Cookbook Reviews: Get Your Grill On!

by Matt on May 21, 2010

I’ll tell anyone who will listen to me that I’m a warm weather kind of cook. I love being outdoors, I love grilling and I love summer. I’m particularly excited about this current installment of the Mattbites Cookbook Reviews with Kristina. Damn if this girl didn’t knock it out of the ballpark with this review which features both grilling and burgers. It’s abundant and now I want a beer! Enjoy it!

When we moved into our current home 5 years ago, we brought our little sad deck grill with us.  We had friends over several times, and in the winter we even had people over and cooked in the fire in the fireplace. It was the best food, the best fun. And then we stopped.  I’m not sure why.  Our little sad grill is still outside, sadder than ever.  But a few months ago, when browsing Amazon, I started to see book titles which I fancied.  And I started to remember some great grilling books I already had and thought I’d go grill shopping and resuscitate my love for the grill.  Eating outdoors really opens up the opportunity to have more people over than perhaps you can accommodate inside.  Everyone can help out, and it’s just a great time all around.  So hopefully this GIANT round up has something in here that will be useful for your next get together.


The Good Stuff Cookbook:  Burgers, Fries, Shakes, Wedges, and More by Spike Mendelsohn with Micheline Mendelsohn (Wiley 2010; photography by Joe Shymanski). This is the first book by Top Chef competitor and owner of the Good Stuff Eatery in Washington DC, Spike Mendelsohn.  I like to think of this book as an all in one Burger Party manual.  It is very well organized into the different elements of a burger shop– from the sauces to the sides, the fries, the burgers, the shakes, and then the desserts, something I really appreciate about the book– I don’t have to dig for recipes, I know right where to find what I need.  You could use this book to set up a DIY burger party for your friends– offering the ingredients to compose various burgers in the book, or you could use it to make great food for yourself. Either way, it’s pure fun!

Burger Parties: Featuring Winning Recipes from Sutter Home Winery’s Build a Better Burger Contest by James McNair and Jeffrey Starr (Ten Speed Press 2010; photography by Dan Mills) If Spike’s book is a burger joint, this is the white table cloth burger book.  It is compiled of menus built around a burger theme (Burgers in Paradise, Jamaican Me Hungry, Sip and Slide, Southeast Asian Odyssey, Summer and Smoke, etc.)  So what you have in this book is not just a fab burger recipe per chapter, you have all of the antipasti, sides, and desserts to accompany them, around the theme, as well as the wine pairings!  Of all the grilling books I brought in for a colleague to choose from for a gift to someone who regularly grills, she chose this one as the most well-rounded for a complete dining experience.

The Burger Meisters:  America’s Best Chefs Give Their Recipes for America’s Best Burgers, Plus the Fixin’s by Marcel Desaulniers (1994 Simon and Schuster) This book won the James Beard Award for the Best Book on a Single Subject, and it deserved it!  This is based on a PBS series of the same name.  In addition to burgers made from everything ranging from beef to chicken to fish to veggie, you also have sides (slaws, salads, fries of different types), and even buns and some sweets as well.  I turn to this when I want to make something different for myself or friends.  My book is so used, the spine is falling apart!  Some of my favorite recipes in the world were written by Marcel Desaulniers, especially chocolate ones, and he has helped me make them work when I’ve been stuck.  (his email address is goganache -at- aol.com and he’s available to help with his recipes, just write if you too get stuck!)


Pig:  King of the Southern Table by James Villas (2010 Wiley; photography by Lucy Schaeffer) To borrow a phrase from the Waffle House menu, this book is all about pork:  scattered covered chunked and smothered.  If you don’t like pork, skip to the next book!  But me, I’m from Nashville.  I used to have my father meet me at the airport with an extra hot (spicy) pulled pork sammich from Mary’s Pit BBQ.  I love sausage.  I love bacon.  I think that the best cure for vegetarianism is a barbecued pork rib, dry not wet.  This book is all of that and more in 300 artery-hardening recipes using all cuts of pork (and there’s a cute little diagram at the beginning to show you what eating high on the hog really means), and it’s really really southern. It’s grits, biscuits, casseroles, hushpuppies, succotash, stews, burgoos, roasts, hams, if it’s pork or has pork in it, it’s here.  And it’s also Southern culinary history and background.  This book reminds me of family and home.

John Torode’s Beef and other Bovine Matters (2008 Quadrille; Photography by Jason Lowe) While it is possible to get other good cuts of meat in Italy, a good burger the way the Lord intended one to be made just can’t be found here.  So whenever I go to London, I try to get at least one good one in.  John Torode is the owner of Smith’s of Smithfields, a restaurant which stands directly in front of the Smithfield meat market, and he sells one of the best burgers in London.  John knows beef, and his and his book distills this knowledge in diagrams, photos, and explanations from the different breeds of cow to how to purchase, the cuts and carving the meat, and the preparation.  It starts with the basic beef stock and goes through all manner of recipes which have beef elements, from arancini with ragu, to beef wellington, salted beef sandwiches, yorkshire pudding, and everything in between.  It’s very British, mind you, but if there’s a recipe with “beef” in the title, it’s here.  This is every much a reference book as it is a cookbook.

John Torode’s Chicken and other Birds (2009 Quadrille; Photography by Jason Lowe).  I know, I just told you that John Torode knows beef, and here he is talking about chicken!  Guess what?  He knows birds too!  I have included this book in our round up because of the variety of recipes that are prepared on the grill for all different sorts of birds, including a fair number of kebabs and a chicken burger that will knock your socks off (it has sausage in it of course, but you can experiment without it!).  This book is pure cookbook, not at all the reference book that beef is.  But if poultry is your shtick, this is worth flipping through.

