Most barbecue and grilling cookbooks are pretty much the same.
They tell you the differences between cookers, they explain the types of fire-building — direct and indirect — and they give you an overview of the flavors imparted by various woods.
Some of my favorite books this season are different. They succeed primarily because they stretch the boundaries of live-fire cooking, deepen our understanding of it, or both.
“Praise the Lard” by Mike Mills and Amy Mills (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): This father-daughter team is barbecue royalty. Mike has won numerous championships on the competition circuit, operates his own highly regarded restaurants and helped open New York’s Blue Smoke, which helped ignite the city’s barbecue mania. Amy runs OnCue Consulting, which advises barbecue restaurants, and she is a judge on cooking shows. In 2005, the pair published the James Beard Award-nominated “Peace, Love, & Barbecue.”
Where the earlier work drew on secrets from pit masters nationwide, “Praise the Lard” springs more from the duo’s own background. The recipes reflect barbecue’s recent trend toward using humanely raised and higher-quality meats.
The play on words of the book’s title continues with religious imagery throughout: “Choirs of angels” sing the praises of the appetizers; their overview on smoking meat is called a “sermon” with “a little fire-and-brimstone testimony.” (They say they are Christians who “intend neither blasphemy nor disrespect with our language and our metaphors.”)
One of the delights of the book is Amy’s recollections of childhood culinary lessons, often learned at the knee of her grandmother.
“Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke” by Elliott Moss (Voyageur Press): A rising star of next-generation barbecue, Moss is the pit master at Buxton Hall BBQ in Asheville, N.C. This book, which came out last fall, is as much a worldview as a collection of recipes.
Moss is from the no-rules school of barbecue. He has a recipe for smoked fried catfish, a fish that’s hardly a staple at barbecue joints.
The Florence, S.C., native cooks whole hog using only hardwoods, as his father and grandfather did. But his sides probably aren’t handed down from his ancestors: Brussels sprouts, a Buxton Hall signature, come in two versions, one roasted with pig drippings and cracklins, the other braised and vegetarian.
“Red, White, and ‘Que’” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press): The so-called “BBQ Queens” from Kansas City have a knack for turning out reliable, interesting grilling books, from the well-received “The Gardener and the Grill” to “BBQ Bistro.”
This one feels a little unfocused, an Americana/seasonal/regional blend, but with dashes of international influences.
Still, the well-written recipes are solid and color just outside the lines, with the likes of grilled fava beans with pecorino and grilled mahi-mahi with macadamia butter. The planked salmon combines a method credited to Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, with the sweet aioli and bright salsa to create a moist, flavorful and visually stunning piece of fish.
“Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades” by Steven Raichlen (Workman): If you own Raichlen’s 2000 tome, “Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs and Marinades,” you don’t need this one, which is virtually the same but with a few changes and additions.
Most of the sauces in the “American” chapter, for instance, appeared in the first book, but Raichlen offers a few new ones from celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and Hugh Mangum, owner/pit master at New York’s Mighty Quinn BBQ.
The blanched basil oil, reprised from the earlier book, is a summer workhorse, providing another layer of flavor when added to meat and fish after cooking, and lending a sophisticated visual when dotted on the plate.
If you don’t own the 2000 book, then the current offering — which adds a “board sauce” for steaks, an “after-marinade” for meat and Austin barbecue savant Aaron Franklin’s espresso barbecue sauce — makes for a valuable addition to your grilling library.
Caramelized Midwest pork steaks
For this recipe, Mike Mills and Amy Mills, the authors of “Praise the Lard: Recipes and Revelations from a Legendary Life in Barbecue,” prefer a bone-in cut, which you would ask your butcher to do.
You’ll need 1 to 3 pounds high-quality lump charcoal, one small (8-inch) piece of apple wood or 1 cup of mesquite chips, an instant-read thermometer and a string-type barbecue mop for the sauce.
Make ahead: You can dust the steaks with dry rub 4 hours before cooking, but if the steaks sit any longer than that, the salt in the rub will begin to pull moisture from the meat. The steaks can be smoked a day in advance, wrapped well and refrigerated. You’ll have leftover rub; store in an airtight container for as long as 6 months.
4 to 6 pork steaks (about 1 pound each; preferably bone-in)
About 4 teaspoons Pure Magic dry rub, or your favorite brand
1/2 to 3/4 cup Apple City barbecue sauce, or your favorite brand, warmed
Lightly sprinkle the pork steaks with dry rub on both sides. Set the steaks on a baking sheet, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate as long as 4 hours.
Prepare the grill for indirect-heat smoking: Open the top and bottom vents. Load a charcoal chimney one-quarter full of charcoal and light it. Once the coals in the chimney are glowing, dump them on one side of the grill. Set the apple wood or mesquite chips on top, replace the grate and put the steaks over the side with no coals (the indirect cooking area). Close the lid.
Don’t open the grill for 15 minutes. When the temperature reaches 200 degrees, which might happen very quickly, close the vents about halfway so less air comes in to feed the fire and the heat in the cooker rises slowly. Let the temperature climb to between 225 and 250 degrees. Maintain your target temperature; if it climbs above your target, close the top and bottom vents further so even less air comes in to feed the fire.
