05/Sun/11 - 09:52 Filed in: Cookbook
This blog is a review of Serious Barbecue by Adam Perry Lang which I’ve used to make some of the best grilled or smoked meals I’ve ever done. Some of the dishes I’ve made from here are head and shoulders above the previous best versions of these dishes I’ve made. But it is not all perfection, this book has some flaws and downsides to it as well.
Unlike most BBQ cookbooks I own, this one is a hardcover and at $35.00 it is one of the priciest BBQ cookbooks I’ve seen. This book had quite a bit of buzz when it came out in 2009 and many said it was the BBQ cookbook of the year for 2009. I picked it up several times in visits to the bookstore, but I always put it back because I was put off by several things. First the $35.00 price. Secondly any BBQ cookbook I’ve seen where the person uses a middle name, the middle name is Bob, Joe, Ray, Dr. BBQ etc. Thirdly were the pictures in the book of meats getting brushed with whole rosemary sprigs used as the brush, and similar items. I feared this book was going to be pretentious BBQ, which valued process and appearance over taste. In the Winter of 2010 I finally picked it up, based on recommendations of like minded friends who swore by it. I felt better about the book right away after reading the Introduction. It seems Mr. Lang owns Daisey Mae’s BBQ which is one of the my favorite stops in New York City.
The book is 400 pages and consists of a brief Introduction chapter followed by a better than average BBQ Basics chapter. I was impressed the Lang didn’t just lay out a bunch of things you need to know about grilling and smoking. He takes the time to also explain the reasons behind his recommendations. For example: I was impressed that he set out specific temperatures he would be using when he says cook using Medium heat. Many books don’t do this and often imply you should set the knobs on a gas grill to High if you want High. Each gas grill has a different BTU rating and the outside air temperature affects the heat output as well. Lang takes the scientific approach and defines the temperature he means when he says High. He also lays out his philosophy about having layers of flavors in his dishes. He applies various flavors from prep through to carving and serving. This is what often puts his dishes a cut above similar versions of the dish by others. When you bite into it you are greeted with the basic flavor of the item itself, plus all sorts of other flavors. These layers of flavor are a double edged sword as I will describe in a bit. Following the BBQ Basics chapter are chapters on Pork, Beef and Veal, Lamb, Chicken and Turkey, Sides, Basic Recipes plus a chapter on some of the Science of how food cooks and another on Sources for some of the food or gear used in the book.
Each chapter starts out with a few introduction pages covering the meat or food item for that chapter. What cuts to use, how to shop for them etc. There is some useful info to be found there for sure. I made a point of reading all of these chapter introductions, even for chapters I haven’t cooked from yet. Lang uses grills, smokers, ceramic cookers and several other types of gear in these recipes. Some recipes use multiple gear such as starting on the smoker and finishing on the grill. Lang really does apply his flavors in layers. He will often start with a brine or marinade, follow that up with spice rub when the food goes on the grill/smoker, use a glaze towards the end of cooking, followed by a finishing sauce when the meat is resting and being carved and sometimes a final drizzle with more sauce or fresh herbs. One time he covered a roast fresh off the grill with herbs and wrapped it in plastic while it cooled. So your first take away from this it to realize that none of the recipes in this book are quick cooks you can do in 30-60 minutes after getting home from work on a week night. There is a good bit of time spent chopping and measuring out ingredients for these various sauces and rubs that give you these wonderful flavors. There is nothing here that is rocket science, but you will put in more work than many other recipes. Until I tried one of these recipes I was a bit skeptical on whether I would notice the difference these flavor layers will make. After my first attempt from this book, ASIAN PORK MEATBALL SKEWERS I was convinced. This is truly 5-star BBQ dining and for my money is worth the effort. I’ve made 10 items from this book so far and many of them are best in class. And if they weren’t best in class, they are in the top 3 for sure. At first I found if I made too many of these Adam Perry Lang recipes too close together, I would be a bit burned out from all the extra prep and time involved. But this was a short lived phenomenon. Lately I have made two or three of his recipes for the same meal or on back to back days and I haven’t felt burnt out. I think this book has upped my prep game and that certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Now while I give this book my highest