New grilling cookbooks explore novel barbecue recipes, techniques

We're in Florida. We know our way around our grills. We do it all year. Is that bragging? Okay. • So if someone is going to put out a new grilling cookbook, it's going to have to be something special to get our attention. • In the days leading up to summer, cookbook after cookbook arrived in stores, all promising to turn us into better grillers. With thoughts of Independence Day cookouts looming, we cracked open a stack of them with a skeptical eye. Most of the books were packed with basics at best, obvious oversimplification at worst. We know how to grill a steak.

For a book to stand out, we were looking for something we hadn't seen before. Or at least something we had never attempted before. Judging by the covers of the haul, it was hard to ignore Fire It Up (Chronicle Books), which claims "More than 400 recipes for grilling everything." So, despite the fact that the cover shows a burger, chicken breasts, a steak and corn on the cob, we'll start there.

The soft-cover book by veteran cookbook writers Andrew Schloss and David Joachim is more than 400 pages and as fascinating as it is exhaustive. It begins with the basics without being condescending, and includes relevant information that will keep even veteran grillers interested. After a fairly basic primer on direct vs. indirect heat, for example, come tips about getting rid of your grates and getting food directly into the fire. I've never done that. Now I want to. The recipes read as if in an encyclopedia of grilling. Sure, there is a recipe for a T-bone, but it is flavored with gin and juniper and served with a green olive tapenade. And later in the beef chapter, we get a recipe for beef heart kabobs. Not sure, but I think this was the first beef heart kabob recipe I've seen.

To put the book through its paces, we picked a couple of recipes to try. Wanting to keep it accessible and to avoid having to mail order the main ingredient, we passed on the cocoa-crusted goat loin flecked with orange and rosemary, and went with the grilled beets with orange-hazelnut gremolata. Beets are tremendous when roasted, and while grilling them never occurred to me, it makes sense. The recipe calls for them to be sliced thin and then exposed to high heat, which intensifies the inherent sweetness. The gremolata — an herb mix sprinkled over at the end — includes flavors traditionally paired with the sweet beets, and adds almost a perfume.

Another dish, grilled stuffed tomatoes, exposed one of the problems that most of the books have: The recipe was grilling for the sake of grilling. The stuffing was a smart blend of the slight heat of poblano peppers and the earthy assertiveness of blue cheese in a fresh tomato. It is delicious. But the dish gains little from grilling. It just serves to soften the filling. That could be accomplished in the oven. Sure, if the grill is already lit, it makes sense. But it isn't worth turning on the grill for a recipe like that.

The other book that commanded attention was Smokin' (Ballantine) by the never-shy Myron Mixon, who is the winningest man on a competitive barbecue circuit, a fact that he reminds readers of every second or third page, starting with the book's cover.

His success in contests made him a star of reality television, and his homespun curmudgeonly nature infuses the book. It would appear from reading his stories that none of this is much fun for him. He's in it to win piles of cash and trophies. But he has developed a businesslike efficiency to barbecue that can translate for people who do want to have fun. They probably won't do it as well as Mixon, as he would attest in sentences sparkled with expletives and devoid of the final letter of words that would otherwise end in "-ing," but that's fine with him.

The recipe in the book that screams — or squeals — to be tested is the whole hog recipe, in which nearly 200 pounds of pig is cooked for more than 20 hours. But that seemed extreme. So we went for another dish that Mixon is happy to let people copy, since he's pretty sure they won't do it as well as he will: cupcake chicken. Mixon smokes chicken thighs in a cupcake pan to give them a uniform shape, because appearance counts in judging barbecue. His recipe turns out a great chicken thigh, but all the manicure work isn't really necessary for the home cook. Unless your friends are really critical.

Those were the most interesting books of this year's crop, but on Page 5E, there are brief takes on other new books this summer.

One last note to future writers of grilling cookbooks: We aren't surprised that you can make dessert on the grill.

Jim Webster can be reached at jwebster@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8746.

Fire It Up

Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Chronicle, $24.95)

Who it's for: Anyone who might cook on a grill can benefit from this book, which covers the hows and whys of grilling. Chapters cover every part of the plant and animal kingdoms, with recipes for many exotic ingredients. Grilled sweetbreads, anyone?

Best tip: Meat near the bone of young birds like Cornish hens and broiler-fryers may appear red even when fully cooked because the bones of young animals leak hemoglobin.

Smokin'

Myron Mixon

(Ballantine, $22)

Who it's for: Fans of barbecue-based reality television, and seasoned grillers who want to try their hand at barbecue. And people who don't mind a little colorful language.

Best tip: When buying spare ribs, avoid any with excess fat. They are harder to cook to tenderness, and there isn't much left after you trim them.

Grilling

Good Housekeeping

(Hearst, $24.95)

Who it's for: A good all-around grilling cookbook. There is plenty of elementary material, but also more adventuresome.

Best tip: On a charcoal grill, you can control the temperature of the fire by moving the coals around. Push them together for a hotter fire, and spread them to lower the heat.

My Grill

Pete Evans

(Weldon Owen, $30)

Who it's for: Evans is a celebrity chef in Australia, and this book conveys grilling from a chef's-day-off perspective. Perfect for someone looking to elevate their grilling with a dish like calamari with grilled fennel and charred lemon dressing.