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi (2010 EBury; photography by Jonathan Lovekin) Admittedly, this should have gone into the vegetable book reviews, but I thought it appropriate to keep a book in this round up for those people who don’t eat meat.  This is not a grilling book, but it is an amazing vegetarian resource which you can use to prepare accompaniments to the food which comes off the grill– AND there are grilling recipes in here.  Preparing any dish from this book will make you everyone’s new best friend, trust me.  Ottolenghi is the food shop you will hear so many people rave about who have visited London.    The recipes are based on the author’s weekly column in the Guardian weekend magazine called the New Vegetarian, and just looking at them makes me hungry:  Caramelized garlic tart, globe artichokes with crushed broad beans, chard and saffron omelettes, soba noodles with aubergine and mango, black pepper tofu.  It goes on and on.  The photography by Jonathan Lovekin (who has done Nigel Slater’s beautiful books) is also so very inviting.  Vegetarians looking to add great recipes to their repertoire, Plenty, and Yotam’s column at the Guardian are fantastic resources.


Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned:  A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill by Elizabeth Karmel (Wiley 2009; photography Jamie Tiampo). I was introduced to Elizabeth Karmel by Rose Levy Beranbaum a few years ago, after telling Rose I was looking for some amazing women in the food profession to interview.  Elizabeth is the Queen of the Grill, and I blindly trust anything she says about grilling.  If it can be grilled (and believe me, it can), she has grilled it and can tell you how to maximize its flavor through soaking, slathering, or seasoning.  This book is a comprehensive book of rubs, sauces, butters, marinades, brines, dipping sauces, techniques, tips, and any other vital information about how to uses these elements on your food.  It is a handy paperback size and the perfect grilling reference.  I got this book last year, and admit that I haven’t felt such an affinity for a grilling book since I bought Steve Raichlen’s BBQ Bible years ago.  If you’re going to grill, ever, you should have a copy of this tucked away.  You can find Elizabeth at Twitter, get her weekly recipes from GirlsattheGrill.com and Grillfriends.com or find her out and about on the national BBQ circuit.

Kansas City Barbeque Society Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (2010 Andrews McMeel) I love community generated cookbooks.  I think it tells you so much about people and their cultures.  I’m a huge fan of Junior League Cookbooks for snapshots of culinary history and how people ate at any one given time.  The Kansas City Barbecue Society is the world’s largest organization of barbecuing and grilling enthusiasts, and they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary with this book.  If you are curious about the world of competitive grilling, you want some award winning recipes for barbecue (so you know they’ve been tested and are good), like to have a quick reference for grilling temperatures for doneness, or you just like to peek into the history and stories of a group of people with a common interest, you’ll really like this book. Earlier editions of this book even have the calorie breakdown of recipes, but this edition has swapped those out in favor of very useful technical information about equipment, safety tips, barbecuing terminology, metric conversions, etc.

Seven Fires:  Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann with Peter Kaminsky (2009 Artisan; photography by Santiago Santo Monllor) This 2010 IACP Cookbook Award nominee deserved all the attention it got and more.  This is the elegant and captivating story of the relationship Francis Mallmann, one of Argentina’s most revered food professionals, has developed with grilling throughout his life.  It is his story about the history of a place, its people, and culture.  Seven are the types of fires which “form the backbone” of Argentine cuisine: Parrilla (cast iron grate over coals), Chapa (flat piece of cast iron set over a fire), Infiernillo (two fires with a cooking level in between), Horno de Barro (similar to an outdoor bread oven), Rescoldo (cooking by covering in warm embers and ashes), Asador (method for cooking whole animals), Caldero (large cast-iron kettle or dutch oven).  This book has ample recipes for cooking according to all these methods, and the sides and other dishes which go along.  This is primarily a meat-lover’s book, however, there are plenty of vegetarian dishes included.  One of my favorite recipes is neither: the Cast-Iron Seared Octopus with Murcia Pimenton.  Served with grilled potatoes, you will never forget this.  Just one look at this book and you will understand Matt’s love affair with Argentina.

Planet Barbecue! An Electrifying Journey Around the World’s Barbecue Trail by Steven Raichlen (2010 Workman; Photography by Ben Fink, Penny de los Santos, Anastasios Mentis, Steven Raichlen.  Food styled by Jamie Kimm and prop styled by Sara Abalan). I confess that when I saw Penny’s tweet that she worked on this, the book was instantly in my Amazon cart!  And now that I have it here, I can say that I am over the moon with my ‘crime of passion’.  I bought Steven Raichlen’s Barbecue! Bible when it came out and it’s my Barbecue reference.  I’m not going to lie and tell you that if you already have the B! Bible, you need this– the two are quite similar in their geographic coverage, and I can’t really tell if this is a result of the same travels he did for the first book,or if he traveled the world again to write this one. But Planet Barbecue! covers 60 countries vs 25 in B!Bible (albeit fewer recipes), Planet B! has a more “authentic” feel to the recipes, and more variety of recipes, and most important, there are photos!  Mouth-watering photos and how-to photos.     I am especially liking Jose Andres’ grilled bread with chocolate, sea salt, and olive oil!!  One book just seems more ‘modern’ than the other, although there is not any exact recipe overlap. So I’d say if you find yourself in front of both of these books, choose one or the other…unless you need both.