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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Slow Fire

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This blog will cover my thoughts on Slow Fire, subtitled The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue a cookbook on low and slow smoking by Ray Lampe, aka Dr. BBQ. I’ve owned this book since October. I started drooling over this book immediately, but wasn’t able to make something out of it until New Years. This cookbook is a big hit with me on many levels and the recipes have been an even bigger hit with the folks I’ve served them to. Also don’t let the word “Beginner” put you off, there are plenty of good tips and great recipes to be found in this book.

BACKGROUND:
Ray “Dr BBQ” Lampe has been involved with BBQ for around 3 decades and has authored around 6 other books on grilling / bbq. He has also participated in competitions on the professional barbecue circuit, winning around 100 prizes over the years. He has appeared on TV cooking shows both as a cook and a judge. He has served as a “Spokeschef” for the Big Green Egg for a number of years now. I have actually seen him in that capacity twice now, at NewEgglandfest and Eggtoberfest in 2013. He is an enthusiast ambassador for BBQ and grilling and a great teacher. He always had time to answer people’s questions and was able to answer them in a plain simple way without sounding like he was being condescending or talking down to folks. I attended a cooking demo he gave at Octoberfest and I was very impressed. He was able to pass along quite a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time, all the while keeping it fun and light. I was also impressed he was able to add in some food satiety tips along the way without it sounding preachy. What I mentioned above is just skimming the surface of his resume. If you are interested, you can find out more at Dr. BBQ’s website: Dr.BBQ.com

BY THE NUMBERS:
Slow Fire is a hardcover cookbook released in May 2012 measuring: 9” x 8 1/4” x 3/4” (23 x 21 x1.9 cm). It contains 68 recipes on 176 pages. The list price is $22.95 and there is a Kindle version available for $6.27. For the appearance reasons I discuss below, you might want to go for the physical version.

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APPEARANCE:
Normally I don’t give too much thought about the appearance of a cookbook. After all it is the recipes themselves that matter. Many cookbooks these days, including some of Dr. BBQ!’s previous books, follow a similar pattern. They are printed on plain stock and usually in one or two colors. The text pages will use black text and some other highlight or heading text in a second color. The pictures, if any, on a particular page are black and white or a duo-tone. They are often basic pictures of the food without much styling. There may be one or two full color images, but these are often not particularly well done. Normally I don’t focus on the appearance aspect of the cookbook, I am interested in the recipes. This book is published by Chronicle Books. This is a different publisher than his earlier cookbooks and this may explain the difference in appearance. This hard covered cookbook borders on what I’d call a coffee table book - a book with lots of pictures and a nice graphic design, that would look good sitting out on your coffee table. The only reason I said “...borders on...” is because there aren’t quite as many pictures as what I think of as a coffee table book. Less than half of the recipes have pictures, but what pictures are in the book are beautifully composed and photographed. It looks like a “food-stylist” was involved because there is a great attention to every little detail. Why am I going on and on about the graphic design of this cookbook? Well, to my own surprise I am finding the beautiful pictures are affecting my use of the book. Eating a good meal is made up of multiple sensory experiences. You taste the food, you smell the food and you SEE the food. I find that every time I look through this book, I am putting way more recipes on my “To Do” list than I expected. There are several recipes I may not have even considered making, based only on the recipe name and ingredients. Even a so so black and white picture, as found in many other cookbooks, may not have done it for me. But one look at some of these beautiful photos and I am hooked: I just know that I must make this recipe. This is why I said earlier you may not want to go with the Kindle version of this particular cookbook. The physical version of this book adds to your whole experience.


