8 best BBQ cookbooks to nail cooking over flames this summer

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

Joanne Gould
Wednesday 01 July 2020 12:15
Make the most of the UKs rare sunny days with these essential accompaniments to the barbie
Make the most of the UKs rare sunny days with these essential accompaniments to the barbie

We Brits famously love a barbecue – whatever the weather – and with the current situation putting the kibosh on a lot of summer activities we have been firing up the grill with gusto.

But there’s lots more to barbecuing than bangers and burgers: serious barbecue fans will know that slow cooking, smoking and flame-grilling anything from huge hunks of meat to delicate canapes and flavoursome veggies can open up a whole new world of eating adventures.

Whether you tend to cook with gas, coals, kettle or prefer a smoker, there are a wealth of brilliant barbecue books to help you get the most out of your grill.

We've covered everything, from guides by the grill giants like Napoleon and Weber to tomes from barbecue-style restaurants, right up to veg-centric cookbooks and a deep dive into barbecuing burgers. We’ve never been so spoilt for choice.

We tested a series of barbecue-focused cookbooks over the recent heatwave, looking for advice on getting to get to grips with the grill and hoping for inspiring, creative and achievable recipes across a spectrum of meat, fish and vegetable dishes.

We found a plethora of crowd-pleasing plates, handy tips and tricks and have more than a few recipes earmarked ready for when we’re all allowed to entertain again. In the meantime, we’ll happily spend the rest of the summer – and beyond – working our way through the rest of these absolutely smoking books.

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

If you only buy one barbecue cookbook, make it this one – unless you’re a vegetarian. Youtube star and barbecue fanatic "DJ BBQ", aka Christian Slater, has been grilling up a storm since the tender age of six and explains in plain terms how to get cooking. The book spells out how to cook over flames using a thorough, scientific approach to fuelling and cooking with charcoal and wood – he is extremely disparaging of gas, be warned – and backs it up with clear illustrative photography that should have your grill hot to trot in as little as six minutes.

The recipes focus on meat, though that is not to say there aren’t a good number of veggie-friendly or veg-focused dishes. A lot of them use large joints – think Japanese pork belly, the most insanely delicious pulled pork recipe honed to perfection after all that festival cooking, and a sumptuous lamb shoulder. A stand-out dish is his Alabama white sauce chicken, which was recommended several times over, and we’ll be making his super-simple "dirty onions" (literally a whole unpeeled onion placed in the coals) forevermore. He does refined dishes pretty well too: scallops with pineapple and chorizo are delicate yet meaty and his Portuguese inspired beer clams are a bowl of briney, beery pleasure. Tremendous.

‘Finger Food from the BBQ and Grill’, by Andreas Rummel, published by Grub Street

If the time ever comes when we’re permitted to have a proper party again, this is the book you’ll need. From the Napoleon BBQ family comes this cookbook of finger food just made for socialising. Packed full of recipes for mouth-watering nibbles like goat’s cheese in filo pastry spiked with zesty salsa, sticky sesame coated duck wings and “party onions” (a blooming onion filled with lardo, cheddar and Serrano) and boasting an entire chapter of “things on sticks”, your guests are in for a treat if you entertain from this book.

No guests? Turn to the sandwich-heavy “With Your Hands” chapter and treat yourself to the perfectly balanced chorizo hotdog with Chinese cabbage or quesadilla waffles paired with miso stuffed sweet potatoes. Most ingredients are easily accessible and affordable, while still guaranteeing to impress. Technique-wise, recipes focus on grilling and require little extra equipment – skewers and swanky serving ware essential.

The Burger Book’, by DJ BBQ, published by Quadrille Publishing

As a regular on the festival cooking scene, it is perhaps no surprise that DJ BBQ turns his expertise to the matter of burgers in this specialist book; in the intro he says he cooks around 20,000 of the things a year. The guide covers everything from selecting the right cuts of beef, to perfecting your bun recipe and setting up the grill before moving on to every burger recipe you could dream of: chicken, fish, veg patties, black pudding, lamb shawarma, anything goes.

The “You Gotta Be Kidding Me Burgers!” section features outlandish creations such as the char siu burger, the steak tartare burger and a beastly creation known as the “king burger,” and we were impressed with the simplicity of the "fast burger" which takes literally minutes.

Often an overlooked meat when it comes to burgers, he serves a pork burger garnished with a crisp apple slaw and pork scratchings to provide a definite "mouth party", which is the chapter this recipe hails from. You’ll need a few bits of kit to make the most of the recipes – a plancha, griddle pan, cloche and a fryer are useful – and most recipes have an indoor cooking method too. Burger devotees who don’t mind a bit of faff to achieve their dream dish will relish this book.

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

Martin Nordin has a loyal 22k strong Instagram following thanks to his debut cookbook Green Burger, and this is a further exploration of all things veggie using different forms of fired cooking. The intro takes you through how to get the most out of your vegetables using various woods, coals and grill equipment then speeds on quickly to take you through them all. Chapters include tips on how to cook over indirect heat, in pots straight in the fire, over charcoal and using a wood-fired oven.

Recipes are varied and thrilling, proving that a meat does not make a meal when dishes like pizza with blue potatoes and sprouts and truffle are on the menu, alongside smoky beetroot and mushroom stew. The ingredients and methods veers towards the cheffy, with additions such as lovage broth, fermented potato tortillas and shiso making it more of a weekend cookbook.

