It's summertime and the grill has hardly had a chance to cool down. Whether it is quickly grilling off a few burgers, BBQing a few ribs or smoking some homemade Summer Sausage, my grills get used, at least, a few times a week, and it will remain that way until after the first snow flies, when my outdoor grilling adventures will slow down, but not end. Yes, I am a year round griller and as such, I have many cookbooks devoted to the "art" of grilling and BBQing. I recently added 2 new books to my collection, "The Big Book of Barbecue Sides" by Rick Browne and "Mastering the Craft of Smoking Food" by Warren R. Anderson. While both devote themselves to the joys of "outdoor" cooking this is were the similarities end, both in style and content, though both deserve a place in any outdoor cooking enthusiast's cookbook collection.
I have to admit, I usually stay away from cookbooks that have the words "The Big Book ofâ€¦." in their title. In my experience these books tend to be large volumes of uninspired recipes quickly thrown together with lots of beautiful pictures to entice you to buy these books. Not so with "The Big Book of Barbecue Sides" by Rick Browne. His book is loaded with great recipes to help fill out your "backyard" dining experience, some using the grill, and some meant to be prepared indoors. Mr. Browne covers a variety of subjects with chapters ranging from breads to salads to fruits to a  variety of chapters devoted to different starches. Here you will find traditional sides from all over the nation, items such as "Dirty Rice", "American Potato Salad", and "Creamy Coleslaw". You will also find some great innovative dishes such as "Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad", "Spicy Pineapple Fritters" and "Grilled Belgian Endive." This book is loaded with great, simple recipes that anyone would like and could prepare. I only have 2 issues with the book, both small ones. First, a few of his "innovative" recipes seem a little forced to me, like Mr. Browne is trying too hard to come up with something creative. Where he really shines is in his recipes for more traditional sides. The second issue I have with the book might be a positive in some people's eyes. Many of his "Bean" recipes use canned beans as a starting point. Personally, I feel he could have achieved better flavors using dried beans, but those people with limited time will surely appreciate these quick dishes.
While "The Big Book of Barbecue Sides" is a fun little book devoted enhancing your backyard BBQ's, "Mastering the Craft of Smoking Food" is an in depth guide on how to take your BBQing skills to the next level and into the realm of smoking. This is no simple, little, "light read". Mr. Anderson as devoted over 300 pages to giving you the knowledge you need to turn out great smoked foods. This book covers everything, from how to build a variety of different smokers to the chemistry behind smoking and the use of nitrites to recipes on how to smoke just about anything. This book is written for that backyard cooking enthusiast who wants to learn a new skill. There is not much that Warren Anderson misses in his book. He takes great care in explaining how to keep your food safe while curing and smoking it, a topic he doesn't take lightly as these are serious concerns for anyone attempting to preserve meat. His recipes can run for pages due to both the complexity of smoking and curing meats and to his desire to make everything as understandable as possible. You will find recipes on how to make bacon and variety of smoked sausages, recipes for both hot and cold smoked salmon, and recipes for a variety of different poultry. This book is definitely not for everyone, but if you are the grill master of your backyard and wish to expand your knowledge into the smoking of foods then this is a must have book.