APPROACH:
I heard Ray Lampe talking about his approach with this book on a podcast. He said his target audience was the backyard cook, who may know grilling but is totally new to low and slow smoking. Barbecue is something they’ve wanted to try, but they are a bit intimidated by how to get started. Other BBQ cookbooks are written by the BBQ elite who are targeting it to a more advanced level of smoker using a higher level of equipment. The recipes aren’t necessarily explaining why, just saying I am a BBQ god, this is the way I do it, this is what you do. All of the recipes in Slow Fire were made on weekend warrior/backyard cook level of equipment all costing under $1,000. The recipes were made on the Weber WSM & Kettles, Big Green Eggs, small Cookshack smokers and stove top smokers. Some of the categories like brisket and ribs have a range of recipes from backyard BBQ level to competition BBQ grade recipes. Once again I say, don’t let the words “Beginners Guide” put you off. My attitude with cookbooks is even if you find one or two great recipes in the cookbook, it is worth the price. The same goes with tips. There are plenty of great recipes and good tips here. The trick is there is some advanced info here, but it is explained in simple terms that make it easy for someone to grasp the concept. I consider myself to be an intermediate level backyard cook and I found some new info here as well as plenty of great recipes.

ORGANIZATION:
The book is organized as follows:
  • Foreword - Written by “Famous Dave” Anderson
  • The Art of Barbecue - Two page discussion of what exactly BBQ is and why you want to use this method of cooking for your food.

Tool & Techniques - Most cookbooks these days have a similar opening section. This one is slightly different being tailored towards the information a beginning smoker (as opposed to a beginning griller) would need. The opening section is somewhat better than most, I’d give it a B to a B-plus for its intended audience.
  • The Smokers - A discussion of the types of rigs appropriate for this level of Barbecue, it also includes info on a couple of devices that can be used but are less appropriate.
  • Charcoal & Wood - A discussion of the types of charcoal used for making barbecue and the types of wood that can be used. The recipes involving smoking all have a wood paring included as part of the recipe. One of the things I like is he takes a real world approach to how many wood chunks or chips you should use. The amount of smoke you get varies by the device you are using and your personal tolerances for smoke. The recipes say light medium or heavy smoke, but leaves it to the user to determine that amount. I appreciated this non-BS approach. There simply is no one right answer to this question.
  • Tool & Techniques - Barbecue Tools - A summary of some of the tools you will need for low and slow BBQ. Each brief description gives you the essential information you need about the tools, and sometimes recommends a particular item. Once again I appreciated his non BS real world approach. He talks about pit controllers, but suggests learning your rig without any pit controller first.

  • Chapter 1 - This first chapter briefly discusses rubs & sauces and then provides 7 rub recipes and 7 sauce recipes that are used for the main recipes in the book. What I like is these recipes are relatively simple. They use 10-12 ingredients which most folks would or should have in their pantries. This as opposed to many recipes in other contemporary cookbooks which contain twice as many ingredients, some of which tend to be on the exotic side. So far the two rubs and two sauces I’ve had have been excellent without being overly complex. One of the things I like is the rubs and sauces are used with multiple recipes in the book. Other cookbooks often have you make up a big batch of spice rub or sauce and you end up using it for that one thing. They may say it can also be used with X,Y & Z, but there is only one recipe actually in the cookbook which uses it.
  • Chapter 2 - Ribs Rule the World - This chapter covers many aspects of ribs. It has several recipes for baby back ribs, spare-ribs, rib tips and short ribs. It also covers a range of skill levels from weekend warrior cooking in the backyard, to competition calibre ribs.
  • Chapter 3 - Pork Glorious Pork - Includes recipes for all of the popular cuts of pork. It includes all the usual suspects like Boston butts & pork picnics, but it also includes some comfort food recipes for ham, pork chops & pork steaks.
  • Chapter 4 - Beautiful Beef - This chapter is an eclectic mix ranging from bbq staples like pulled beef & beef brisket; comfort food like pastrami, burgers, meat loaf & fajitas; and more expensive cuts like prime rib and roast beef.
  • Chapter 5 - The Birds - Recipes for whole chicken or turkeys as well as parts. There is also a recipe for cornish hen & one for duck.
  • Chapter 6 - Everything But - This would be the category called Other in barbecue competitions. There are recipes for fish & seafood, lamb, and some more exotic items like stuffed peppers, smoked bologna, stuffed mushrooms, Scotch eggs & kielbasa.
  • Chapter 7 - The Necessary Side Dishes - This is a grab bag of side dishes, stews, salads and deserts. Some of the items in here are cooked indoors and not on a smoker.
  • Index
  • Table of Equivalents - Conversion chart for Imperial (US) measurements to their Metric equivalent measurement.

