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As the thermometer rises and the afternoons grow longer, summer barbecue season is almost upon us. Just in time for your first feast of the season, a new crop of barbecue books have arrived. Whether you're looking to go whole hog—literally—or just grill a few chicken wings, these books are sure to inspire.


Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue

Sam Jones & Daniel Vaughn
(Ten Speed Press)

The legendary Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, is a barebones, no-nonsense kind of operation, and so is Sam Jones's new cookbook. And that's a good thing, since many restaurant cookbooks pad out a short slate of signature dishes with seemingly random recipes for grilled meats and salads.

Not so with Whole Hog BBQ. Jones—Skylight's 3rd generation pitmaster—shares the decades-old recipes behind his family's short but acclaimed menu, including sheet-pan cornbread and sweet mayo-based slaw. He follows that with selections from the expanded menu at his own restaurant, Sam Jones BBQ, which he opened in 2016, where he added things like ribs, smoked turkey, and pimento cheese. For the hardcore BBQ fanatic, a full chapter is dedicated to step by step instructions for cooking a whole hog the Eastern North Carolina way, from building a cinder block pit through chopping and saucing the finished meat.

The recipes are tied together by a rich web of stories from one of the country's most notable barbecue families. In a collaboration with Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly (thankfully, no beef recipes managed to sneak in), Jones relates how his grandfather got started in the business and chronicles his own journey from being the reluctant scion of a barbecue family to becoming a traveling ambassador for the Eastern North Carolina whole hog tradition.

Jones' easy-going voice and sharp wit make the narrative sing, but he doesn't sugar coat things. He addresses the early challenges that shaped his life and career, and he describes the tensions created within his family when he decided to step out at the age of 33 and open a restaurant of his own–and, scandalously, to sell beer. All in all, it's a compelling read that may well inspire you to head out back and fire up a cinder block pit. Or at least a kettle grill.


Smokelore: A Short History of Barbecue in America

Jim Auchmutey
(University of Georgia Press)

Smokelore is a companion book to the Atlanta History Center's exhibit Barbecue Nation, which opened in May 2018 and is slated to run thru September of this year.Jim Auchmutey, a former reporter and editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, writes with a light and engaging style, and he carries the story of barbecue from its origins among Native Americans to the international fusions of the early 21st century.

The core of the narrative focuses on the evolution of barbecue during the 20th century. The material is grouped thematically, with chapters chronicling the rise of barbecue restaurants, the spread of barbecue culture through the Great Migration, and barbecue in song and movies. Plenty of recipes are sprinkled throughout, too, from rib tips and Cornell chicken to an array of regional sauces. More than anything, Smokelore is a feast for the eyes, extensively illustrated with color photographs, menus, and advertisements that capture the vibrant history of American barbecue.


Southern Smoke: Barbecue, Traditions, and Treasured Recipes Reimagined for Today

Matthew Register
(Harvard Common Press)

Matthew Register has won accolades for the chopped pork and ribs he turns out at Southern Smoke, his restaurant in the small town of Garland, North Carolina, and he translated that into successful catering business. Now he's out with a cookbook that takes readers on a culinary tour of Eastern North Carolina. The recipes cover barbecue fundamentals like smoked Boston butt with the region's classic pepper-laced vinegar sauce. It offers plenty of other local delicacies, too, like Lenoir County fish stew, fried Spanish mackerel harps, and smoked chicken quarters with Papa Nipper's Church Sauce, which are finished, intriguingly, in a plastic cooler.

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Register isn't content to stay at home in North Carolina, taking culinary road trips down to the South Carolina Lowcountry for Hopping John and Frogmore Stew then all the way out to the Mississippi Delta for fried catfish and Memphis-style ribs. But the most compelling recipes pay homage to the traditional ingredients of his native state, which he incorporates into creative dishes like collard chowder and sweet potato hash laced with pork belly. Dessert is no afterthought at Southern Smoke, and the closing chapter offers a tempting array of pies and other delights of the Southern bakery.