Outdoor cook, know thyself.
Do not approach this season's bumper crop of cookbooks about grilling and barbecuing before assessing your own tolerance for:
Dreamy odes to ribs, rubs, mops, and smoke
Lectures, often stern, on the proper methodology
Sentimental childhood memories and unbridled zeal for the subject matter
Photos of whole pigs or lambs on spits that, if seen by children (and some adults) might instantly turn them into vegetarians.
The world of outdoor cookbooks is as vast as the American suburbs, a hotbed of summertime basters and briners, so make these determinations carefully, be it a Father's Day gift you are seeking, or just an addition to your library. Especially if what you are mostly looking for are interesting recipes to make for family and friends in the backyard.
Preeminent grilling experts Bobby Flay, Chris Schlesinger, and John Willoughby now have lots of company.
If, for example, you do not have the time or disposition to study before cooking, pass over the work of Gary Wiviott.
Wiviott calls himself a "barbecue life coach." His Low and Slow: Everything You Know About Barbecue Is Wrong (Running Press) lays down laws in boot-camp style. Wiviott even includes a quiz, with orders that too many wrong answers necessitates rereading the chapter.
Wiviott's is an excellent book for a person intensely interested in perfecting an existing passion for outdoor cooking - either to delight guests or to torment others with barbecue snobbery.
Similarly fervent but less Marine-like is Adam Perry Lang in Serious Barbecue (Hyperion).
Lang - who is pictured throughout, along with chunks of wood, hunks of meat, and whole pigs - tells a tale of deserting New York's haute-cuisine scene to research and preach the gospel of slow outdoor cooking and grilling.
He helpfully discourses on every aspect of grilling and barbecuing. His recipes range from quick and easy to all-day affairs.
Some are routine, as with a skirt steak with garlic and cilantro, but many surprise with creative but not outlandish twists. For example, Lang's grilled peaches dipped in - believe it - brandy and Jell-O granules before they hit the fire are delicious and fun.
I must also admit devotion to any cookbook author who includes recipes involving breakfast pork. Lang's most intriguing and tasty is Caramel Smoked Bacon, which puts sugared and flavored bacon strips over indirect heat for a couple of hours. Forget chips and salsa, this is what I want to snack on at summertime get-togethers.
Sitting opposite these two cookbooks on the barbecue/grilling wheel are what could be called the "Oh, Whatever" outdoor category because of their presentation and content: short on advice and long on recipes.
Among these are Thomas Feller's Barbecue (Octopus), a compilation of nonsurprising recipes - no lectures - in a gimmicky matchbooklike case; and Dad's Awesome Grilling Book by Bob Sloan (Chronicle), a collection of recipes that are mostly tame enough to be eaten by kids who gave it on Father's Day.
In between these two extremes are plenty of new cookbooks packed with recipes and ideas that improve upon the fallback method of slapping unadorned protein on the grill.
Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book, by Chris Lilly, for example, offers many pit-master tips, an easy-reference lists of rubs, and advice on wood selection (rotate your woodpile and use only what's been seasoned for four months).
Pecan-Crusted Pork Tenderloin Pinwheels With Carolina Mustard Sauce is a good example of a doable, relatively speedy, and appealing recipe. (It also includes bacon.) Lilly, who heads the Decatur, Ga., restaurant called Big Bob Gibson's, notes that the quickly cooked cylinders can serve as appetizers or entrees. The book also includes a method of drying apples for eight hours over indirect heat.
Emeril Lagasse's take on the subject, Emeril at the Grill (Harper Studio), is not just the celebrity chef throwing his New Orleans cred on another cookbook. After the briefest introduction on tools, smoking, and grill maintenance, Emeril provides an engaging collection of recipes with photos that make you want to try them. From Squash Ribbon Salad With Goat Cheese to Vietnamese-Style Grilled Pork Po'boy to Cilantro-Tequila Grilled Chicken, he updates old favorites with tasty world flavors that stretch far beyond Creole. And for the most part, these recipes are relatively simple to prepare for impressive results.
Weber's Way to Grill: The Step-by-Step Guide to Expert Grilling by Jamie Purviance instructs in both charcoal and gas cooking and features step-by-step photographic guidance on basic techniques - trussing a chicken and, significantly, how to cook a turkey on a grill.
Many recipes are simply grilled but enhanced by imaginative sauce toppings, such as the timely Pomegranate-Orange Drizzle.
For devotees of Cook's Country magazine and regional cuisine, check out Cook's Country Best Grilling Recipes (America's Test Kitchen, 2009). A ring-binder-style book, it has appeal for newer outdoor cooks.
One quick-read list in the Cook's Country book, Top Grilling Mistakes, states obvious but important rules omitted by other grilling books. Among them: Place grills where kids can't get at them; don't run out of fuel; and windy, cold days may lengthen grilling time.