MAKING THE RECIPES:
These recipes were a pleasure to make. They were very easy to make which is obviously important for a beginners BBQ book. They used a reasonable amount of non-exotic ingredients that most folks would or should have in their pantry. Most importantly they had excellent flavor. I have one of Adam Perry Lang’s cookbooks: SERIOUS BARBECUE, which takes BBQ meals to a whole new level. You would almost call it Gourmet BBQ and it is several levels of complexity higher than this cookbook. I use the recipes in SERIOUS BARBECUE for extra special occasions, but these are not recipes I want to make regularly. This book has recipes that you can make anytime without a lot of advanced planning. About the only advanced planning you might want to do is to make the spice rubs or sauces in advance. Making these items ahead, frees you up the day of the cook to concentrate on the recipe you are making. The recipes have a relatively easy prep, are easy to cook and are long on flavor. The recipes remind me very much of Stephen Raichlen’s cookbooks, which have great tasting food which was easy to make. This is a very high compliment, because I often find less is more.

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The first recipe I made was DOUBLE SMOKED HAM WITH APRICOT GLAZE and SANDI’S SWEET ’n’ SPICY BAKED BEANS. It is representative of many of the recipes in the book. The ham recipe used a smoked ham which was heated on the smoker, allowing you to add wood smoke flavor and brush on a tasty glaze. The glaze was simple but tasty: Just four ingredients, the most exotic of which was apricot halves. The baked beans recipe was a doctored baked beans recipe, where canned baked beans are doctored by adding some additional ingredients. This recipe used all of 6 ingredients including the beans. I have made other doctored baked beans recipes where the ingredients numbered in the low 20’s and covered the entire counter between my sink and refrigerator. Even though these beans used a small amount of ingredients, some of my guests declared these to be the best doctored beans I have served them. One of the other things I liked was the fact that these two recipes (and most of the other recipes in the book) are cooked at 235 degrees (115C). This allows you to double up two recipes on the same smoker since they are being cooked at the same temperature. When I made these two I used both of my Big Green Eggs for space reasons. When I ran into some temperature issues on the grill the ham was on, I was able to squeeze the ham onto the Egg that was smoking the beans.

“Twelfth“Fourth



When I made SMOKED MEATLOAF WITH DR. PEPPER BBQ SAUCE and TWICE SMOKED CHEESY POTATOES it was a similar experience to my first cook. The meatloaf recipe used a dozen basic ingredient including one type of meat. This was in contrast to many modern meatloaf recipes I’ve seen, where the operating principal seems to be: Why use a dozen ingredients when two or three dozen and 3 meats could make it better? I L-O-V-E smoked meatloaf and I was curious how a back to basic meatloaf recipe like this one, would stack up against these modern smorgasbord recipes. The potatoes were also less complex than many of the other current recipes I’ve seen. Both the meatloaf and twice smoked potatoes got rave reviews. About half of the folks liked the smoked potatoes even more than the meatloaf.

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The most recent recipe I made was JAMBALAYA-STUFFED BELL PEPPERS which turned out some really hot and spicy stuffed peppers with a fiery New Orleans style flavor. It was the most complex Slow Fire recipe, by ingredient count (15), but still was simple to make. I now want to make some of the other New Orleans influenced recipes in this book based on the greatness of the stuffed peppers. Every time I go through this book, I find one or more recipes I want to add to my “To Do” list.

Repeatability:
What I mean by this category is what chance does the end user, in this case most likely a beginning level user, have of following the directions and ending up with something that looks and eats like the pictures in the cookbook? With grilling and barbecue becoming more and more popular, more and more cookbooks are coming onto the market. Many of them seem like they were rushed to the market and that nobody bothered to actually attempt to make the final version of the recipe as will be published. That is the only way I can rationalize some of the mistakes I’ve seen in many cookbooks. I mentioned Steven Raichlen, whose recipes I really like, and whose relatively simple but tasty recipes remind me of Dr. BBQ’s. Sadly, some of his cookbooks suffer from big and small mistakes. There are three recipes I can think of which were actually impossible to make as written. I wrote a blog entry several years ago called A RECIPE FOR FAILURE several years ago if you are interested in reading more about this problem. So how do Dr. BBQ’s recipes seem to stack up so far? Very, very well at this point for me. I heard Dr. BBQ interviewed on a podcast. When asked about the cookbook writing process: He said he makes a list of the names of the recipes he wishes to do and what they are in concept. Then he gathers up all of the ingredients he wants to use for all of the recipes and starts working out the details of the recipes. So it sure sounds like these recipes actually get made in their final form before they get published.