Best tips: Evans doesn't really get into tips, but each recipe starts with a story that gets into the thinking that led to the dish.

Deen Bros. Get

Fired Up

Bobby and Jamie Deen

(Ballantine, $25)

Who it's for: Fans of the boys — or their mom, Paula — won't be disappointed. But there isn't much new ground covered for veterans. A decent primer for beginners.

Best tips: Well, play football while long-cooking foods are on the grill? Bring extra food to a tailgate party in case there's a traffic jam after the game? Wear sunscreen? Put lids on food you're transporting? Um, it's hard to pick one.

The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meat

Joshua and Jessica Applestone (Clarkson Potter, $27.50)

Who it's for: Again, not

specifically a grilling book, but this book is a primer on meat from an artisan butcher's

perspective.

Best tips: The whole book is tips on what to look and ask for when shopping for meat.

Esquire's Eat

Like a Man

Edited by Ryan D'Agostino (Chronicle, $30)

Who it's for: It's not a grilling book, but this collection of recipes from celebrity chefs includes essays on many topics, including grilling. Many of the recipes are grilled.

Best tips: If you're making kebobs and want your meat rare to medium rare, pack it tight on the skewer. If you want medium-well to well, pack it loose.

Weber's Time to Grill

Jamie Purviance

(Sunset, $24.95)

Who it's for: Occasional

grillers. This book spends a lot of time showing you how to grill things that there is no logical reason to grill. Spaghetti and meatballs? Corn chowder? There are good recipes in there, but they're hidden among some head-scratchers.

Best tips: Soak a batch of bamboo skewers and freeze them. That way they're presoaked when you need them.



>>moderate

Grilled Beets With Orange-Hazelnut Gremolata

For the beets:

4 beets, a mix of any colors available, red, gold or chioggia

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the gremolata:

1 clove garlic, peeled

1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves

Zest from one orange

1 tablespoon hazelnuts

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper

Light grill and preheat to about 400 degrees. Scrub beets and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Toss with olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste.

For gremolata, pulse garlic, parsley, mint, zest, hazelnuts, sugar, salt and pepper in a food processor until mixed and finely chopped. (You can chop together with a knife if you don't have a food processor.)

Grill the beets directly over the heat for 4-5 minutes per side, until they soften and are nicely marked. Arrange on platter and top with gremolata.

Serves 4.

Source: Fire It Up by Andrew

Schloss and David Joachim (Chronicle, $24.95)

>>easy

Grilled Stuffed Tomatoes

1 poblano pepper

4 medium-sized ripe tomatoes

1 clove garlic

3 ounces blue cheese

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 green onion, chopped

3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup pine nuts

Salt and pepper to taste

Light grill and preheat to about 400 degrees.

Place the pepper over the fire and roast until the skin blisters. Place pepper in a bag or covered bowl for 10 minutes. Peel away blackened skin, then remove seed pod and chop pepper.

Remove core of tomatoes, and use spoon to remove some of the seeds, creating a cavity. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a food processor, combine poblano pepper, garlic, blue cheese, butter, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, green onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Pulse to combine. Put mixture in a bowl and stir in most of the pine nuts, reserving about a tablespoon for garnish.

Fill the tomatoes with the stuffing, mounding it on top. Place tomatoes on the grill over the heat and cover the grill for 6 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining pine nuts and serve while still warm.

Serves 4.

Source: Fire It Up by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Chronicle, $24.95)

>>difficult

Cupcake Chicken

Myron Mixon smokes his chicken thighs in cupcake pans to ensure a uniform presentation for judging in contests. The recipe will work without the cupcake pan, though.

12 chicken thighs

3 cups chicken broth

1 recipe chicken rub, follows (or use favorite spice mix)

1 recipe barbecue sauce, follows (or use favorite store-bought sauce)

1 silicone or aluminum cupcake pan, with holes punched in each cup (optional)

Heat smoker to 300 degrees, or set up grill for indirect cooking.

Using poultry shears or a large knife, remove the knuckle from the ends of each thigh bone. Trim excess skin off the thighs. Apply rub to both sides of the thighs.

Put one thigh in a cup of the pan, skin side down. Put the cupcake pan into a larger aluminum baking pan and put chicken broth into the larger pan. Place the pan in the smoker for 90 minutes. (If using a grill, put the pan over an unlit part of the grill and add wood chips for smoke).

Remove the pan from the smoker. Flip each thigh in its cup so the skin side is up. Return to smoker for 45 minutes.

Brush the thighs with sauce and smoke for 30 more minutes.

Remove thighs from pan and serve immediately.

Serves 12 as an appetizer, or 6 as a main course.

Source: Adapted from Smokin' by Myron Mixon (Ballantine, $22)

>>easy

Chicken Rub

1/3 cup chili powder

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons salt

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 tablespoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients. Rub can be stored indefinitely.

Source: Adapted from Smokin' by Myron Mixon (Ballantine, $22)

>>easy

Barbecue Sauce

1 cup ketchup

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup seedless blackberry preserves

4 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons hot sauce

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

2 teaspoons onion powder

2 teaspoons garlic powder

2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon red pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender and mix. Leftover sauce can be refrigerated.

Source: Adapted from Smokin' by Myron Mixon (Ballantine, $22)

New grilling cookbooks explore novel barbecue recipes, techniques 06/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 5:30am]

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