Just about every new grilling barbecue book contends it contains everything you want or need to know.
The trick to being satisfied with any of these books, though, is first knowing just how much that is.
Makes 6 servings
For the Mustard Sauce:
3/4 cup prepared yellow mustard
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
For the Pork:
1 pork tenderloin
6 bacon strips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1. To make the sauce, combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Make at least 24 hours prior to usage for best flavor. Store refrigerated in a tightly covered jar for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 13/4 cups.
2. To make the pinwheels, cut the tenderloin lengthwise into 6 long strips approximately 1/4 inch thick. Lay the sliced strips on a cutting board; they should be the same size and shape as the bacon strips. Place a strip of bacon on top of each piece of tenderloin. Starting at one end, roll the tenderloin into a pinwheel medallion. Secure with two toothpicks.
3. Set aside 1 cup of the Carolina Mustard Sauce. Stir remaining sauce together with the pecans, salt, and pepper and coat the tenderloin pinwheels with the pecan mixture. Cut each of the pinwheels to make two thin pinwheel medallions.
4. Build a charcoal and/or wood fire for direct grilling. Place the medallions on the grill over medium-high heat (375 to 400 degrees F.) and cook for 7 to 8 minutes on each side or until the edges of the bacon start to crisp. Serve with the reserved sauce drizzled over each pinwheel.
Per serving (two pinwheels): 471 calories, 37 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams sugar, 23 grams fat, 89 milligrams cholesterol, 1,066 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 1/4 cups chilled, canned coconut milk, divided
3 1/2 tablespoons Thai red curry paste, divided
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 skinless salmon fillet, about 2 pounds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallion
1. Scoop 1/4 cup coconut cream from the top of the chilled coconut milk and transfer it to a small saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, until very fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the remaining 1 cup coconut milk to achieve a smooth consistency, and then slowly incorporate it into the curry paste mixture. Add the fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and then adjust the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until thickened to a thin sauce consistency, 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside.
2. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat. Remove any remaining pin bones from the salmon fillet. Cut the fillet into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Thread onto skewers.
3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 11/2 tablespoons curry paste with the oil and generously brush the salmon with the mixture. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the skewers over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible until you can lift them off the cooking grate with tongs without sticking, 2 to 4 minutes. Turn the skewers and cook them to your desired doneness, 1 to 2 minutes for medium.
4. Reheat the sauce and pool it onto a serving dish or divide evenly among individual plates, top with the salmon, and scatter the scallions over the top. Serve warm.
Per serving (based on 6): 387 calories, 32 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 27 grams fat, 83 milligrams cholesterol, 373 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 8 servings
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup peach Jell-O granules
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 large freestone peaches, halved and pitted
About 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold and unwrapped
Fleur de sel (sea salt)
1. Place cast-iron griddle on a well-oiled charcoal or gas grill. Preheat to medium.
2. Pour the brandy into a shallow bowl. Combine the Jell-O, sugar, and cayenne and spread in the bottom of a sheet pan with a rim that will hold the peach halves in a single layer. Dip the cut side of each half into the brandy, then place, cut side down, in the Jell-O mixture. Let the peaches sit in the mixture for 5 minutes.
3. Lift the peaches. There should be a thin, almost translucent layer of the mixture on the cut side. If any granules remain, lightly brush them off with a clean pastry brush.
Using a pastry brush, lightly blot the cut sides with canola oil.
4. Pour enough oil on the griddle to create a thin film. Heat about 5 minutes. Place the peaches, cut side down, on the griddle. After about 3 minutes, lift gently to peek at the color; they should be light golden. If not, continue to cook, checking about every 30 seconds.
Once golden, flip to the rounded side. Touch the stick of butter to the griddle just enough to begin to melt it and then use to lightly coat the cut side of all of the peaches. Flip back to the cut side down and continue to cook, adding butter and flipping as necessary to keep the cut side from becoming too dark. Cook until the peaches are tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
5. Flip the peaches to the cut side up, if needed. Touch the butter to the griddle and fill each of the wells in the peaches with butter. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Remove the peaches from the grill, arrange on a serving plate and serve.
Per serving: 281 calories, 1 gram protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 23 grams sugar, 19 grams fat, 32 milligrams cholesterol, 84 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Makes about 1/3 cup or 4 servings
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1. In a small saucepan combine the orange juice, pomegranate juice, honey, and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid has reduced to about 1/3 cup, 15 to 20 minutes. Season the light syrup with salt and let cool.
2. May be refrigerated for up to 3 days. To serve, warm the syrup over low heat if necessary until it reaches desired consistency. Drizzle on top of the meat.
nolead ends From Weber's Way to Grill by Jamie Purviance (Sunset)
Per serving: 56 calories, trace protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 14 grams sugar, trace fat, no cholesterol, 242 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.