The official start of summer is upon us, and for those who prefer the smell of grill smoke over chimney smoke, love a dip in cool water on a hot day and cold drinks and dinner on the porch — well, this is our time, kindred spirits.
This is a good time to cook, but not a time for fussiness. Summer food should be simple: burgers on the grill, big dinner salads full of seasonal produce, sandwiches hearty enough to make a meal, a leisurely meal at an out-of-the-way spot. No matter which you prefer, chances are good that one of the many new cookbook releases will satisfy your appetite.
"All Fired Up" By the editors of Southern Living, with Troy Black; Oxmoor, $24.95 (e-book, $9.99 to $10.16)
Nothing is hotter than Southern food these days, except perhaps the debate over which section of the South does outdoor cooking best. Southern Living's editors wisely don't choose one over the other in this book. They offer all the Southern specialties, from pulled pork with the vinegar sauce used in eastern North Carolina to a Memphis dry rub for ribs to an Alabama smoked chicken with its white sauce to a traditional Texas brisket.
Using simple, clear language and bold, no-nonsense photography, the book teaches you the techniques and explains the top 10 tools you need, to master all sorts of outdoor cooking with confidence, whether on a charcoal grill, a gas grill or a wood smoker.
Some of these recipes take hours of slow cooking to complete. The book smartly offers dishes you can spin off a master recipe, such as the smoked Texas brisket, which can be used later either in cowboy nachos or chicken and brisket Brunswick stew or brisket shooters.
"Where There's Smoke" By Barton Seaver Sterling Epicure, $30
There aren't big pictures of flaming steaks on this book's cover. And the word "sustainable" is in its subtitle ("Simple, Sustainable, Delicious Grilling"), which might put off folks who dare to barbecue, say, artichokes not grown within 200 miles of their kettle grill.
Yet chef Seaver doesn't preach. Instead, the National Geographic Fellow and author of the cookbook "For Cod and Country" is a congenial guide for grill vets and novices.
In "The Mechanics" of grilling, he weighs in on the charcoal briquette versus lump charcoal debate. In "Techniques," he tackles a dozen woods, from alder to wine barrel staves, describing their characteristics and smoke. Seaver, in fact, considers smoke an ingredient, as basic as stock or olive oil. "It adds richness and fullness to the inherent flavors of the foods it touches. But smoke can overpower if not managed properly."
Seaver is no slouch when it comes to providing intriguing recipes, from drinks and starters (smoked peach Manhattan, ember-roasted squash hummus) on through sides, meats and poultry and basics (brines, dry rubs, smoke-dried tomatoes).
— McClatchy News Service
"The Grilling Book: The Definitive Guide from Bon Appetit," edited by Adam Rapoport (Andrews McMeel, $45), contains almost 400 recipes culled from the pages of Bon Appetit magazine over the years. The basics are more than covered, from grill prep to chicken, burgers, dogs, fish and meats such as lamb, beef and pork. But vegetables do get a nod, along with pizza, sides and salads, drinks and sauces. Two words: grilled bacon.
Edward Lee brings us "Smoke & Pickles" (Artisan, $29.95), a book most any foodie will enjoy reading and one the more experienced home chef will enjoy tackling. Don't misunderstand — there's plenty of fun here for anyone who likes to play in the kitchen, but some folks might prefer to buy the roti for the Toti with sliced lamb leg, say. But who wouldn't like to have fun with pickled chai grapes, or pickled beets that include coffee beans? And Lee, the son of Korean immigrants, offers plenty of kimchee recipes, too.
Bobby Flay sure likes to grill. In "Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction" (Clarkson Potter $35), he grills everything from potatoes and peaches to sardines and salmon. There are recipes for quesadillas, black beans and plenty of burgers and steaks. You'll find a few cocktails and starters, including guasacaca, an herbaceous take on guacamole.
Oh, my. Topping steel-cut oats with harissa and olive oil instead of butter and sugar? Have the authors of "Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook," Alain Coumont and Jean-Pierre Gabriel, gone mad? (Mitchell Beazley, $29.99, June release.) Before you decide, consider the tartine, an open-face sandwich. Whether you start with your own bread — there are plenty of recipes featured in the book — or with something good from the market, you'll be inspired to pack a picnic when you pick up this book. The options range from a corn-jalapeno-goat cheese tartine to a toasted one with Camembert, walnuts and figs.
"The Picnic Cookbook" by Annie Bell (Kyle Book, $19.95) serves up ideas from a DIY sandwich bar to roasted dishes such as chicken and lamb that are totable. There are recipes for savory anchovy buns and cheese-and-onion muffins, and lush chicken-liver pate and potted crab. Salads, desserts and even a chapter on what to cook if you take your grill with you are included in this softcover book.
Summer isn't complete without a road trip, whether near or far. You can fashion one of your own by picking up a copy of the Southern Living book "Off the Beaten Path: Second Helpings" by Morgan Murphy (Oxmoor House, $22.95). This fun book is divided geographically, starting with Texas in the west and going as far north as Maryland.