Barbecue, Smoking, and Grilling
First, let me start by saying that the definition of Barbecue by the Oxford dictionary is wrong. Barbecue is the result of long and slow cooking over a wood fire resulting in a noticeable flavor imparted by the burning wood.
Smoking, for these purposes, is the technique used to achieve a tender and juicy piece of meat infused with smoke. Smoking and Barbecuing use offset pits where the smoking meat is indirectly cooked by the heat and smoke from hardwoods such as Oak, Hickory, and Mesquite.
Grilling is the technique of cooking steaks, burgers, vegetables, and so forth over direct heat. Regardless if it is wood or charcoal, if you are using direct heat you are grilling, you are not barbecuing.
Why I selected these books
These authors, chefs, and pitmasters all give expert advice and insider tips in their books filled with their favorite recipes. In addition to the best smoker cookbooks available today, I put a few reference books in here to help you on your journey of fine-tuning your pitmaster skills. The barbecue experts in these books talk about different heat sources and choosing the right wood, to peach cobbler and banana pudding while also giving you a rundown of essential equipment. They all cover the BBQ staples of smoking pork shoulder, baby back ribs, whole hog cooking, and Texas brisket in a way that gives you the confidence to make these recipes in your backyard.
Will these Recipes work with my Wood Pellet Smoker?
Absolutely. Although straight stick pits will yield a better-finished product with a more pronounced smoke flavor, the convenience of a wood pellet smoker is undeniable. The best thing about a pellet grill is the set it and forget it method.
Many traditionalists believe that there is a ritual and art that is lost with pellet grills. I get that. But I also know that I do not always have the time to be able to check the pit every 45 minutes for 10 hours while your smoking meat.
I’m looking for the best electric smoker cookbook. Will these work for me?
Absolutely! Many of the authors recognize that everyone is using a different pit so they are pretty flexible. Remember when it comes to smoke meat, it is about combining science with a little art.
You are not going to find the most innovative recipes in these books. But what you find is a lot of technique that you can apply to your own style creating great barbecue with your electric smoker.
The 12 Best Barbecue and Smoking Cookbooks
Released in the later half of 2022 I had not had the opportunity to get my hands on this book until recently. Derek Wolf of Over The Fire Cooking is someone I’ve been following on social media for quite some time. Now, with some others on here this is not a true “smoking” cookbook but the fact that everything is cooked over a live fire rather than charcoal I’m counting it as the live fire cooking does impart flavor just as smoking would. I enjoyed watching Derek on his Instagram page so I had some high expectations for this book, it did not disappoint.
Steven Raichlen has been publishing books on American barbecue culture for a long time now. His books are revered for their knowledge and great recipes for home cooks. He has one book devoted entirely to barbecue sauces! Project Smoke is no different. Insightful in many ways with his exploration of tools, fuels, and woods to choosing the right smoker or even turning your current grill into an effective smoker. Project Smoke is a great addition to anyones collection of smoker cookbooks.
My vote for best smoker cookbook goes to Franklin. This meat-smoking manifesto is a New York Times Bestseller for a reason. Aaron Franklin puts all his tricks of the trade and techniques into this book about smoking. He holds nothing back and shows us his actual recipes. I felt like I was stealing trade secrets from him.
Following his journey of starting Franklin’s BBQ and making what many believe is the best beef brisket in central Texas is inspiring aspiring pitmasters. Even if you only want to be the undisputed bbq master of your block. Aaron talks about all the essentials from pits and wood to proper trimming techniques. You will have insane barbecue cravings after reading this book.
When I first followed his technique of smoking brisket I was amazed. It was hands down the best brisket I had ever cooked. This is an absolute must-own book for anyone looking to learn the foundations of good bbq. It really is a meat smoking manifesto worth investing in.
Quick Note – Franklin talks exclusively about using straight wood on an offset smoker in this book. I have used several of his basic recipes on my pellet smoker with great success.
From celebrated restauranteur and Iron Chef, Michael Symon, comes Playing with Fire. Before opening Mabel’s BBQ in Ohio Chef Symon traveled the country studying bbq. The result was the now signature Cleveland-Style barbecue he developed to showcase the flavors of his hometown. This is the book for those looking for classic American barbecue techniques that are turned up a notch. His easy-to-follow step-by-step guide to great barbecue recipes is for the meat lovers in your family.
Myron Mixon is a barbecue world championships pitmaster on the competitive circuit. Learning the craft from his father he took over the family business and became the leader of the winningest team in competitive barbecue. In the competitive bbq world, pitmasters do NOT share recipes or techniques.
