To say that smoking is hot is an understatement.
In 2012, nearly 14.4 million smoker and barbecue units were shipped in the U.S., according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.
With that many smokers on peoples' patios, came the cookbooks filled with suggestions for what to cook on those smokers.
Since early spring I've been deluged with cookbooks about grilling, barbecue and smoking; some contain a handful of smoking recipes, some hold chapters dedicated to smoking tips and techniques. Being a novice smoker myself I turned to Michael Pennisi, a seasoned smoker from Carpentersville, for input. Pennisi, you might recall, won the 2012 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
I gave him a half a dozen books to browse through and cook from and asked him which books might be good for beginners up to experienced smokers. Here's what he said:
"All Fired Up" by the editors of Southern Living (Oxmoor House, $24.95) has only a few smoking recipes, but they are good ones that hit all of the mainstays: ribs, chicken, brisket, turkey and pulled pork. The rest of the book is filled with great grilling recipes that take cooks way beyond burgers and steaks. The recipes seem easy enough to execute with fairly short ingredient lists.
Homemade pulled pork ranks right up as a reason people buy a smoker in the first place and the Peach Pulled Pork from "All Fired Up" is a great place start. Pork shoulder is very forgiving when it comes to cooking times and seasoning so a first-timer can make a few mistakes and still get results that your friends and family will rave about.
This recipe calls for a rub and spraying the shoulder at regular intervals, which is the key to forming a delicious "bark" on the meat and a fundamental smoke-cooking technique. Finally, the peach sauce is nice twist from store-bought barbecue sauce and comes together in a flash.
"Bobby Flay's Barbecue Addiction" (Clarkson Potter, $25) is mostly a collection of grilling recipes with a few recipes for smoking mixed in. I was impressed with the large number of vegetable and seafood recipes, Flay's focus on fresh ingredients and the inclusion of recipes influenced by world cuisines.
I would not recommend this book for a complete beginner because many of the recipes have long lists of ingredients and multiple steps involved in prep work. I suggest Smoked Prime Rib with Red Wine Steak Sauce for intermediate level smokers.
This recipe may seem daunting to some. I admit when I first smoked a prime rib I was intimidated by committing an expensive piece of meat to an untraditional cooking method. But don't worry. As long as you can commit to monitoring the temperature in your smoker for 2 to 3 hours and regularly checking the internal temperature of the roast, you will be rewarded with slices of juicy meat with a smoky aroma and flavorful outer edge.
"Everyday Barbecue" by Myron Mixon (Ballantine Books, $24) has the most smoking recipes of the books I reviewed but the book is still primarily a book of grilling recipes.
I like that many of the recipes, like his smoked tomato Caprese salad and smoked meatloaf, are not just typical backyard fare. Mixon's book is geared toward experienced cooks as a fair number of recipes include long ingredients lists, multi-step prep work, and numerous cooking techniques (there's a section of frying recipes).
I like his Smoked Turkey Drumsticks for the intermediate to advanced smoker because the recipe highlights the technique of brining which is really critical for great smoked turkey and also because cooking the legs involves a two-step process of smoking and then finishing on the grill.
Learn this recipe and you will free yourself from the tyranny of overdone and overpriced turkey legs found at amusement parks and festivals.