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10 best BBQ cookbooks to nail cooking over flames this summer

Fire up the grill with gusto after reading these mouth-watering recipes 

Alicia Miller
Friday 07 May 2021 12:10
<p>We considered the accessibility and scalability of the recipes in these grilling guides</p>

We considered the accessibility and scalability of the recipes in these grilling guides

Caught in an endless rut of blackened burgers, singed sausages, cremated kebabs? We hear you. When barbecue season comes around it’s easy to default to the same old (burnt) thing.

But it’s time to take pride in your alfresco cooking. This summer, raise your grilling game – the best barbecue cookbooks will help you do it.

“But I’ll just google recipes”, you say. Please, don’t. For starters, dedicated barbecue cookbooks deliver inspiration in a way that frantically searching “quick BBQ ideas” cannot. In them, pitmasters share their best-ever, failsafe spice rubs, marinades, glazing sauces – and even innovative cooking methods (did you know you could bake on a barbecue?). You don’t need to follow recipes to the tee; good cookbooks can simply get ideas flowing.

What’s more, barbecue cookbooks aren’t just about the recipes. The finest teach you how to become, quite simply, the master of your grill. Cooking over fire is equal parts science and art, and getting it right requires technique. The cookbooks below help you understand how the process works, so you’ll nail it every time.

Beautiful imagery, a reassuring tone, and diverse flavours for diverse tastes – we consider all of these essential in a top barbecue cookbook. But when pulling together our list there were two other key factors: accessibility and scalability.

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Accessibility doesn’t necessarily mean easy – some of the books below are targeted at the seasoned barbecuer, and that’s fine. Here accessibility means written in a clear, easy-to-follow way to minimise hiccups (and stress – you’re already managing a fire for goodness sake). It means, too, that recipes should generally use everyday ingredients. No one wants to have to plan barbecues weeks in advance to get the right kit in.

Finally, there’s scalability. Barbecues are usually about gathering with people you like, and numbers can ebb and flow. Most of the cookbooks below allow for that, with recipes that are easily doubled, tripled or, if necessary, halved. After all, you’re cooking this way in the first place to have fun and unwind outdoors. And the best barbecue cookbooks let you do just that.

‘Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook’, by DJ BBQ, published by Quadrille

American YouTube presenter, DJ and pitmaster Christian Stevenson – aka DJ BBQ – encapsulates what barbecuing is about: fun. But don’t for one second think that he doesn’t take food seriously. You only need a cursory glance through his latest cookbook, Fire Food, to know this man is dedicated to his grill. 

And, dedicated to charcoal; gas barbecues need not apply here. From his multi-page opening ode entitled “alchemy of fire” – espousing the benefits of good-quality fuel – to his in-depth (and useful) section on set-up techniques, it’s all about how to use charcoal and what it does to improve your food.

From there the recipes roll on, and they’re as diverse, fun and generally bonkers as you might hope. Along with some solid classics, expect French toast grilled cheese; barbecue spag bol; mac and cheese pancakes; oyster tacos. This is about more than individual dishes, it’s about barbecue as a lifestyle.

‘Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and BBQ’, by Genevieve Taylor, published by Quadrille

Who said barbecue had to be about meat? From yakitori tofu skewers with pineapple and red pepper, to herby falafel burgers and grilled globe artichokes, this book proves a plant-based menu can make for a barbecue of dreams.

With a hefty front section on getting your grill set up, key techniques – including the difference between direct (grilling) and indirect (for slow-cooking) heat – it’s just as handy a buy for an omnivore cook who wants to expand their veg repertoire as it is for veggie would-be pitmasters. The simple recipes are easily scalable, too, so you can turn out more for bigger groups or cut down to make delicious sides.

Our favourite chapter? The one on “low, slow and smoked”: the whole smoked celeriac is shown the same love, care and delicious attention most pitmasters normally reserve for meat.

‘Berber & Q’ by Josh Katz, published by Ebury Press

Anyone who’s been to Haggerston’s Berber & Q will know that Middle Eastern barbecue can give American ‘cue a run for its money. And from harissa hot wings to the signature cauliflower shawarma, this enticingly photographed book from chef-owner Josh Katz opens the doors to enjoying it at home.

Setting up your barbecue right, building a fire, buying the right kit – tips on all this, and more, join a blurb about why barbecue tastes so good (hint: it’s that all-important “maillard reaction”). Katz rightly gives you a firm grounding before you are let loose on the recipes.

Those recipes can occasionally get a bit niche with ingredients – it will do you good to stock up at a Turkish supermarket before getting started – but Katz’s personal reflections and detailed instructions make it all approachable, whether you’re cooking up the pomegranate-sprinkled blackened aubergine baba or juicy kofte.

‘The Camping Cookbook’ by Heather Thomas, published by HarperCollins

Cooking over flames doesn’t get more back-to-basics than a campfire. Designed deliberately for cooking over open fires and camping barbecues – usually smaller and with fewer bells and whistles – this new release proves it’s possible to make good barbecue anywhere.

As well as the obligatory grilled marshmallow recipe – yep, there is a technique for making those using a barbecue – you’ll find dishes for every occasion, from breakfast (sausage sandwiches) to easy one-pot cooks (rustic bean soup). Best of all, while they all work for campers, they’re not exclusive to them: those sticky-glazed ribs or halloumi burgers are just as delicious cooked up on your grill at home.

