Book Review: Slow Fire
I was recently sent a review copy of
, the latest book from Ray "Dr. BBQ" Lampe. I've long been a fan
of Ray's books, going back to his first, which I used as a guide when I
started competing in barbecue cook-offs.
Ray is a very accomplished trucker-turned-barbecue-man. You can read
the long list of his achievements at his site
. What I like about Ray is his
unpretentious and no-nonsense approach to barbecue. He has strong
opinions and, true to his Chicago roots, he's not bashful about telling you
what's on his mind. In other words, he keeps it really real, and I dig that.
It's interesting to me to see how Ray's books have continually matured
through the seven years that he's been writing.
that maturation. The first thing I noticed is that this is a beautiful book.
The layout is pleasantly clean and the photography is gorgeous. You can
immediately tell that this isn't your average barbecue cookbook.
As the title indicates, this book is intended for beginners. Barbecue is a
paradox. It's a simple cuisine that can be deceptively complicated and
intimidating. Over time cooks have managed to complicate what started as
a very simple and humble cooking process, so much so that the average
Joe is afraid to tackle it. This book cuts through the smoke and gets back
A beginner's book has to walk a fine line. It has to be simple and
approachable while providing enough knowledge to build confidence, but
not so much that it scares folks away. That is especially true in barbecue.
One can very quickly get bogged down by expensive equipment, arcane
terminology and philosophical arguments. That's not the case here. Ray
does a great job of providing need-to-know information without
overwhelming the reader. I'd argue that it's missing some basic techniques,
like how to remove the membrane from ribs, but overall it covers the
The recipes in the book are a great blend of traditional and creative. It
starts with a wide array of sauces and seasonings. He covers all the
standards and weaves in some really creative recipes. The Banana Ketchup
(yes, you read that right) and Orange-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce are
Next, there are 11 rib recipes that range from Memphis-style (wet and
dry), to competition spare ribs, to Korean-style beef short ribs. My only
small quibble here is that the cooking process is very repetitive, but that
could be argued as a plus. It shows how important it is to master a few
fundamental processes, which is true of all cooking.
Pork is the holy grail of barbecue, and Ray does it justice. Like the ribs, he
brings a lot of variety to the table. I like that throughout the book he
teaches both the "standard" and competition approaches to recipes. I think
that's a great testament to it being a comprehensive beginner's guide. It
also shows the sometimes insane lengths we competition cooks go to woo
The beef section includes a few off-the-beaten path recipes, like
All of the basic birds are covered in detail. The barbecued duck recipe uses
that orange-chipotle sauce that I mentioned earlier.
The "Anything But" section includes recipes that don't fall into the typical
barbecue category. The term is used in competition circles to mean
anything that you don't typically turn in for scoring. Here you'll find dishes
like Smoked Scotch Eggs, Barbecued Bologna, and Jambalaya-Stuffed Bell
Rounding out the book are side dishes and desserts. I was disappointed
that there are only two dessert recipes. I would have liked to seen some
In conclusion, I think Dr. BBQ has written a very good guide for anyone
who wants to learn how to master barbecue. If you apply the techniques
taught in the book you'll be well-grounded in the basics. You'll also have
some creative recipes to help you expand your barbecue repertoire.
I recommend the book very highly.