The gold standard of the greatest BBQ recipes…ever

By Doug Mosley

If there is a gold standard amongst media in the broad spectrum of the culinary world it must be America's Test Kitchen, which represents a TV show and two periodicals – Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country – as well as a Boston-area test kitchen where content for each is developed. America's Test Kitchen also publishes books from time to time and a recent release is one that is sure to become a new favorite, Master of the Grill: Foolproof Recipes, Top-Rated Gadgets, Gear & Ingredients Plus Clever Test Kitchen Tips & Fascinating Food Science ($29.95, 464 pp.).

I say this will be a favorite assuming that, like me, you're a fan of all things America's Test Kitchen. As a matter of full disclosure, I have been a subscriber to both Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country for longer than I can remember and the television show is programmed in to my DVR to record every new episode. I like the books for the same reasons that draw me to the TV show and magazines – they're straightforward and packed with pertinent and useful information assembled by an expert staff whose work in recipe development and product testing are practically beyond compare. I feel like if I read it or hear it from these sources, it absolutely must be reliable and well-thought-out.

Product testing is one of their hallmarks and it is because neither the TV show nor the magazines accept advertising that they are able to present opinions with an enviable level of freedom and candidness. The reviews are pretty cut and dried and it must seem like a death knell to any new, aspiring product that receives the dreaded Not Recommended or Recommended with Reservations assessment.

I've been a long-time admirer and have always appreciated the lengths they go to for their reviews. If you've read this space for long, you no doubt remember my annual edict about presenting honest-yet-generally-positive reviews here and let silence be our word on anything less than that. In part, that's because it's how Mama raised us but there's another deeper reason as well. To be completely non-partisan and factual in a review of a product or a recipe requires more expert judgments than just one and that's where America's Test Kitchen sets itself apart from everyone else. They go to lengths to ensure all aspects have been considered and opposing views have been heard.

Master of the Grill is literally packed with almost 500 pages of expertly vetted recipes, reviews and tips. If there is a grilling issue you've pondered it could very well be covered in this book and, if it is, I guarantee it was tested and re-tested before an answer was given. For instance, we've all been lectured time and again to never use a fork to handle steaks on the grill because poking the meat causes it to lose moisture. Count that myth as busted after side-by-side testing that included weighing the steaks pre- and post-grill to determine how much moisture was lost. That tidbit was offered through a recurring feature titled Food Science, and there are others for Gadgets & Gear, Grill Hacks, Shopping IQ, and more.

I think you'll also appreciate how this book was assembled. It's only three chapters (albeit long chapters), with the first one titled "The Basics," the second "The Easy Upgrades," and the last "The Serious Projects." The idea is that the first chapter covers all the basic skills and food groups and then the next two chapters offer recipes that are more challenging. So in chapter one you have a recipe called A Turkey Burger Worth Eating, then in chapter two it becomes Turkey Burgers with a Meaty Punch, this time with some surprising ingredients to make the dish even better.
Thus, if you're already a fan of America's Test Kitchen, you won't be surprised at all by the great stuff served up in these pages. If you're not yet a fan, you will be after your very first read of this book.

Kent "The Deck Chef" Whitaker is certainly familiar to regular readers of the National Barbecue News since his byline and mug shot are on the very next page (or two pages over and the page just past or wherever, I have no idea where this is located in relation to his excellent monthly feature!). As well as being a NBN regular, he's the pride of Tennessee for he has accomplished in the pursuit of great 'cue, either by teaching others about it in one of his classes or writing about it. His previous book, Smoke in the Mountains, was positively reviewed in this space. As a disclaimer, even though we both write for this publication I've never met Whitaker nor has he asked me to review his books.

