Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review: Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book

By: Chris Lilly

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

255 pages

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book is a strange but wonderful amalgamation of styles. A highly effective mash-up of the anecdotal styles of books such as ‘Smokestack Lightning’ and ‘Searching for the Dixie Barbecue’ and of excellent BBQ cookbooks, such as Ray ‘Dr. BBQ’ Lampe’s ‘Big Time’ books; this is a surprising and rewarding read. Writing any book is daunting for a novice. Writing a book using dual styles and expecting it to succeed on both levels would be foolhardy. It’s a good thing that no one told Mr. Lilly that.

Interspersed with the recipes are stories and biographical information on Bob Gibson, his family and the restaurant. Chris is clearly telling a very personal story here, warts and all. Although Big Bob Gibson is a larger than life character (almost literally), he isn’t dehumanized in the book by ignoring and glossing over his faults. All of the various characters here come to life as their personal stories intertwine with that of the restaurant.

Photographs that document the history of the restaurant and the family help to personalize the anecdotes and provide a warm contrast to the beautiful, lush photos of the food. Although I’m a sucker for anything that will enhance the personal narrative, my favorite two photos are of food and are found on pages 74 and 75. The pictures accompany a recipe for Pecan Crusted Pork Tenderloin Pinwheels. Page 74 showed a complete progression of each step in the preparation of the dish. Page 75 has a mouthwatering full page photo of the dish being cooked on a grill.

Like most BBQ cookbooks, Mr. Lilly begins with the basics. Covering types of grills and smokers, fuels, spices and woods, Chris offers a strong introduction for the beginner. What surprised me in this section was the in depth look at various methods of effective charcoal use for various smokers and grills. I’ve never seen another book go into such detail and the methods were accompanied by photos for easily visualization.

In keeping with theme of assisting the novice, the book is replete with ‘pitmaster’s tips’. These range from the basic to the fairly arcane and usually are no more than a few sentences in length. I’m not sure where they came from (were they submitted to the authors website?), but another regular feature are questions about grilling and BBQ (such as how to keep meat moist or how to properly cook a turkey) that Chris answers. Combined with the segments (broken down into specific decades) that cover the history of the restaurant, it seems as though there was a concerted effort to not allow any wasted space. If that’s the case, I applaud the effort. Nothing seemed superfluous.

The recipes are plentiful and varied. They range from the simple (such as the 4 ingredient coleslaw) to the more sophisticated Bacon Wrapped Shrimp with Basil Stuffing. Not only are the recipes all solid, but Chris includes many of the recipes that he and his team use on the competition circuit. Big Bob Gibson may arguably be best known for their white sauce and I realize that the temptation is to go directly to that recipe (page 218), but spending some time going over the rest of the recipes will be richly rewarded.

If this were any other book, I would be most impressed with the recipes and the generosity of the author in sharing his ‘secrets’. In this case, I have to note again how well each theme of the book succeeds. The photos would feel at home in any pictorial, the anecdotes pull you into the story, the introduction to the hobby is detailed and innovative and the recipes make you want to go out and start ‘Qing.

In the hierarchy of my bookshelf, Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book is going to sit on the top shelf.


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