‘Cooking on the Big Green Egg’ by James Whetlor, published by Quadrille Publishing

Here’s a pick for kamado – ceramic oven-style – barbecue owners, in particular the gold-standard brand: Big Green Egg. It covers everything you could possibly want to know, from how to set up, the best fuel to use and how to tackle both direct cooking (grilling) and indirect (for low-and-slow cooks, like pulled pork). In other words, it’s a masterclass in using these versatile, high-end ‘cues.

The first dozen recipes get you up to speed: from easy chicken wings to hard-to-master brisket, you’ll learn all the tips and tricks to cooking on an Egg, meal by meal. If you’re a Big Green Egg owner who has only ever had the confidence to make burgers, it’s an eye-opener. With a bit of practice you’ll soon be tackling standing rib roasts and orange blossom pastilla, or cooking “dirty” – directly on the charcoal.

‘Fire Smoke Green: Vegetarian Barbecue, Smoking and Grilling Recipes’, by Martin Nordin, published by Hardie Grant

Beer-marinated aubergine; hasselback king oyster mushrooms; grilled cauliflower with gremolata – this vegetarian barbecue book turns vegetables into show-stoppers worthy of dates or dinner parties.

Don’t be intimidated by the enticing restaurant-style photography. While some recipes lean to the gourmet side, with the odd quirky ingredient (white currants, kumquats), the majority are simple enough for the beginner barbecuer to tackle. Globe-trotting in style – flavours hop from the Middle East to Japan and Mexico – the book’s highlights include pizzas (with figs, hazelnuts and black garlic, say) and cocktails, ranging from smoky pineapple sours to mezcal with grilled grapefruit.

This cookbook is out of stock at the moment but we hope it’s back soon.

‘Pitt Cue Co The Cookbook’, by Tom Adams, published by Octopus Books

RIP Pitt Cue Co, the London barbecue and bourbon bar that brought American-style barbecue to the UK mainstream. It may no longer be with us – at least for now – but you don’t have to have tucked in at the restaurant to know its joys. This cookbook is a greatest hits list of its gorgeous recipes, from pulled pork sandwiches and melt-in-mouth brisket to pickleback shooters (made of whiskey and pickle juice).

Recipes take time, care and a certain degree of skill – this isn’t really for first-time barbecuers – but you’ll be richly rewarded for your efforts. The mother sauce, used to baste meat, and house rub are both outstanding. Just keep in mind many recipes are designed for a crowd, so you may need to adjust quantities; and you’ll definitely need a ‘cue equipped for indirect, slow-cooking to make the most of it.

‘Foolproof BBQ’ by Genevieve Taylor, published by Quadrille Publishing

The latest from Genevieve Taylor (author of the fabulous Charred) is what we’ve been waiting for. This collection of barbecue recipes has been designed especially for cooking on a standard kettle barbecue, and features easy to find ingredients and simple techniques. In some ways, it’s barbecue 101. 

But don’t expect boring. Featuring fresh flavours, and seasonal ingredients for year-round inspiration, these recipes are straightforward enough to make again and again, but interesting enough to impress your friends. Think lemon and oregano souvlaki, spicy coconut lamb chops or paneer and tomato skewers.

‘Hawksmoor’ by Huw Gott & Will Beckett, published by Cornerstone

No, it’s not technically about barbecue – but dig deeper, and meaty restaurant mini-chain Hawksmoor’s second cookbook has much to fire up the home pitmaster’s imagination. Besides covering off sourcing, key steak cuts and what to consider when cooking by ‘cue, a number of recipes either directly reference, or are adaptable for, cooking over charcoal. 

Snippets on how to barbecue steak, lobster and langoustine provide insight enough to get you started. Then make for the clutch of headliner recipes: roast scallops with white port and garlic, charcoal-roasted monkfish and charcoal-grilled asparagus with parmesan butter all are designed for grilling. Even desserts get in on the act with charcoal-roasted pineapple and brown butter ice cream.

Plenty more still can be easily adapted by seasoned barbecuers. Decadent burnt marrow buns – brioche rolls stuffed with oozy grilled bone marrow – is just one translatable example. All you need is a willingness to experiment, and some top quality, Hawksmoor-worthy ingredients.

‘BBQ Magic’ by Pitmaster X Roel Westra, published by Christian Verlag GmbH

You may not have heard of Roel Westra, aka Pitmaster X, but he’s a big deal on the Dutch barbecue scene – his YouTube channel, featuring tutorials on deep-fried steak and homemade bacon, has nearly half a million subscribers. Think of him as equal parts performer, experimentalist and pitmaster.

And this is basically his YouTube channel on paper. Approachable, fun and chatty, it walks you through, step by step, his simplified, crowd-pleasing dishes: sweet and sticky ribs, roast chicken, char siu pork. These are classic recipes everyone wants to eat, with concise ingredients lists and lots of detail on exactly what to do (and, crucially for learning, why).

There is, naturally, a bit of a Dutch lean to the book – bitterballen makes an appearance – and the occasional thing doesn’t translate (sorry Pitmaster, but we won’t be serving our burger on a bagel). But even allowing for the occasional skippable recipe, there’s plenty in here to get behind, especially for barbecue newbies.

The verdict: Barbecue cookbooks

Every one of these barbecue books has a place on the shelves – but between the joyful imagery, detailed how-tos and diverse recipes (ticking off both classics and quirky stuff), we couldn’t look past DJ BBQ’s Fire Food. And if you have space on your shelf for two more? Genevieve Taylor’s Charred will convince even the most veg-adverse to have a go at plant-based barbecue, while Pitt Cue Co’s rewarding flavours provide a delicious challenge for a seasoned barbecue enthusiast.

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Discover everything you need for the perfect cookout with our guide to BBQ essentials, from tools to grills

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