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BOOK REVIEW

Overcoming the challenges of writing a book on the history of barbecue

By Doug Mosley
doug_mosley@hotmail.com

It’s not easy to do a book on barbecue history. So many disputed tales – including the origin of the word itself – and the transient nature of the culture makes it difficult to make much of anything completely accurate and free of bias. But there are several books that overcame the challenges and stand as excellent volumes on barbecue history: Doug Worgul’s The Grand Barbecue: A Celebration of the History, Places, Personalities and Techniques of Kansas City Barbecue is probably my all-time favorite.

As you can see by the subtitle, Worgul’s book focused strictly on Kansas City and that seems to be how many have managed to be reliable, specializing on a specific region. There are several that have done Texas well and the Carolinas have been covered, too. But I can’t recall any book that took a swing at doing Memphis and when you consider how significant that region has been in barbecue history, I find that a remarkable oversight.

Fortunately, there is a new book that fills that void, Memphis Barbecue: A Succulent History of Smoke, Sauce & Soul by Craig David Meek ($19.99, The History Press, 128 pp.). Meek is a former newspaperman and current proprietor of the “Memphis Que” blog. A native of Memphis and graduate of the city’s namesake university, he has a dream job now that permits him to expense his sales calls lunches as part of his goal to dine in every barbecue restaurant in town. Along the way, he decided to put those j-school chops to work and author this book.

The first thing you notice about Memphis Barbecue is how much work went into reaching back in history. And I don’t mean asking for the story and photos of a decades-old institution but rather finding places that were once icons but now no longer exist. That’s the hard part. Meek’s research for this book must have been incredible and the payoff is a really well-done book.

Meek tracks back to the 1920s to begin his Memphis barbecue timeline, although he admits that’s it pretty much impossible to peg the exact date of the first joint. He traces its development as it paralleled the development of Beale Street and the growth of the local music scene. Meek wisely includes a chapter on competition barbecue and another recognizing those who achieved a level of fame – the Neely family, Corky’s, and John Willingham, among others.

If you consider yourself a student of barbecue history, this book will be a thoroughly enjoyable read for you. It was time for someone to write this book and Craig David Meek stepped up and did it well.

It just makes sense that lovers of all things ‘cue like you and I would be a good fit for the Paleo movement. That’s the culinary style that you may have heard called caveman cuisine since its basis is eating foods that are unprocessed and prepared much like are long-ago ancestors may have eaten them. You can’t get much more Paleo than grilling and now there is a new book out on that topic, Paleo Grilling: A Modern Caveman’s Guide to Cooking With Fire, by Tony Federico and James William Phelan ($22.99, Fair Winds Press, 176 pp.).

This book is perfect for the Paleo beginner, opening with a fact-filled introduction that surprised me with new details, and I thought I was well informed on Paleo. There’s also a great section on how to set up your Paleo-friendly pantry. Then the book launches into the generally familiar food chapters of recipes with many accented by full-color pictures of the finished dish.

The authors are a pair of Paleo converts – one a chef, the other a trainer – who made the diet switch after they found that others weren’t working for them. They’ve come together to create an excellent book that will surely bring forth many more converts. So if you’re Paleo-curious or just getting started, this book is for you. If you’re already made the switch, there’s plenty available among the 100-plus recipes in the book to keep you grilling all summer long.

Since its summer time and that means vacations, let’s take an armchair trip across the ocean to the vibrant country of Spain. It’s a wonderful land of art and culture, but that’s not what we’re going to focus on in our little pipedream trip. We’re going to talk about food, particularly Spain’s devotion to cured meats. The book that’s going to take us there is Charcuteria: The Soul of Spain by Jeffrey Weiss ($39.95, Surrey Books, 462 pp.).

Let me say up front that this book is the real deal. Really. It is so authentic that I probably need to warn you within the first few pages you’ll see a hog butchering that literally begins with a throat cutting and bleed out. But let’s face it, that’s part of what it takes to make the sausage, so if you’re OK with that, then you’ll really enjoy this book. Beyond the aforementioned pics, the photography really is one of the book’s strong points. From the scene-setting opening chapters to the wealth of recipes in the later pages, this book is well illustrated.

Spain has always been well known for its Iberian ham, pancetta and other cured meats and Charcuteria covers that and much more in great detail. It checks in a nearly 500 pages and each one is jam-packed with content. American sausage master Bruce Aidells contributes a cover blurb that refers to it as “a definitive cookbook” on Spain’s world-class charcuteria and I don’t know that I could have said it better.

 

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