After 15 minutes, use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. You are looking for a slow and steady climb to between 160 and 165 degrees. Don’t flip the steaks during the smoking stage.
After you check the meat temperature, reload the chimney halfway with charcoal and light it. You’ll soon need these additional hot coals to sear the steaks at the finishing stage, after they’re done smoking.
Check the internal temperature of the meat every 10 minutes or so. Once the steaks are between 160 and 165 degrees, transfer them to a baking sheet.
Lightly mop the tops of the steaks with the barbecue sauce (to taste), sprinkle on a light layer of dry rub, and put the steaks back on the cooker, sauce side down, directly over the hot coals. Cook the steaks for 5 to 8 minutes, mopping with the sauce and flipping them several times to caramelize all over. If there are spots of fat that are dark and blackened, sauce them and caramelize them again. When the steaks are sizzling and beautifully glazed on both sides and around the edges, they’re done. The internal temperature should be between 170 and 175 degrees.
Pure magic dry rub
1/2 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup granulated (powdered) garlic
1/4 cup chili powder
1/4 cup ground cumin
1 tablespoon powdered mustard
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Combine in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use a designated spice grinder to blend 1/4 cup at a time to a powder-like consistency. The yield is about 2 cups.
Braised Brussels sprouts
These hearty little balls are packed with flavor and don’t need barbecued meat to make them shine — but they make a great side dish for barbecue.
Adapted from “Buxton Hall BBQ Book of Smoke: Wood-Smoked Meat, Sides and More,” by Elliott Moss.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, thinly sliced
12 ounces Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Texas Pete hot sauce, or your favorite brand
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
Heat the oil and butter in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, stir in the onion; cook for several minutes until golden brown, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.
Stir in the Brussels sprouts and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, then add the garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for about 2 minutes, then add the vinegar, hot sauce, sugar and water, stirring to incorporate. Once the liquids start to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low; cook for about 30 minutes, or until about 1 cup of liquid is left in the pan and the sprouts are tender.
Serve warm or at room temperature. (Upon cooling, the liquid will be absorbed and form a kind of glaze.) Makes 4 to 5 servings.
Planked salmon with smoky orange aioli and salsa verde
The combination of wild-caught salmon, fragrant aioli and green herbs tastes as great as it looks.
The cedar plank, thick or thin, can be your serving platter. You’ll need to soak it in water for at least 1 hour before grilling.
Make ahead: The aioli and salsa aioli can be refrigerated as much as three days in advance.
Adapted from “Red, White and ‘Que: Farm-Fresh Foods for the American Grill.”
For the aioli
1 cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest and the juice of 1 orange
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
For the salsa verde
Leaves from 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the salmon
One 1 1/2 -pound piece skinned salmon fillet
For the aioli: Whisk together the mayo, garlic, orange zest and juice and smoked paprika in a medium bowl until well incorporated. Cover and refrigerate.
For the salsa verde: Combine the parsley leaves, garlic, capers, lemon zest and oil in a food processor. Purée until smooth. Season lightly with salt; transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate.
For the salmon: Prepare the grill for indirect heat. If using a gas grill, turn the heat to medium-high (450 degrees). Turn off the burners on one side. If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them on one side of the grill. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.
Cut the fillet to fit the size plank you have; do not let any fillet hang over the edges. Place it skinned side down. Spread the aioli evenly over the top and sides of the fish, then cover with salsa verde.
Place the plank on the indirect-heat side of the grill. Close the lid and cook 20 to 30 minutes, or just until the fish begins to flake in the thickest part when tested with a fork.
Serve warm, on the plank. Makes 4 servings.
Blanched basil oil
Use this emerald oil as a marinade; baste or drizzle it on grilled meats, seafood, vegetables and polenta.
Blanching the basil in salted boiling water makes for a brighter, longer-lasting result here.
Make ahead: The oil can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; let it come to room temperature before serving or using.
Adapted from “Barbecue Sauces, Rubs and Marinades: Bastes, Butters and Glazes Too.”
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Leaves from 1 bunch fresh basil (2 packed cups)
1/2 cup packed fresh spinach, stemmed and rinsed
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Bring a large pot of water (at least 3 quarts) to a boil over high heat. Add the salt. Have a large bowl of ice water at hand.
Add the basil and spinach leaves to the pot; blanch for 15 seconds, then drain in a colander and immediately transfer to the ice-water bath to cool.
Drain well, then use your clean hands to wring all the excess moisture out of the wad of leaves.
Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the crushed garlic cloves and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring, until golden brown. Do not scorch; adjust the heat as needed.
Transfer the garlic and oil to a blender. Add the drained leaves and the remaining 1 3/4 cups of oil; purée well.
Pour the purée into a bowl and let steep for 4 hours, at room temperature.
Strain the purée through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-cup jar. Use right away, or cover and refrigerate for as long as 1 week. Makes two cups.