New barbecue books appear regularly, a testament to the enduring popularity of a distinctly American food and the people who created and continue the traditions.
Earlier this year, for example, I received a review copy of Texas BBQ, written by a Swede. The book was making its way to the U.S. after being published a few years ago in Sweden and the United Kingdom. Lone Star barbecue has fans everywhere.
While Jonas Cramby’s book is a serviceable take on the Texas barbecue phenomenon, it’s not what we’re looking for in this post.
With the help of other Posse members, we offer a compilation of the best BBQ books of all time, many of them, of course, focused on Texas.
Some include many recipes. Others don’t. All of them, though, offer insights into why we continue to love and appreciate barbecue. The people, their back stories, the music, the cultures, the variety of recipes and techniques are as important as the food itself.
Long-time readers will notice the inclusion of a book that I once criticized for being too negative, too much about bad barbecue, The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn. Credit the wisdom of the Posse crowd for this reconsideration.
Please holler at us if you agree with our picks for the best BBQ books, and holler even louder if you think we missed a great book:
* Smokestack Lightning, Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country, by Lolis Eric Elie, photographs by Frank Stewart. First published in 1996 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, reissued in 2005 by Ten Speed Press. Includes a chapter on the poetics of barbecue. Yes, smoking meat is an art form.
* Peace, Love and Barbecue by Mike Mills and Amy Mills Tunnicliffe, a father-daughter team. Published in 2005 by Rodale. The book’s subtitle tells the story: “Recipes, secrets, tall tales, and outright lies from the legends of barbecue.”
* Franklin Barbecue, A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay. Photographs by Wyatt McSpadden. Published in 2015 by Ten Speed Press. This book is by and and about the most famous pit master in the modern world.
* Texas BBQ by Wyatt McSpadden, published in 2009 by the University of Texas Press. Probably THE classic barbecue photography book.
* Walter Jetton’s LBJ Barbecue Cook Book, by Walter Jetton. Published in 1965 by Pocket Books. Jetton, the self styled “King of Barbecue,” was LBJ’s pit master of choice when he hosted dignitaries at his Texas ranch.
* Legends of Texas BBQ Cook Book by Robb Walsh. First published in 2002 and updated in 2016 by Chronicle Books. “Southern barbecue is a proud thoroughbred whose bloodlines are easily traced,” Walsh writes in his introduction. “Texas barbecue is a feisty mutt with a whole lot of crazy relatives.”
* Barbecue Crossroads, Notes & Recipes from a Southern Odyssey, by Robb Walsh, with photographs by O. Rufus Lovett. Published in 2013 by the University of Texas Press. The first chapter — “Pits and Pulpits” — starts with one of the Posse’s all-time favorites, pit master-preacher Baby J McKenzie at Baby J’s Bar B Que and Fish in Palestine, Tx. The place has since closed.
* Republic of Barbecue by Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt. Published in 2009 by the University of Texas Press. Has a chapter on Cavemen and Fire Builders and, in a section on Brides and Brisket, wonders if “bridesmaids dresses actually look better with barbecue sauce.”
* The Prophets of Smoked Meat, A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, by Daniel Vaughn. Photographs by Nicholas McWhirter. Published in 2013 by HarperCollins. Vaughn and McWhirter traveled more than 10,000 miles and visited more than 200 joints for this comprehensive look at Lone Star barbecue.
* Fire & Smoke, A Pitmaster’s Secrets by Chris Lilly. Published in 2014 by Clarkson Potter. This year, Lilly and his Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Que team were grand champions for a record fifth time at the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. Any book with a recipe for a grilled bloody Mary belongs on a list of best BBQ books.
* Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book, Recipes & Secrets, by Chris Lilly. First published in 2009 by Potter/TenSpeed/Harmony. Secrets from the famous Decatur, Ala., joint. Lilly is married to the great-granddaughter of BBQ legend Big Bob Gibson.
* Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling by Meathead Goldwyn. Published in 2016 by Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Nobody beats Meathead, who also runs Amazingribs.com, for understanding the science behind the cooking.
* Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room by Mellisa Cookston. Published in 2014 by Andrews McMeel. Cookston, a video celebrity as well as a pit master, is also a past champion at Memphis in May. The subtitle of her book calls her the “Winningest Woman in Barbecue.”
* Dinosaur Bar B Que, An American Roadhouse, by John Stage and Nancy Radke, photographs by James Scherzi. Published in 2001 by Ten Speed Press. Traces this restaurant operation from its beginning at a 1983 Harley Davidson rally in Upstate New York and includes the absolutely best recipe for coleslaw that I’ve ever eaten.
And there you have it, the Posse’s list of the best BBQ books of all time.