But after Smokin’ the competition for so long Myron Mixon came out with his book on BBQ. He helps you learn what you need to get started and then sets you free with formulas for marinades and rubs. He even includes his famous recipe for cupcake BBQ chicken. Smokin with Myron Mixon is a great smoking cookbook for beginners with award winning recipes.
A pitmaster is not a title, it is a way of life. This book from Chef Andy Husbands and IQue BBQ Team Leader Chris Hart teaches you what it takes regardless of your skillset. Pitmaster features a chapter on backyard cooking while also exploring new styles of barbecue emerging in the northeast. My favorite is the guest pitmasters featured in each chapter that reflect the true regionality of American barbecue. A great BBQ cookbook with a fun read.
Chef Horn was selected as Food & Wine’s ten “Best New Chefs” for 2021 and is being called the most exciting new talent in American barbecue in years. This is not a regional barbecue cookbook, this is a reflection of his style. Pulling from traditional Texas and Carolina-style barbecue, Chef Horn puts his California spin into the mix resulting in an entirely new style of barbecue.
Buxton Hall in Asheville North Carolina is a celebration of Carolina Pit Smoking. A firm believer in slow-smoked, old-fashioned barbecue this restaurant that specials in the whole hog will teach you to build and master your pit. This cookbook prominently features recipes from the south and the Carolinas. For those looking for very regionally specific smoker cookbooks, this is definitely worth an extra look.
Daniel Vaughn who goes by his handle “barbecue snob” is the only full-time barbecue editor for a major publication, Texas Monthly. Yeah, this guy knows his BBQ. Prophets of Smoked Meat is his journey through the history of BBQ in Texas.
This study of barbecue in Texas is a look at BBQ pitmasters, recipes, and tales from the road. Barbecue is a religion in Texas and Daniel Vaugh is the prophet spreading the word of BBQ. Prophets of Smoked Meat is a story, a journey, and an insight into Texas BBQ for the serious BBQer. It is not a heavy recipe-based cookbook.
James Beard Award-winning Chef Rodney Scott celebrates his culinary legacy in the World of BBQ. His life story, family traditions, and his dedication to his craft are what makes this cookbook so special. His recipes are inspiring and you can feel the love for his craft in this book. A recipe is only as good as the love and soul you put into it and this book has it all. Loaded with essays on South Carolina foodways and traditions, this cookbook is the ultimate southern barbecue reference. Delicious food comes from attention to detail, love for the craft and detailed recipes. RS has it all.
With the help of Greg Blonder, Ph.D., of Boston University. Meathead explores the science of great barbecue and grilling. Develop an understanding of food interactions when exposed to fire, heat, and smoke and also bust some myths. Knowing the science behind food interactions is crucial for those looking to take their skill set to the next level.
This book will be filled with “ah-ha” moments for so many backyard barbecuers. Challenge what you think you know with Meathead. This book has influenced a lot of pitmasters during their quest to master the art of smoked meat. For that I’m giving it a runner up spot for best smoker cookbook. Regardless it is a must own smoking cookbook.
James Beard Winning Chef Time Byres’ first book is titled after his now-closed restaurant Smoke. New Firewood cooking is not exactly a book on smoking, what it is though is a book about using smokey flavors as an element of the dish in addition to various techniques to use wood outside of a pit smoker.
I love the flavor combinations as he seamlessly blends smoke into his recipes. If you own or plan to purchase a Kudu Grill this is a book worth owning. Even then, it is loaded with great modern Texas BBQ recipes.
While not a true smoker cookbook we could not write this article without mentioning Adam Perry Lang. His books, BBQ 25, Serious Barbecue, and Charred & Scruffed are fantastic books to own for the true grilling and smoking meat enthusiast. Adam currently owns BBQ restaurants in Southern California called APL. If you are looking for recipe books on grilling then APL has the grill cookbook for you.
Current books by Adam Perry Lang
Originally published in the Uk, this cookbook has now been tailored for American cooks. The River Cottage Meat Book is the authoritative ode to great meat. This manifesto to high-quality meats will teach you how to chop, store and properly cook each cut.
No this is not a smoker or barbecue cookbook, this is a book about Meat. And meat is the second most important part of a great barbecue. The first is knowing how to control your fire, the second is having the right cut of meat.
Lastly, the best cookbook for you will be different than the guy next to you. That’s just a matter of personal preference and what you want to learn vs. what you already know. A great smoking cookbook is the one that gets you excited and fuels your desire to create some great smoked meats.