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Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country Hardcover – April, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Through vivid descriptions of restaurants and barbecue joints around the country, stirred together with legends and bits and pieces of barbecue history, Lolis Eric Elie profiles the largely American pastime of barbecuing. Traveling from Texas to the Carolinas, the author chronicles the lore and traditions of the barbecue belt and collects recipes, descriptions and photographs of everything from barbecued cows' faces to pigs' snouts, on his quest to determine barbecue's role in American culture.

From Publishers Weekly

While traveling with the Wynton Marsalis Band, Elie as road manager, Stewart as the photographer for Marsalis's book, Sweet Swing Blues on the Road, the authors consumed so much barbecue, they decided to go off on their own and write a historical, cultural and culinary study of this type of cooking. Driving through the Midwest and the South in their 1981 Volvo, with a tape of Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lighting" for company, they visited nearly 50 barbecue restaurants, talking to cooks, taking pictures and evaluating the food, most of which was undistinguished. The book abounds in local color and graphic details of barbecue preparations; the description of how cows' heads are cleaned at one place in Brownsville, Texas, is particularly grisly. Stewart's photographs include shots of many of the people they interviewed as well as studies of severed hogs' heads and intestines. Some of this is interesting, but a little barbecue research, like barbecue itself, goes a long way. Recipes, a barbecue bibliography and the addresses and phone numbers of the restaurants they visited are included. (May) FYI: Elie is now a columnist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (T); 1st edition (April 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374266468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374266462
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 10 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
The NY Times' Eric Asimov calls this "Simply the best book on barbecue I've ever read," and I agree. There are sooo many bbq books out there, and most are pretty lame. But this one's different. It doesn't cover much in the way of actual cooking techniques, but it's a fantastic and utterly evocative guide to 'cue culture; the people and places as well as the smoked meat itself. Great armchair coverage of big, famous restaurants, roadside stands, and home Sunday family BBQ, filled with rich folklore and sociological observations.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
I had a wonderful experience of things and places I never knew while reading this book. When a book can provide that, I don't know what more you could ask for. My first experience of eating ribs was as a boy at my father's union picnic. When they told me I could eat some ribs, I did not want to eat them. Once I tasted them, I could not get enough. For a while, I looked for every opportunity to find more of this magical delicacy. Then I ran into some tough, dried out, vein laden stuff that put me off it for quite awhile.

Even so, I am not sure that what I ate was barbecue even though that is what it was called in the world of my youth. I suspect that for many people if you cook something over an open flame or charcoal and put sauce on it, that is barbecue, barbeque, BBQ or whatever else you want to call it. It wasn't until I read Calvin Trillin's wonderful writing on his favorite food in Kansas City, Missouri that I realized there was a difference between my cooking out back over charcoal in a Weber Smoker and the slowly cooked, low temperature, super tender barbecue. It was not until very recently that I have tasted whole hog barbecue cooked in a pit over wood and it makes all the difference in my appreciation of this great food.

I bought this book at a special barbecue evening at Zingerman's Roadhouse here in Ann Arbor and one of the authors, Lolis Eric Elie, was there to talk with us about what he had found, what we were eating, his book, and his DVD. It was such an impressive evening that I wanted to read what he had to say.

The authors took me on a wonderful adventure. I got to follow them from Memphis and meandering through Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, both Carolinas, Chicago, and others.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Scott Shepherd on November 7, 1997
Format: Hardcover
While the book serves as a chronicle of a cross country trip in search of the perfect barbeque, it does much more than that. We are introduced to a variety, and I do mean variety, of people from across the southeast and the heart of America. This book celoebrates these people and their lives. The barbeque almost serves as a metaphor for society and culture as they change and evolve. The book examines how traditions, generations, and diversity impact our barbeque and our lives. A well written narative that took me places I have never seen and introduced me to people I had never met. All of them interesting.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Toasted Cheese on August 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
First off, if you are buying this book expecting a cookbook, don't. Buy it because it is a hell of an entertaining read instead. The book itself is one man's story of traveling the backroads of the US searching for and eating a lot of good barbecue. It is also his opinion of what makes good barbecue - some folks take exception to what his opinions are. This is almost always the way with barbecue. As with religion and politics, an almost certain way to start an argument at a party is do discuss what makes "good barbecue" with others who have their own opinions. If you cannot handle reading another man's opinions, don't bother with this book. For me it proved to be interesting if not educational, and I certainly don't agree with all or even many of his opinions.

Also, as others have said, he often mimics the speech of locals when quoting them. "Under it" becomes "Un'er it" etc. I don't personally see this as making fun of them or ridiculing them at all. To the contrary, I feel it is done to give the audience a little insight into what it was like to interact with these folks. Many of the quotes in question would have seemed downright bizarre if written in proper English rather than dialect. Again, if you can't stand to read quotes that include semi-gibberish because you find it offensive, this book may not be for you. I found it entertaining.

This book was OOP for several years. Personally I'm glad to see that it's available again. In my opinion it's one of the best of its breed.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Lumpkin on April 28, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one great book. I love it so much, I bought another copy "just in case". The writing is superb, the photography is amazing, and from a Q-fanatic with literally hundreds of barbeque books, this one is my very favorite.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 1, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book, not for recipies but for a trip through real barbque country. The book is part travel literature, part regional cooking essay and part American social essay by two guys who show a love for the history and lore of barbque. If you consider yourself a lover of Barbque, not grilling mind you, you will love reading this book.
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I have been waiting to read this book for quite some time. "Smokestack Lighting, Adventures in the heart of Barbecue country". It was well worth the wait. My favorite books and movies have always centered around the "road trip", ofcourse the BBQ element is a major bonus. The first edition came out in the mid 90's, this edition in 2005. It is NOT a cookbook, nor was it intended to be. The writer and photographer toured with the Wynton Marsalis Band and came of with this idea for a book of BBQ.... specifically in the regions its known for.
What resulted was around 50 different places, mostly below the Mason/Dixon, alot of the places some of you have heard of, Lem's, the Rib Joint, Kennys, in Chicago, Bryants, Gates, Rosedale, in KC, the Rendezvous, Cozy's in Memphis... and so on. The majority were word of the mouth, from locals in the area, "Hey, where can I get some good BBQ in this town". Some responses they got were unanimous, most were all over the map.
They talked to alot owners, chefs, pitmasters with names like Big Daddy, Ardie, Heavy, Chinamen, Buck, Oklahoma Joe and Chalmon. There were some items specific to one area, Cow Heads along the Tex/Mex border, mutton in parts of Kentucky, snoots in East Saint Louis, IL.
Some regions prefer mesquite wood, others hickory, oak, or pecan. In many parts of the Carolinas it's gas and electricity that do the cooking.
Some regions its sauce on the side, other regions its on the meats themselves. Some are Tomato based, other are vinegar, or mustard based.
My favorite part of the book was when the author and photographer are drafted to be judges at a BBQ competition in KY, ultimately the definitions of "what is BBQ" and even, "What is GOOD BBQ" are very, very subjective.
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