Customer Review

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delight - great food, adventure, wonderful pictures and recipes, July 23, 2005
This review is from: Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country (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. They found a lot of bad cooking along the way, but they found some good to wonderful barbecue as well. The interesting thing to me is that there is no real predictor of when they were going to find something great. Some of the tiny places out back were good, most were bad. Some of the larger establishments were good, most were not.

What you had to have was a pit master who cared, who knew what he was doing, and who was willing to do the time consuming work to make it happen. The authors also show us a wide range of preparations of meats. Mostly it is pork, except in Texas where it is beef. In some places it is just ribs and brisket, others it is the whole hog.

A few still cook it in a pit in the ground, most have above ground pits of brick and sand and some with steel. One pitmaster argued that steel wrecks the meat, but most cook that way. There are those that use indirect heat and smoke. There are others who want the flame and the burning of the grease drippings. The most successful use good wood or charcoal. Although they did find one place that barbecued with electric heat and a strip of wood for smokey flavoring. The worst whole hog was a place that used gas and nothing to put any flavor in.

There are places that specialize in different things. Some do the pork shoulder, some are ribs and brisket, and some cook the whole hog. Some even do chicken and shrimp, but the authors dismiss these as not being barbecue because the only thing they have in common is the sauce and a touch of flame. No slow cooking or smoking.

I can tell you that I wished I were with the authors at a few of the places to sample the food with them. However, I do not believe I am quite adventurous enough to want to seek out snoot sandwiches or ear sandwiches. And while I have had pork rinds, I have not had cracklins. I assume they are different. It was also very interesting to me how much of what you ate as a child biased you as to what barbecue is. Frank loved the ribs from Chicago even though they weren't cooked like traditional barbecue, weren't as tender as "real" barbecue, but were nonetheless tasty as all get out.

Among the many delights of this book are the fabulous pictures taken by one of the authors. They show so much. Wonderful people who are full of character and life. Frank Stewart caught so much of the atmosphere of the places the authors take us to that I felt in some ways that I have been there.

The book also supplies many recipes that were acquired in the travels and hard won sampling of the nation's barbecue. These are the good stuff. Frank and Lolis also provide us with the addresses of their favorite places.
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Craig Matteson
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Location: Saline, MI

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