Barbecuing is arguably the most American cooking tradition.
Most Americans think fondly of the barbecues they have shared with friends and family, be it at home for a summer holiday, while camping, or at the local stadium before a big game.
Despite this unifying American tradition of barbecuing, not all barbecues are created equal.
Knowing how to get perfectly juicy and smokey flavors every time doesn’t just come naturally, and learning the precise science and art of barbecuing requires a lot of expertise that can only come from, first, learning about barbecuing, and second, practicing what you have learned.
To build a strong foundation for your next barbecue, definitely consider doing some background reading. To help you out, let’s go through what you need to look for when looking for the best barbecue books for learning to smoke meat.
Choosing a Book for Learning How to Barbecue
While there is no single book that can teach you absolutely everything that you need to know about barbecuing, investing in a couple of thorough guides is usually one of the easiest ways to get a strong grasp on the basics.
However, not every barbecue guide is created equally, and there are hundreds of books on the market. To wade through all these books, here’s some things to keep in mind so that you can choose the best barbecue books for you.
The Author and Their Area of Expertise
When choosing a barbecue guide, it’s a good idea to consider who the author is and what they know about barbecuing.
Aside from the obvious need for the author to be a barbecue expert, you might also want to consider the kind of voice they have when they write.
The author’s voice is something that is particularly important to me: if I’m going to spend my time reading a book, especially if that book is information heavy, I like to have jokes or stories to keep it interesting.
Another factor to keep in mind when choosing the best barbecue books is the kind of barbecue, grill, or style of barbecuing that the author presents.
This is especially important if you have already invested in a specific grill: you don’t want to buy a guide that is all about a completely different appliance.
The “Extra” Information
While the basics of barbecuing don’t vary too much, the philosophy for how to improve your barbecuing techniques and the choice of equipment and tools can vary drastically. What’s more, so can the specific ways to learn about the art of barbecuing.
In general, you can find barbecue guides with all kinds of background information. Some books will have a more scientific approach to explain why barbecuing should be done a certain way, and others may focus more on the traditions and history of a technique.
The book you choose will depend largely upon your own hobbies outside of barbecuing. A chemist, for instance, may really enjoy books that explains how each technique gives the meat a slightly different flavor. On the other hand, a journalist may be interested in a more auto-biographical guide, where the barbecuer explains how they came to be famous.
Most books for learning to barbecue will include some of the expert’s favorite recipes. The best barbecue books have recipes for all kinds of meats, although some will focus on a single kind of meat, like brisket.
You can also find guides that focus on very traditional recipes that are deigned to help you truly master the basics, or you can choose instead a book that has a lot of avant garde dishes that you can use to impress your friends.
The style of barbecuing that you choose to pursue will be a direct reflection on your own personal taste and style, so it is important to start from the beginning by learning to make the dishes you love the most.
With all this in mind, let’s now take a look at five of the best barbecue books for learning to smoke meat
The Best Barbecue Books for Learning to Smoke Meat
Smoke It Like a Pro on the Big Green Egg & Other Ceramic Cookers
Eric Mitchell is a judge of the Kansas City Barbecue Society and director of the New England Barbecue Society.
Not only that, he has competed at both the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Barbecue Invitational and the American Royal Invitational with his ceramic cooker.
In this easy to read book, he gives you insider tips on how he roasts, smokes, and grills using his preferred kind of barbecue.
- This book focuses on only one kind of barbecue: a ceramic grill. This can give you a deep insight into the various techniques that you can do with ceramic cookers.
- It includes many recipes, and better yet, the instructions are actually clear so you shouldn’t have any issues following along with your own.
- Mitchell’s writing style is peppered with anecdotes and very easy to read. Even though this is a how-to book, it is far from dry.
- Mitchell does not write with the absolute beginner in mind. You will want to have some experience with other kinds of grilling and smoking before you dive into this book.
- While there are some pictures in this book, there are not as many as you would expect for a guide. The photos that are included, however, are realistic, so you get a good idea of what the food will actually look like instead of some stylized nonsense like in magazines.
- Most of the recipes don’t give time estimates for how long the meat will take to cook based on the weight of the cut. This can be frustrating when you are not familiar with all of the various rules for grilling.
How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbecue Techniques
– A Barbecue Bible! Cookbook by Steven Raichlen
As an author, journalist, and television host for Primal Grill and Barbecue University, Steven Raichlen has a unique kind of expertise for writing a how-to book about grilling.
- The photos in this book are beyond helpful in explaining the various techniques. Beginners should have no issues picking up on the ins and outs of grilling with the help of this book.