So with that introduction and understanding, let me tell you thatWhitaker's new book, Great American Grilling: The Ultimate Backyard Barbecue & Tailgating Cookbook ($21.95, Great American Publishers, 288pp.) is perfect for you to buy rightnow. After all, we are coming into one of the most competitive stretches of the year: tailgating season! Some folks may think competing at those championships in Kansas City or Memphis or Lynchburg might be pressure-packed, but they obviously don't know the real pressure of having the most talked-about ribs at Saturday's tailgate, especially if that clown in the space next to yours somehow manages to be the one.

In Great American Grilling, Whitaker puts his talents and creativity on display with an well-illustrated book of sure-winner recipes. He opens with a brief section on tailgating tips and then gets right into the dishes, opening with Sizzling Starters (Rooster Sauce Bacon-Wrapped Onion Rings; Oktoberfest Sausage, Potato and Cabbage Packets with Mustard Beer Sauce), then onto Serious Grilling (Asiago Pressato Cheeseburgers with Caramelized Red Onions, Bourbon and Butter Mopped Baby Back Ribs) and finishes with Something Extra (Tex-Mex Cast Iron Trail Beans, Tennessee Whiskey Pecan Pie).

All in all, it's a great book. It may be just my guess, but I wouldn't be shocked if Whitaker goes from being The Deck Chef to The Tailgate Champ after this book.

I was once at a career crossroads and while pondering my future pursuits (and apparently being hungry at the moment), happened across the idea of touring across the U.S.A. with the goal of sampling all of the various style and types and flavors of ribs, whether they be pork spareribs or baby backs, beef ribs, country-style pork ribs or other great dishes featuring ribs. I became so excited over this concept and I was ready to jump into the car and dash off to parts unknown, but…I found out Arthur Aguirre had already done this and he wrote a book about it. So instead of hitting the highway to sample all those ribs, I save myself a bunch of money and lots of time by simply picking up America's Best Ribs: 100 Recipes for the Best. Ribs. Ever ($24.99, Skyhorse Publishing, 204 pp.).

Aguirre is likely familiar to many of you through his competition barbecue team, Fireside Smokers, or his blog and social media under the name Major League Grilling. The St. Louis-based author is also a contributor to and he'd previously written America's Best Barbcue: Recipes and Techniques for Prize-Winning Ribs, Wings, Brisket, and More, also released by Skyhorse.

The book really runs the full range of possibilities with ribs, whether it be Mexican Adobo Spareribs, Char Sui Pork Ribs, PB&J Baby Back Ribs, Coffee-Crusted Beef Short Ribs, Pacific Coast Country-Style Ribs or many, many others. But the chapter I found to be most unique was the one titled Off The Bone Rib Recipes. The dishes basically took cooked ribs minus the bones, using the meat in different recipes such as Beer Battered Rib Balls, Short Rib Nachos, Smoked Rib Pizza and the incredible sounding 50/50 Frankenburger.

Aguirre closes out with a catch-all chapter on rubs, sauces and sides, etc. But what I really got a kick out of is in his acknowledgements page where he makes mention of his wife, Jamie, who is a vegetarian. Now that's true love.

As I said before, tailgate season is here and I'm pretty sure you've been planning the astounding foods you'll be serving pre-game for some time now. But how much thought have you given to beverages? Sure, I realize most tailgates are simply stocked with a cooler (or two or three) full of ice-cold beers, but have you ever noticed that the really rocking tailgate parties always seem to be the ones where everybody is holding a red cup? Yep, there's a reason Toby Keith wrote an ode to that ubiquitous red cup and now there's a book to fill you in on the rest. Red Cup Nation: 100 Party Drink Recipes by Shane Carley ($18.95, Cider Mill Press, 176 pp.) will be your new guide to really get your party rolling.

This is a fun book from cover to cover, from how it is laid out and written to what the content contains. There are recipes for big-batch punches, shots and even classic cocktails. And for entertainment there is a chapter of party games that go well with all those red cups. Thoughtfully, there is also a chapter of recommended hangover cures, so this book has it all for you. Get this book, form your new plans and go throw the tailgate party that will sure to be the envy of all.

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