My dad’s a grill nut. What can I get him for Father’s Day?
This season brings with it two excellent cookbooks that cover both grilling (quick cooking directly over a hot fire) and barbecuing (slow cooking with wood smoke). Depending on your dad’s preferred style of learning, one of these should fit the bill.
“Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling” by Meathead Goldwyn. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35
If Dad likes to immerse himself in the underlying principles of a subject before embarking on his own exploration, “Meathead” is the book for him. The first 156 pages of this 384-page book are devoted to laying down a unified theory of cooking with fire.
“Understanding is the first step in mastery,” writes Goldwyn, the self-professed barbecue whisperer who founded the website AmazingRibs.com. “This book explains the science of barbecuing and grilling in lay terms. Along the way I use science to filter the hogwash, bust the myths, and take down the old husbands’ tales and canards passed along by pitmasters whose rituals have gone largely untested since that first forest fire.”
With the help of “science adviser” Greg Blonder, Ph.D., professor of design and manufacturing at Boston University, Goldwyn dives deep into the science of heat and smoke, software (all about meats, seasoning and temperature) and hardware (buying, using and maintaining gas and charcoal grills, smokers and tools). He delights in busting myths, among them that you should bring meat to room temperature (cold meat smokes better), that bone-in steaks taste better (they don’t, and they cook unevenly to boot) and that marinades significantly penetrate meat (they pretty much stay on the surface, though gashing the meat can help).
Then it’s on to more than 100 recipes, from brines, rubs and sauces to pork, beef, ground meat, lamb, poultry, seafood and sides.
“Master of the Grill” by America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95
If Dad’s the impatient sort who likes to dive right into cooking before reading any “boring lessons,” go with “Master of the Grill.” America’s Test Kitchen, which produces Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines (and their associated TV shows), is known for its exhaustive recipe testing, and here that approach is applied to more than 400 recipes for grilling and barbecue.
Rather than front-load the book with background information, “Master” dives right in, launching the book with a recipe for hamburgers. The lesson — in this case, making a dimple to keep burgers from puffing up on the grill — appears right beside the recipe.
The book is divided into three sections: basic recipes, easy upgrades (such as grilled beef satay, smoked pork loin, grilled rack of lamb and salmon burgers) and serious projects (where you’ll find true barbecue recipes for ribs, brisket and pulled pork along with grilled whole fish and clambakes). Each recipe includes instructions for using both gas and charcoal grills.
Along the way are recommendations for gear — spatulas to smokers — and ingredients: Boar’s Head American wins for best cheeseburger topping. Learn how to figure out how much gas is left in your propane tank, how grain-fed and grass-fed beef compare, and what’s the secret to promoting browning in chicken breasts. (OK, it’s nonfat milk powder.)