- While no book can ever fully explain all aspects of grilling, Raichlen comes very close. He includes tips for multiple kinds of grills, including propane and charcoal, and he also has information about how to properly smoke a barbecue.
- Raichlen includes specific information about different cuts of meat, and he does it concisely with pictures. This has been a great help for developing a real sense for how to cook just about anything.
- Raichlen’s recipes, while delicious, often include many uncommon ingredients. Be ready to make trips to a specialty market to find all of the things you need to repeat his recommendations.
- While there is information for every kind of cooking technique, the book does not go very far in depth for the them. This means that you will want to invest in another book later down the road once you have gained all the basic skills necessary for grilling.
- Some things in the book are simplified too much. For instance, instead of giving you information about what the cook will visibly look like, Raichlen only gives you the time you need to cook it, and this depends a lot on the grill you have.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto by Aaron Franklin
Coming from a humble background as the owner of a family-operated barbecue joint in Austin to being the winner of every single barbecue award, Aaron Franlkin’s guide to smoking gives you the sense that you, too, will be able to become a master.
- This book, with just over 200 pages, is not too long to feel daunting — and yet,
Franklin still has the time to cover a variety of topics related to barbecuing. This is a how-to guide that can grow with you as you gain more and more experience.
- Franklin explains many of the essential techniques he has learned from his own perseverance in an uncomplicated, easy-to-follow way.
- If you’re interested in some of the history of barbecuing, Franklin’s book gives you some perspective on this very American technique.
- Franklin does not include many recipes in this book. If you are hoping to have a lot of specific directions for how to make your barbecue, this book probably won’t be much help to you.
- The majority of the book focuses on making brisket, as this is Franklin’s main expertise. While Franklin’s techniques can translate to other cuts of meat, you don’t get as much perspective on how to do that with this book.
- You may already be familiar with a lot of the information in this book if you watch Franklin’s YouTube channel.
Smoking Meat: The Essential Guide to Real Barbecue by Jeff Phillips
Jeff Phillips is well known online for his presence as a smoking expert, this book is like a reference guide for barbecuers of all experience levels.
His straightforward storytelling makes this how-to guide easy to read, despite the fact that it is very information dense.
- Phillips gives specific information on how to season a smoker for the first time. This is especially useful, seeing as only a few kinds of smokers give you this vital information in their assembly guide.
- This book is filled with charts of all kinds that give you a strong understanding of when your barbecue is finished. Having all this information in one easy-to-understand location has been a lifesaver.
- Unlike many books for learning how to barbecue, Phillips spends the time to outline what tools you’ll want to have on hand when you get started with smoking.
- Phillips doesn’t include much more information in this book that he hasn’t already included on his various internet platforms.
- There are very few recipes in this book, and so you are left to apply a lot of the information yourself.
- Aside from certain charts, the information presented in Phillips’ book is rather basic. This book is not necessarily one that can grow with you as you delve deeper into the world of smoking.
Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling
A world-renowned barbecuer and food critic, Meathead Goldwyn’s barbecue guide is thorough, scientifically-based, and filled with tips for all kinds of barbecuing. His humorous voice makes this 350-page book easy and fun to read.
- There are many colored photos taken by Meathead himself, which help to give you an idea of what you can make with a smoker.
- Meathead includes many objective reviews on barbecue equipment in this book.
- There are 175 recipes included in this book, including specific recipes for rubs and sauces. The variety of recipes far outnumbers what you can find in other how-to books.
- Aside from the introduction with the science of barbecuing, there isn’t much more information in this book that you can’t get online.
- The recipes can be hard to read at times because of all the extra information that Meathead gives you to explain why it works. For some, this won’t be interesting.
- Meathead does not like electric grills as much as traditionally-powered gas, wood,
and charcoal units, so very little information is included on the best way to use electric equipment.
Ultimately, the decision about the best barbecue books to buy as your guides to barbecuing will depend largely on your own personal preferences.
However, as a guide that will be good for the majority of people to get into the more complex styles of barbecuing, Aaron Franklin’s Meat-Smoking Manifesto is a great starting option.
Franklin’s journey from amateur to award-winning expert means that he has already walked on the path where many beginners will find themselves.
More importantly, his guide presents some of the more intricate details of smoking in an easy-to-understand way.
While his book doesn’t have as many recipes as others, his guide is one that you can grow with as you become more confident in barbecuing.
We hope you enjoyed our guides on the best barbecue books for learning to smoke meat!