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Can it be? An American cookbook about barbecue that doesn't include "finger-lickin," "finger-licking," or even "lick yo fingers" anywhere in the text?
Yup, we're in luck, because this summer's best barbecue book is also blessedly free of clichés.
I met Robb Walsh at the National Barbecue Association last February. He told the story of the beginnings of this book, starting with the conflicting claims of the many legends surrounding Texas barbecue.
Texans love to argue about barbecue, Walsh says, in part because so many regional styles claim to be the "real barbecue. " If you believe the dictum that "barbecue is cooked slow and low," then visit the Kreuz Market in Central Texas, where the brick oven's temperature can reach 600F. The meat is dressed only with salt and pepper and smoke - not even a drop of red sauce. Is it Texas barbecue? Sure it is, and so is the BBQ made of pork shoulder smoked over pecan wood in South Texas. So is the Mexican migrant workers' informal BBQ of beef seared directly over coals of mesquite wood in West Texas.
"No one can really be sure of the definition," Walsh writes. "But the best way to preserve our traditions is constantly disagree about what Texas barbecue really is."
Common ground can be found in the wonderful recipes for Texas barbecue and side dishes that fill most of the book's 11 chapters. The first chapters cover history and tools for BBQ, the last chapter serves as a road map. Recipes mostly work as intended, from simple fare such as a barbecued cabbage to barbecoa, the cooked cow's head that makes Tejanos salivate while others swoon.
A few recipes omit details, such as the grapefruit chipotle sauce on p. 82 that calls for five cups of liquid plus other ingredients to be added to the pot. Problem is, the onions were sautéed in a "small skillet" to start - and my small skillet won't hold five cups of liquid. I finished the sauce in a stockpot and simmered it a bit longer, too.
Here are a few recipes from 'cue to sides for sampling:
1 cup red grapefruit juice (Walsh uses Rio Red, a popular brand from Texas)
1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 cups ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup water
1 tablespoon salt
Remove the seeds and stems from the chipotles, and puree the peppers with their reserved sauce in the blender. (Use a small paring knife to slit the peppers and scrape away the seeds, and be sure to wash your hands right away). In a large nonstick stockpot (reviewer's note: original recipe called for small skillet) placed over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onion for five minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until both onions and garlic are softened. Add the pepper puree and all the other ingredients. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Taste and adjust salt if desired. Can be stored for up to 3 weeks. Goes great with pork, brisket, and all kinds of barbecue.
Combine the jalapenos, onion, celery, and pepper in a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade, and pulse several times to make a fine minced paste. Heat the oil in a large skillet and fry the vegetables for 5-7 minutes, or until soft. Add the hot rice and blend well. (reviewer's note: I added a bit of salt, fresh minced cilantro and coarse ground black pepper, too.)
Yields 5 cups.
Rinse the ribs, pat them dry with a paper towel. Mix the seasonings in a bowl, then sprinkle the seasoning blend on both sides, patting to rub it in. Set up your smoker for indirect heat with a water pan. Use wood chips, chunks or logs, and keep up a good level of smoke. Maintain a temperature of 250 to 300 F. Place the ribs on the smoker, bone side down, as far from the heat source as possible. Cook for 3 to 3 and one half hours, or until a toothpick goes easily into the space between two bones. Sit back, drink a beer, and don't be in a rush. They will get very tender if you give them enough time.
If you are interested in purchasing the Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses by Robb Walsh, you can buy it online right now and save 30% off the list price by clicking here. The publisher's list price for the cookbook is $18.95.
Editor's Note: This special summertime cookbook review is by Lucy Saunders, editor of www.beercook.com. Thanks, Lucy!