We’ve tended to make one or two dishes from this as sides to simpler grilled food: the shiitake mushrooms with whisky and miso marinade work beautifully in this way and are pretty simple. Our favourite thing in this book was actually a drink: Nordin’s recipe for mezcal with grilled grapefruit is revelatory and looks as good as it tastes.

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

This tempting tome of vegetarian barbecue recipes is creative, colourful and very approachable. It starts with a really handy, honest talk about how best to set up your fire, fuel and equipment, spelling out exactly what is worth buying. Things are kept simple throughout, with the vast majority of recipes suitable for a charcoal or gas barbecue with a lid, and adaptations for cooking indoors on a griddle or using a hot oven should the weather not be on your side.

Flicking through this made us want to make almost every recipe; the use of exciting global ingredients and imaginative flavour pairings coupled with beautiful photography is quite seductive. Start with the jerk plantain, halloumi and shallot skewers (yum), move on to the wintry slow cooked swede with Jack Daniels and peppercorn cream and do not pass go until you’re coating your corn on the cob with Cambodian coconut, lime and chilli baste every time it’s on the menu.

With chapters spanning the barbecue gamut of kebabs, burgers and fritters, sharing plates and more, Charred has enough meat on its bones to provide a fiery feast for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike all year-round.

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

Since its early days selling American-style barbecue out of a trailer, the (now closed) Pitt Cue restaurant amassed legions of fans desperate for a taste of its spectacular smoked brisket and all things pig. This book allows you to create the magic at home with just a little bit of patience, intuition and a hell of a lot of smoke. There’s a brief and interesting history of barbecue in the American South and the restaurant itself, then the book moves as your meal would: start with fantastic cocktails where a pickleback of Bourbon with a pickle juice chaser is non-negotiable and surprisingly moreish.

Next, it’s snacks, where its signature rubs are revealed, sides and even puddings – remember here that barbecue refers to the cuisine rather than the grill itself. This book is for hardened carnivores, and the more adventurous you are willing to be, the more you’ll get out of this. Barbecue has a tradition of nose to tail cooking and Pitt Cue fully embraces this with recipes for ears, tails, marrow right up to a celebratory pig’s head dish and even feet.

We’re utterly smitten with our fennel cured scratchings and excited to see recipes for little-used cuts like lamb breast with a merguez and Dijon rub (so juicy), and endless ways with pork, of course. They say the emphasis is on simplicity, but we found some dishes quite intimidating – the way to use this book is to pick one big, serious recipe – like that brisket – and really put the work in to sourcing the best cut you can, prepping it properly and not skimping on any ingredients or processes. You’ll reap what you sow.

‘Napoleon BBQ Barbecue Food From Round the World: 100 International Barbecue Recipe Ideas’, by Ralph de Kok, published by Christian Verlag

Beginning with a fascinating history of barbecue around the world, encompassing everything from souvlaki to yakitori, hibachi grills to churrasco, this book presumes the use of a standard charcoal or gas grill with temperature gauge as it takes you from continent to continent across the chapters. It covers all the classics like stuffed sardines, pulled pork and the famed boerewors which no South African braai would be without, all the way up to more unusual dishes like Xinjiang style lamb skewers and dishes you wouldn’t necessarily think to barbecue, like goulash and borscht.

We followed the Argentinian recipe for picanha (beef rump cap) to tremendous effect and found the traditional German bacon twists to be dangerously addictive. All recipes in this book are approachable and relatively simple, though some of the cuts of meat are less common in the UK. It’s meat-heavy but there’s still plenty of fish and vegetable recipes for the less carnivorous to get their teeth into. A great book full of exciting ideas that make you want to get grilling immediately.

Weber’s Barbecue Bible’, by Jamie Purviance, published by Octopus Books

Barbecue giant Webers cover all bases with this un-snobby comprehensive guide. It’s a down-to-earth tutorial on how to get the best from your equipment, and while it of course helps if you have a Weber model yourself, it also sets out in general terms how to master the science of barbecuing, whether you use a gas or charcoal grill. Gas owners will be pleased to see there are still a number of techniques to learn, including smoking.

We liked the inclusion of a chart detailing cooking temperatures and times for almost every meat cut, vegetable, seafood and even fruit we could think of, and enjoyed how some of the most common barbecue foods are covered in detail, allowing you to truly master the cooking of chicken wings, pizza, steaks and more.

This book dives into the big barbecue names like pulled pork, brisket and a terrific, crowd-pleasing recipe for pork carnitas that means we’ll never put it in the slow cooker again, but the real value to this book is in its doable weeknight recipes. Start with "Tuesday night marinated chicken thighs" and you'll be eating in 45 minutes. Then work your way through the six ways with chicken breasts, and planked salmon with gremolata knowing that your fish isn’t going to stick to the grill and ruin your dinner.

The seafood section in this guide is the best of the books we reviewed – we’ve earmarked the tequila smoked salmon with radish salsa for when the sun next shows itself – and the dozens of dressings, rubs and sauces are designed to be used on anything and everything, making this a really useful accompaniment to any barbecue.

The verdict: BBQ cookbooks

We’ve chosen DJ BBQ’s Fire Foodas our top pick thanks to its colourful, exciting recipes paired with practical advice for mastering the craft of barbecue; we defy anyone not to salivate over the incredible recipes in this book.

The Weber Bible is also a brilliant step-by-step companion for anyone starting out with grilling and the approachable recipes are a boon to newbies. Got to grips with cooking over fire? Master the trimmings and get stuck in to all year-round vegetable cooking outside with Charred.

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