BOOK REVIEW

Project Smoke, Diva Q's Barbecue, and The One True Barbecue

I've been writing in this space for well over a decade now, and there have been literally hundreds of books that have been presented for your consideration. Over the course of time, many of those books have been a second or third (or more) book for an author and I've often pondered in my review what that person left for themselves to tackle next. You see, it's my observation many first-time authors put everything they have into that initial book and, once it is a smashing success, leave little in their area of expertise to follow up on for a possible next book. There are many that have overcome this obstacle – Ray Lampe, Judith Fertig and Karen Adler, Cheryl and Bill Jamison, and Jamie Purviance are a few that come to mind – and many more just don't. Thankfully, that's not the case at all for one very active writer, Steven Raichlen, because this year he has released his ninth print book on barbecue, Project Smoke: Seven Steps to Smoked Food Nirvana ($22.95, Workman Publishing, 294 pp.).

It's always amazed me how prolific authors like Raichlen manage to find new content to cover and then produce outstanding books. Raichlen began with The Barbecue! Bible, followed it up with Barbecue! Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades, then went the route of specializing, as in the case of How to Grill, Raichlen's Indoor! Grilling, Raichlen on Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs, and Beer-Can Chicken. He did mix in a couple of broad topic books - BBQ USA and Planet Barbecue! – but you can see how in the others he zeroed in on a topic and really covered it in great detail. That's what he has done in Project Smoke – narrowing his perspective to only smoke cooking and bringing the reader along step-by-step as he covers the topic in detail.

If you're a fan of Raichlen's other books then you'll find this one to be familiar in construction and tone. He always takes a very systematic approach to relating his story and does so in a manner that is very readable. He and his publisher place a priority on accenting the words with plenty of pictures. All in all, it sets a very high standard that Raichlen has admirably managed to maintain over the past 18 years.

Raichlen's seven steps won't be much of a surprise to any reader of this publication: 1) Choose your smoker, 2) Source your fuel, 3) Assemble your tools, 4) Flavor your food, 5) Select your smoking method, 6) Light your fire, and 7) Know when your food is done. He covers each of these in his first chapter before launching into 10 chapters of recipes that are a surprise. Especially the one on cocktails. And I don't mean a tacked on chapter of cocktail recipes, I mean a chapter on smoked cocktails complete with the hows and whys on infusing smoke into your drinks and a few recipes to try it out.

There's plenty more, including chapters of recipes on all the standard categories and even more helpful information on smokers and tips in the final chapter. It all sums up into yet another outstanding book by Raichlen and one you need to have on your bookshelf.

Diva Q, a.k.a. Danielle Bennett, is another amongst us who has risen from barbecue circuit competitor to TV personality and now author. There've been others who gone this way before; some have done it very well (Myron Mixon, Chris Lilly, Dr. BBQ and so on) and others who haven't (we won't be naming names). I've enjoyed Bennett's TV shows but I was admittedly skeptical of her book since that seems to be where others have slipped up before her by churning out something that is much the same (or less) than those before it. However, to Bennett's credit, she deftly avoided that trap with an excellent new book, Diva Q's Barbecue: 195 Recipes for Cooking with Family, Friends & Fire ($24.95, Appetite by Random House, 278 pp.).

So how did Bennett avoid the pitfall and turn out a great book that I'm recommending to you? First, she injected her personality into the writing to make her book fun, sassy and relatable. She speaks from personal experiences and talks about what her family likes about the recipes she includes. Second, she made sure to be unique, but not too unique that it leaves the reader confused. She lives by her tattooed mantra "Family, Friends & Fire." I also like how she begins her book with a chapter titled Six Recipes You Need to Know, and they're not the standard ribs/chicken/brisket/pork/other/other but rather some building blocks for her cooking: Basic Brine, Smoked Garlic, Flavored butters, Cold-Smoked Cheese, Basic Big Burgers and Reverse-Seared Steaks.

The chapters of recipes are really creative, or better described as not-the-usuals. Among her appetizers is Smoked Kale Chips and Cold-Smoked Cheddar-Pimento Cheese. Belly, Jelly and Biscuits from pork, Rib Eye Tacos from beef, Grilled Greek Turkey Burgers from poultry, Shrimp and Lobster-Stuffed Calamari from seafood and lots, lots more. There's even a chapter on bacon!

So whether you know Diva Q from the cookoff circuit, seen her on TV or are her Florida neighbor (She's just up the road from me! Albeit a long road.), you're sure to appreciate the personality of this book. Its well-done and one you'll be wanting to put on your bookshelf.

We just don't have enough books come along that tell the great stories of barbecue. There have been some that I love and read over and over, such as Lolis Eric Elie's Smokestack Lightning and Doug Worgul's The Grand Barbecue. There've been others but it just seems like these are few and far between, which is curious because think of all the great stories there are around barbecue.

Well then, the great news is there is an outstanding new book out by an exceptional writer who has ties to the Southern Foodways Alliance, which you'll likely recall as part of the Southern Culture Center at Ole Miss and has been a leader in supporting writings from along the barbecue trail. Author Rien Fertel found a wonderful story to share in The One True Barbecue: Fire, Smoke, and the Pitmasters Who Cook the Whole Hog ($25, Touchstone, 274 pp.).


Fertel tells his stories through the perspectives of pitmasters in Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. As you would imagine, this book speaks to hard work, family, faith and the challenges that go with upholding a century-long tradition.
The story is so well-told that this book reads like a conversation. I swear you'll be able to smell the smoke from the wood fires as you flip through the pages. Get this book, settle back in your favorite chair and thoroughly enjoy this.

There's a new book out on cocktails, which really isn't news at all because there are literally dozens of new books on cocktails. So let me re-state this in a way that better captures what makes thisone different: there's a great new book out on cocktails that emphasizes history as more than just trying to create a bunch of new concoctions and this book is written by a pair of accomplished food writers instead of moonlighting bartenders. The book is The New Cocktail Hour: The Essential Guide to Hand-Crafted Drinks by Andre Darlington and Tenaya Darlington ($22, Running Press, 298 pp.).

I really liked this book because they didn't overlook the classics while at the same time including new trends in mixology (i.e., Farm-to-Glass Cocktails, No-Proof and Low-Proof Cocktails). Plus, they wrote this book in a very straightforward manner that doesn't make the reader feel as if they'd need a Ph.D. just to decipher the recipes. I also liked how they interspersed lots of informational sidebars throughout the book. For instance, in the introductory chapter they included short reads titled How to Host a Party With Three Basic Bottles, What to Eat With What You Shake, and Five Tips for Making a Cocktail Tonight.

Any time a book is titled or subtitled Essential Guide it sets an impossibly high standard for itself. If you take that term literally, every such book fails to attain that goal from the moment it goes to print because things change. However, The New Cocktail Hour works very hard to earn that Essential Guide subtitle and I know you'll appreciate the effort in this new book.

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