just because i want to play devil's advocate here... plus, to provide a better (hopefully) discussion, i will do my best to defend alton brown and his show, and books.
for starters, his books are pretty beginner/intermediate so if that is what youre looking for, and you dont mind using several wierd, McGiver'd tools to get a little bit better results, than his books might just be right for you. but remember to take everything with a grain of salt... kosher (ok, im not funny). if something is done a little faster than what is in the book, well, so be it, take it out of the oven... stuff like that.
as for his show, understand that he used to be a director... or producer, or something like that before he became a chef (yes, he is a chef and not just a cook). so that is where he gets his over the top dramaticism from. his show is not just about showing how to make food. he attempts to show you how things work and why you do them as well as showing you what to do...(does that make sense?)
as for promoting only multi-purpose tools, well, all those things could be used for plenty of things... though admitedly, not all of which are necessarily practical... or even involve food for that matter... say its a cold day, snowing and everything, i sure would want my socks warm... so, throw them on the pannini girll for a minute, make 'em nice and toasty, or you could use the pannini grill to make really flat and funny looking waffles. as for the thermo probes you refer to, i am unclear to what the heck those are... but im a creative person, so im sure i could think of something those could do... since i dont know what you referred to, i will use something similar, an infared thermometer, you know those home laser tag games? well that infared thermometer would be a great way to cheat when playing with the kids. as for the fryer... well, what is not fun about frying your buddy's shoe? but i realize it is still used for frying, but im sure it would make a great thing for some insurance fraud... get it wicked hot, toss a few cups of water in (and if youre "un"lucky enough for the oil to catch fire...) boom... insurance check for a new kitchen... and im sure it would make a killer foot rest...
as for his recipes and food... he is not going for super high class, 5 star meals. he is going for the more practical, slightly cheaper, and a bit easier food that probably the majority of his viewers are looking for. most of his viewers are the middle, to upper middle class people who enjoy cooking, but not willing to invest vast amounts of time, energy and money to be a great cook, only a good one. granted you arent going to come home from work and slow roast a pork shoulder for dinner, but as a saturday BBQ party... it is more reasonable. for this reason, it may be why better and more trained chefs do not enjoy his food and program... they have attained ALL the information he gives long ago, so they find it unentertaining, boring, and borderline stupid. KYheirloomer, i noticed your thing says youre a food writer i believe? im making some assumptions here, so please correct me if i am wrong. also, if you become offended by what i say here, please know that i am sorry and it is not my intentions to insult and/or offend you. so, for the sake of my argument here, i am assuming you to be a food critic, i am not sure how they are different, so if you know, please tell me. food critics are used to eating higher class foods, they have a much more refined palette, they know things about texture, consistency, taste, and much more. they also look for the flaws and strengths of these things in a dish. so they are not as satisfied...pleased, i think amazed is actually the better word for it, with the things the average joe, home cook makes; which is exactly what alton brown makes... now admitedly, i do enjoy the majority of his recipes, i find them rather tasty and its usually the kind of food i like. i do believe the man can cook and does know what he is doing in the kitchen.
so, shel, in the end, if you like his shows, like his querky-ness that he applies to his cooking style, and dont mind throwing your flower pot into the oven for a loaf of bread or roast... then i think youd like the books... but a hint here, i have only breifly flipped through his books and i believe they have his recipes from his show... and maybe then some. so if you dont wish to buy the books, im pretty sure you could get most of the recipes off Food Network : Cooking, Recipe Collections, Party Ideas, Quick & Easy Recipes, Cooking Videos
and search for his name/show/whatever you are trying to make.