I have to admit that when I first came across this book I didn't take it seriously. Just another trendy book full of fluff using clichéd words like peace and love to help bolster sales, I thought. But I couldn't have been more wrong.
The list of people involved in this book reads like a who's who of the food business. Peace, Love, and Barbecue was written by one of the kings of barbeque, Mike Mills, with the help of his daughter, Amy. Famed restaurateur Danny Meyer wrote the forward, and the respected food writer Jeffrey Steingarten wrote the introduction. Mr. Steingarten's opening line states, "this is the last cookbook you will ever need." I may not necessarily agree with this statement, but I do feel that if you are even remotely interested in barbeque-real slow cooked barbecue- you should own this book. Jeffrey Steingarten goes on to say "you could spend the rest of your natural life cooking what Mike Mills has to teach you about barbeque," and this, I'm sure, is true.
This book is not your average cookbook. Yes it's highly informational, but unlike many cookbooks this one can easily be read from cover-to-cover, like a series of short stories. It's divided into eight chapters, and each is more cleverly titled than the next. Chapter one, for example, is titled Barbeque = Food + Family + love it tells the story of the author and how he was influenced by his father's barbecue, and after his father's premature death he and his brothers carried on the family's barbecue legacy. Mike Mills claims to have been tending barbecue fires since the tender age of nine.
Chapter two, Can You Keep a Secret, is really about the nuts-and-bolts of barbequing. It begins with fortifying the legend that is popular with cooks of all genres: that their recipes are secretive. But then it goes on to tell you what you need and how to make a variety of seasonings and sauces. It's written in such a matter-of-fact way that you'll feel your standing next Mr. Mills while sipping a cold beer next to a barbeque pit and listening to him offer his advice. His advice on dry rubs (spice blends): "You can get creative, but there is a thing as too creative. In my opinion, mint goes in juleps, bay goes in soup, and caraway seeds go in rye bread. I've tasted dry rubs with anis in them. Now, if I wanted to taste licorice, I'd go buy myself a Twizzler stick."
I personally have always been drawn to books that offer information about the people and places behind the recipes. For this reason chapters three and four are my favorites: Living legends, and Shrines, Shacks, Joints, and Right Respectable restaurants. Here you'll read about people such as Billy Bones Wall of Midland, Michigan, whose constant diet keeps him at a trim 365 pounds, and Rick Schmidt of the Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, which has been in business for 99 years, and after he and his sister had a falling out he hauled some hot coals four-tenths of a mile up the street to fire the new ovens with some of their authentic coals. These are just a sampling, and the accompanying pictures speak a thousand words each.
The book goes on for four more chapters, eight chapters in all cumulating at more than 325 pages. But did I mention the recipes? This is a cookbook, after all, and a utilitarian one at that. While you might think it's all barbecue rubs, sauces, and marinades, there's enough here to plan and entire menu-each chapter is loaded with mouthwatering recipes of all sorts, and most are interesting and mouth watering. Take Carolyn McLemore's Cornbread Salad or Lexington Barbecue Red Slaw, for example, or Apple Cider Marinated Pork Loin or Smoked Catfish Pà¢té. There's even a recipe for Barbecue Spaghetti (sorry, but this is a little over the top for me I prefer my spaghetti with tomato sauce).
At any rate, this is a top-notch book about barbecue. It's chock full of recipes, but it's the stories and tales that I found most appealing. For that matter this will even make a good read for those who are more of an armchair cook if you want to simply read about the food and visit one of the many "shrines" listed within. But before you read it don't forget to have napkins nearby because you may have a tendency to drool.