The recipes are clearly written, easy to execute and cook in about the same amount of time the recipe calls for. I’ve actually enjoyed myself even when making a new recipe from the cookbook for the first time. Everything I made for my main courses came out very close to the mark. This allows you to relax and enjoy yourself, knowing there should not be any surprises. The one item which was off was a reduction of Dr. Pepper for a BBQ sauce. I am not going to ding this cookbook for that. This phenomena isn’t unique to this cookbook. In fact almost every reduction sauce I’ve ever tried to make has taken twice as long or longer that the directions call for. It is great when the times listed in a recipe prove accurate. Preparing multiple dishes that finish up in the same time frame is so much easier when you can trust the times in the cookbook. Also the recipe for twice smoked potatoes called for about twice as many scallions as I would have used, so when I made my version of it I did just that-used half as many scallions. Once again I am not going to deduct serious points for that. I’d say, based on what I’ve tried so far these recipes are very dependable. This is just what you’d want in a cookbook aimed at beginners.

Ch-Ch-Changes:
What do I think needs changing or could be done better? Really, not too much. I have a one item that is semi-legitimate and a couple things I personally might like. The photos in the book are beautiful, but less than half of the recipes had accompanying photos showing the finished product. I think for people that are first starting out, you can’t have enough photos. But judging by the quality of these photos, they were not inexpensive to produce. So I’m sure the publishers struck a balance where they included as many photos as they could and keep the price reasonable. If I had a vote, I might have wanted to see what dropping a couple recipes might have allowed in terms additional photos. In my opinion one of the greatest cookbooks out there is HOW TO GRILL, by Steven Raichlen, which has around 1,000 photos. The photos are what helps make this book great, and there is good info to be had by any level of cook. I could see this book being the BBQ version of that book. Graphically Smoke Fire is a much higher quality book, so you would have no chance of including as many recipes as HOW TO GRILL. What I am saying is keep the number of recipes as is, or reduce them slightly and include more photos.

My other two comments are selfish comments, things that are good for me and possibly not many others. So I am not counting these comments against this book. The first would be to include more side dishes. The ones that are in there now are excellent, so I’d love to see more. The second would be to include more desserts and make them smoked desserts. The desserts in here are not made on the smoker. Are most beginners going to care about this? Probably not. They are going to want to learn how to master ribs, brisket and pork shoulders.
Slow Fire is perfect for this task. So I would call these two comments “Pie-in-the-Sky” thinking (pun intended). Dr. BBQ just released a new cookbook Pork Chop that is 60 recipes for guess what? Pork chops. Perhaps a future book could be dedicated to BBQ Appetizers, Sides & Desserts.

Conclusion:
For the target audience of people who are new to BBQ, this is a great book. It will get you off to a great start in the world of low and slow barbecue cooking. But once again if you are not a beginner, don’t dismiss this book out of hand. I am very much enjoying the great tasting, easy to make recipes in this book. I have a long list of other recipes from this book that I want to make soon.

SOME RELATED LINKS
Here are some links to the picture entries for the food I’ve made so far from this cookbook plus some related blog entries.

  DOUBLE SMOKED HAM WITH APRICOT GLAZE Pork Picture entry
  SANDI’S SWEET ’n’ SPICY BAKED BEANS Sides Picture entry
  SMOKED MEATLOAF WITH DR. PEPPER BBQ SAUCE Beef Picture entry
  TWICE SMOKED CHEESY POTATOES Veggies Picture entry
  JAMBALAYA-STUFFED BELL PEPPERS Veggies Picture entry

  A RECIPE FOR FAILURE 2012 Blog Entry
  SERIOUS BARBECUE 2011 Blog Entry
  HOW TO GRILL 2008 Blog Entry

  DR. BBQ.com Web link to Dr. BBQ’s site

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