recommendation, it is far from perfect. I am going to cover some items you should be ready for when you make the recipes in the book. The first is staged food photos. By that I mean some of the pictures shown with the recipe looks nothing like what you turn out. The first example of that I ran into was the pork belly sandwich I made. The picture of the finished pork belly in the book looks totally different than what you get. Fortunately a friend who owned the book gave me the heads up on this. The second problem is some of the recipes could be worded better. Part of this may be due to an excessive use of copy and paste. The text pasted in from some other recipe may not quite fit or make total sense. There are several times where I’ve asked others who own the book what their take on the instructions are. The third problem is some of the prep methods I consider a bit over the top. Some of the recipes call for you to brush a glaze on the hot food using full sprigs of rosemary. Now i’ve seen other cooks do this too, but IMHO it seems like more show than anything. Now I will agree to be proven wrong. Sometime when I have more rosemary on hand than I need for seasoning the food, I will try this. But for the amount of time the rosemary is in contact with the food, I am skeptical about how much it does. So I use a silicone brush. Another item like this is Lang will sometimes have you pour some sauce on the cutting board under the resting meat. You are then instructed to drag the slices of meat through this sauce on the cutting board as you slice the meat. Now don’t get me wrong I can see where this will give you more flavor, but it takes much more time when you are racing to get you food on the table. I also worry there will be less and less sauce getting on each slice of meat. What I’ve chosen to do is slice up the meat and lay it on the serving dish with as little overlap as possible, then I drizzle on the finishing sauce. This way I can make quick work of the carving and then quickly and evenly distribute the sauces on the meat.
The last issue may be best called pseudo science. About 25 percent of these recipes I’ve made call for you to put the food in a foil pan covered with aluminum foil and cook them on the smoker for one or more hours using wood chunks to make smoke. This made no sense at all to me. If you seal the pan with foil so the items in the pan steams and absorb the flavors of the spices and sauces in the pan, how is the smoke going to reach the food. In other words if the foil is keeping the steam in the pan, the smoke certainly isn’t going to make it’s way in. It’s not like the foil makes a one directional seal where the smoke gets in but the steam can’t get out. Despite what common sense told me, I tried it this way the first couple times and could detect zero smoke as I suspected. So bottom line here: I simply use the oven or my gas grill to do this. There is zero reason to heat up the smoker and waste smoking wood when it will have zero effect. I’ve talked to a few other folks who are of the same opinion, so I don’t feel like I am missing something. I did actually post a message on Adam Perry Lang’s website inquiring about the smoking a foil covered pan. I got an automated reply saying I should get a reply fairly soon. That was 5 months ago and in a way I am not surprised. In some ways this serves to make me feel I might be on the right track here.
Now don’t let any of my criticisms of this book keep you from buying it. Adam Perry Lang is an amazing BBQ chef and these are truly 5-star recipes. The criticisms I had were heads ups so you could use the book and ignore some of these little hiccups. This book isn’t for everyone however. You have to be serious about your barbecue, as the titIe suggest. You must be willing to trade some additional prep for some amazing layers of flavors in return. If you are thinking of getting the book, I will post a list of links at the bottom of this page for the recipes I’ve made from this book so far. This way you can visit the various photo pages and get an idea of the work involved making the recipe. In conclusion, let me be perfectly clear about this: Using this book you will turn out some amazing meals, probably best in class. Another way I can put it, is the last few times I wanted to make a special meal that would really impress people, this is the first cookbook I turn to. It hasn’t disappointed me yet.
Here are some links for the Photo Entries for the recipes I’ve made from Serious Barbecue.
SOME RELATED LINKS:
APPLESAUCE - Sides Picture Entry
ASIAN PORK MEATBALL SKEWERS - Kebabs Picture Entry
DRESSED ARUGULA - Other Picture Entry
GERMAN DELI-STYLE ROAST BEEF SANDWICH - Sandwiches Picture Entry
GLAZED PORK LOIN - Pork Picture Entry
GRILLED ASPARAGUS - Veggies Picture Entry
GRILLED ZUCCHINI & SQUASH - Veggies Picture Entry
HOT WINGS - Poultry Picture Entry
MOROCCAN LAMB STEW - Soups & Stews Picture Entry
PORK BELLY SANDWICH - Sandwiches Picture Entry
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