Stories of the barbecue you love
By Doug Mosley
If there’s one thing I truly love about barbecue, it is the differences in styles from region to region. You could even make the case that there are sub-regions of barbecue style in our country. Wherever I go in my travels, I always make it a point to try the barbecue specialties of that place.
I think that is why I’ve always really enjoyed the books on barbecue that cover a specific region or state. There are many great books that cover all the differing styles across our nation within one volume, but none really capture the nitty gritty of what makes a certain style special. I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to introduce to you several excellent books that drilled down on a region and it is again my pleasure to bring another to you this month.
The Kentucky Barbecue Book by Wes Berry ($27.95, University Press of Kentucky, 384 pp.) is that book that every one of us has always aspired to write. Berry set out to tell the story of the food he craves in the state he loves, and he’s done a fine job of it. However, interestingly enough, the book he finished isn’t anything at all like the one he thought he would write. Berry admits up front that his ambition was to pen a travelogue of sorts, one that would document his travels as he took on the ambitious goal of sampling the wares at every barbecue joint in Kentucky. But he quickly realized the flaw to that sort of book: you can only say so many times that this place or that place has the best ribs or brisket or pulled pork or mutton that you’ve ever put in your mouth. He noted that it wasn’t long before his notes on each stop began to sound like a broken record, and that is when he truly realized the book that was waiting to be written, one that told the stories of Kentucky barbecue, including the people, the traditions, the secrets and the tales.
That was the key moment that turned Berry’s book from a simple recap of his own visits to a bunch of barbecue restaurants to one that tells the story, and thank goodness because in the end he tells the story so well. He still lists all the places he visited, but with that list you have the stories behind the places. He includes some recipes as well, but he also talks about who the recipe came from.
Berry also adds a couple of creative features. The first is a glossary of sorts, and it is unusual because it is located at the front of the book rather than back in the appendices where you usually find it. Under the title “How to Chew the Fat: Bluegrass Barbecue Lingo”, its placement probably has more to do to ensuring the reader has the definitions up front so that one will understand what is ahead. The other is a novel map of Kentucky barbecue regions. However, the map might throw one off a bit as all the regions are located in the western half of the state, leading one to surmise that perhaps this book should have been alternately titled The Western Kentucky Barbecue Book. But Berry explains later that there simply aren’t that many notable barbecue joints located in the mountainous eastern side of the state and then, as if to add validity to the point, he musters up four places that are east of Lexington. Thus, I won’t take him to task on his claim, but I’d also recommend he not go into any dark alleys east of I-75.
This really is a brilliant book and one that I enjoyed very much. I’m sure you will as well. Congrats to Wes Berry on his epiphany and the great book that resulted.
Let me ask your thoughts on a question that has been on my mind for some time now: does the popularity of sliders today have to do with the growing influence of Spain’s tapas styles on American cuisine or is it because there’s now a White Castle or a Krystal within a stone’s throw of just about everywhere? Whether it is the more high brow or the more pedestrian, there’s no doubt that those mini-burgers are everywhere these days. So it is just in time that we have this next new book, Burgers and Sliders: More Than 30 Gourmet Recipes by Miranda Ballard ($16.95, Ryland Peters & Small, 64 pp.).
The book opens with a couple of obligatory regular burger recipes, but from there it goes off the charts in creativity. There’s the Beef Wellington Burger in a Shortcrust Pastry Bun, Spicy Beef and Pork Sliders with Ginger and Lime, Pork and Apple Slider with Caramelized Apple Slices, Fish Pie Burger with Caper and Tartare Sauce, Chicken Caesar Sliders and Christmas Canape Sliders with Cranberry Sauce and Camembert, just to give you an idea of the selections. You can see just from those that this is the sort of book that will really get your culinary creative juices flowing. Plus, each recipe is accompanied by a full-color picture of the finished dish. You know what they say – you taste things first with your eyes. I know you’ll already be salivating just by looking at what you can create from these pages.
The back story to this book is it comes from a couple in England who opened a gourmet burgers business called Muddy Boots. They began by peddling their burgers at farmers markets and now have their products in grocery stores all across their country. You may not be able to get their burgers here in the U.S., but you can get this book.
Those of you who have followed this space for some time already know of my appreciation for bourbon whiskey. I reviewed several books about bourbon and bourbon-themed mixology, many of them very favorably. I count myself fortunate that I currently reside nearby the world’s greatest bourbon producing region and have easy access to the very best products. In my mind, there are four beverages that are ideally suited to be served with barbecue: sweet tea, a region’s iconic soft drink (Cheerwine in the Carolinas, RC in south Georgia, Dr. Pepper in Texas, etc.), cold beer and bourbon.
I’ve always enjoyed the books that took at stab at telling the history of bourbon. That’s not as easy as you might think it would be; for you see, bourbon’s story is as full of tall tales as you might find at any barbecue cookoff. Sorting out who were the true fine bourbon makers from who were the scoundrels back in those early days requires some careful investigation and fortunately for us, author Michael R. Veach has done that in writing his new book, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage ($24.95, University Press of Kentucky, 224 pp.).
Veach is a renowned expert on bourbon history and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. In his book, he goes all the way back to the earliest known accounts of bourbon which came in the decades following the Revolutionary War. He parallels the story with the historical events of our nation – the industrial revolution, the Civil War, prohibition and World Wars I and II. Along with prohibition, he also covers the effects of government regulation and taxation on bourbon through the years.
It’s not easy to write a book of history on anything. It’s even harder to write on that is readable. To his credit, Veach has written an excellent book that is complete, detailed and a pleasure to read. In his own words in the preface, Veach tells the story of his editor convincing him that such a book needn’t be “exhaustive”. He certainly accomplished that with this book.
While we’re on the topic of fine bourbon, let me tell you about a book that focuses entirely on one (mostly but not always) bourbon drink. If there were to be a homage written to a deserving mixed beverage, then this is the book and the drink – The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail by Albert W. Schmid ($14.95, University Press of Kentucky, 128 pp.).
The Old Fashioned lays claim to being the original cocktail and there’s enough documented history available to earn that honor. But most likely the cocktail came first generically and the anachronistic name would be assigned during the latter half of the 19th century. A beverage of the appropriate ingredients is first called a cocktail in the early 1800s but it wouldn’t be until the 1880s that a Louisville club is credited with the Old Fashioned name. Of course, there are alternatives to this story that trace the roots to other cities and Schmid acknowledges those in this book. Nonetheless, he give the nod to the Pendennis Club as the most likely originator of The Old Fashioned name.
Schmid’s book is an incredibly detailed account of the history (yep, even more than the paragraph above) of The Old Fashioned. And I do mean detailed. He breaks it down so far as to talk about the various ingredients that came to make up The Old Fashioned. He also tells the story of how The Old Fashioned glass came to be. There is a load of information that Schmid has painstakingly assembled and I can confidently guarantee that upon finishing this book, you’ll know more about The Old Fashioned than any of your friends or acquaintances.
Back to Top