate PB & J S’mores). This book is the perfect gift for someone who just bought their first grill.


Food and Fire: Create Bold Dishes with 65 Recipes to Cook Outdoors by Marcus Bawdon, Dog 'n' Bone Books

If your focus is less on exact technique and more about cooking over fire whenever and wherever you can, Marcus Bawdon’s book is for you. Editor of UK BBQ Magazine, Bawdon lives between Devon, England and Abeerdeen, Scotland. His book is a “look at the simplest barbecue techniques that use a minimal amount of kit, meaning anyone can achieve delicious results.” It is sectioned by cooking method so you can focus on what set-up you have available at the time—whether you are sitting around a campfire (Barbecue Campfire Beans), using a cast iron pan on top of your kettle grill (Cast-iron Peaches), rotating pizzas in your wood-fired oven (Wood-fired Pizzas with Rosemary and Scamorza), stoking the smoker for hours (Pulled Turkey with Alabama White Sauce), or shoving your food straight into glowing embers (Dirty Steak with Melted Bone Marrow). All of it is designed to get you in the grill game, however you can and with little fuss. Like Bowdon says, “If you are near a fire, you can cook!”


Serial Griller: Grillmaster Secrets for Flame-Cooked Perfection by Matt Moore, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Let’s wrap up this list with a good old-fashioned summer road trip! After a few cookbooks on his own, Nashville-based grilling advocate Matt Moore decided to take to our country’s Southern highways to gather stories from others as obsessed as him. Traveling over 10,000 miles to talk with both well-known and up-and-coming grillmasters, Moore shares stories and recipes from chefs ranging from Nashville to New Orleans and from Houston to Charleston (he even sneaks up North for a bit to see what’s cooking in Chicago and Philly). Moore has a casual, open-hearted approach to preaching the gospel of grilling. “Grilling is practiced in nearly every culture throughout the world. And because we are blessed with so much diversity in America, my goal is to feature as many types of cuisines, philosophies, techniques, and recipes as possible.” And he does just that with a collection of recipes that include Octopus Souvlaki, Grilled Flanken Ribs: Mexican and Korean Style, Cajun-Grilled Pig Tails, Flank Steak Vigneron with Black-Garlic Board Sauce, Grilled Picanha with Chimi de la Mesa, Grilled Soft-shell Crabs with Warm Herb Butter, Cremini Mushrooms Shishlik with Hazelnuts and Broccolini, and Sylvester Hoover’s Barbecue Chicken. The second half of the book features Moore’s own recipes, and while he presents an impressive range of dishes lightly touched by his Middle Eastern heritage, the one I can’t get out of my head is this: Grilled Doughnut Ice Cream Sandwiches. I mean, that right there is worth the price of the book alone.

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