It Is What It Is.

The Barbecue Bible, by Steven Raichlen. Workman, 1998

Reviewed by Steve Holetz

As the days start to get longer, and I find myself gazing longingly at my beat up Weber, one of the
first books I pick up is The Barbecue Bible by Stephen Raichlin. This fine cookbook never fails to
ignite my passion to barbecue once again. Whether I am looking for a specific recipe, or sifting for
ideas to combine for the evening’s meal, this title has become an invaluable resource in my kitchen,
or more precisely, on my back porch.

The book begins with a chapter on grill preparation and techniques, which as a novice I found
extremely useful. It took me some time to figure out the idiosyncrasies of my little grill, especially
when attempting such big boy techniques as cooking a six pound pork shoulder to falling-off-the-bone,
melt-in-your-mouth tenderness at a steady temperature of 275 degrees for six hours, while simultaneously
regulating the smoke from my beer-soaked hickory chips and the heat from an hourly replenishment
of briquettes. However, Raichlen’s guidance here is excellent, and will soon have you tasting your
’cue and thinking that maybe you SHOULD enter that Memphis in May thing. 

When it comes to recipes, the word “Bible” in the title is no exaggeration. The Barbecue Bible
contains over 500 recipes covering everything from everyday recipes for hamburgers, steaks, and
chicken to more exotic recipes such as Vietnamese Grilled Beef and Basil Rolls, and Guadeloupean
Grilled Crayfish with Curry Buerre Blanc.

On the barbecue side, the recipes here were the first that I attempted for each of the“Big 3 of Barbecue”:
Carolina-style Pulled Pork, Texas-style Barbecued Brisket, and Kansas City-style ribs. All three
recipes turn out an amazing product, the highlight of many a summer afternoon for my family and friends.
Additionally, I have tried my hand at both the Tandoori Chicken and Shrimp recipes as well as his Beer
Can chicken (a fantastic technique!), and used a number of his ideas for grilled vegetables, all of which
are simple to cook and splendidly flavorful. I still look forward to trying a few of his grilled flatbread
recipes. There are also a wide variety of salads to be found here, one of my personal favorites being
the Iranian Shirazi Cucumber, Tomato and Onion salad, a lovely light, crisp and flavorful accompaniment
to a summer meal.

Raichlin's sauce recipes are top notch as well. The standout Carolina mustard sauce is exquisite, and
better than any bottled sauce of this style I have tried. The sweet, tangy and spicy flavors simply
explode in your mouth. The vinegar sauce is also simple yet magnificent, either as a sauce lacing the
aforementioned pulled pork, or as a base for a simple, crisp, cole slaw. In comparison, I found
Raichlen’s basic barbecue sauce the least brilliant of the three, but I have yet to find a recipe that is
perfect for my taste, so I will probably stick with variations of this one until I do. It is more
than acceptable. The one condiment that was less successful in my opinion was his version of
Chimichurri. A spicy, garlicky, parsley filled sauce/paste which is the traditional accompaniment to
grilled meats in South America, I found that the recipe here was but a pale imitation in comparison
to the family recipe of my friend Gonzalo, but what are you gonna do about that?

The book is pleasant to look at, with attractive woodcut-type art throughout, and occasional
photos. The recipes are well-organized by type of food (sauces, fish, pork, beef, etc.) and interspersed
with technique tips and explanations, and informational sidebars. For example a two page essay on
the state of Argentine grilling, or his search for the best Tuscan steak, the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.
These essays are part travelogue, and really enjoyable to read, as Raichlen’s enthusiasm for all
things grilled shines through. My only complaint with the format has nothing to do with the author
at all but with the publisher. Workman’s books in this paperback format are huge, with a great
deal of information and a good value for the money, but if you cook from them as frequently as I
do, the spines ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS crack. I am on my third copy of The
Barbecue Bible as I write this.

Most of the ingredients you will need for these recipes can be found at your local grocery store,
butcher, or fish market. Although many of the recipes are international and call for rare ingredients,
Raichlen always provides substitutions that are easy to find. Additionally, some cuts of meat you
may have to ask you butcher to cut for you, but for me that’s always part of the fun. 

So what are you waiting for? If you enjoy the smell and flavor of grilled food, be it vegetable,
meat, or fish, buy this book now! It is a great read, and as formidable an addition to your cooking
arsenal as you are likely to find on the subject of grilling. Thank you, Mr.Raichlen!  


  Copyright  2007 Steven J Holetz

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