A sure sign that summer has dawned cookbook publishers have released a torrent of grilling and barbecue titles.
It's probably in keeping with the growing national obsession with cooking outside and over flame, but does America really need enough new titles on the subject that it's possible (actually, easy) to lose track of them?
No. And that's why we've culled the herd to just one must-own grill book.
Andrew Schloss and David Joachim's "Mastering the Grill" (Chronicle Books, 2007, $24.95) is simply a masterpiece.
Though the subtitle dubs this weighty text (416 pages and nearly 5 pounds) "the owner's manual" for outdoor cooking, "textbook" would be more accurate. With both the tone and breadth of an academic work, this book offers a fascinating grilling education.
The authors open by introducing readers to the basic equipment, including various styles of grills and fuel options. And by introducing, we mean they explain important minutia that charcoal burns at 800 F and why gas doesn't sear well (the high moisture content).
After that, it's mostly hands-on. The second chapter covers starting and maintaining wood and charcoal fires, the science of heat transfer (how food is cooked), how to judge when food is done, and different grilling techniques, such as direct and indirect grilling.
Subsequent chapters offer specifics on how to grill various ingredients (from the obvious meats to produce, cheese and dough), including brilliant charts explaining the ideal grilling method for each (as in, beef short loin does best with direct, medium-high heat).
Also nice is the chapter on seasonings, which explains how to pair ingredients to construct rubs, mops, brines, marinades, glazes and sauces, and when and how to use each.
Oh, and the book contains recipes, too. More than 300 highly detailed recipes divided both by type (such as produce or desserts) and technique (quick-cooking cuts or low-and-slow cooking). And each tells you how to do it on any type of grill.
The recipes cover ample ground, from simple sides (grilled potato chips) to more involved projects (a whole lamb). The Saffron-citrus Salmon Steaks with Basil Oil were delicious, as were Grilled Asparagus Wrapped in Prosciutto and Smoked Jerked Tofu.
Though none rises to the level of "Mastering the Grill," three other grilling cookbooks worth checking out.
For a folksy, homespun take on grilling Dan Huntley and Lisa Grace Lednicer's "Extreme Barbecue" (Chronicle Books, 2007, $18.95) is an entertaining read jammed with personal stories and the recipes that go with them.
Diehard grillers will savor this book, for the authors canvassed the country for people who constructed their own grills ("homemade rigs" in grill parlance) to collect their recipes and stories.
The book is beautifully photographed and offers many appealing regional recipes. However, recipes are divided by region of origin rather than type. This can leave readers flipping endlessly in search of particular recipes.
The Smoked Pork Loin with Raspberry Chipolte Glaze was scrumptious.
Fred Thompson offers another collection of home grillers' recipes in "Barbecue Nation" (Taunton Press, 2007, $18.95), an all-purpose sort of grilling book with creatively named chapters divided by ingredient ("Ruffling Feathers: Chicken and Other Fowl" for example) .
The recipes are mostly straightforward, though the limited photography was disappointing. Fred's Finest Baby Back Ribs were delicious, and it was nice that the recipe included methods for both quick, direct-heat cooking and slow, indirect grilling.
Also heavy on personality is Ted Reader's "King of the Q's Blue Plate BBQ" (Home Books, 2007, $21.95). Reader, a cookbook author, barbecue expert and television personality, takes an inventive, adventurous approach to grilling.
And so you'll find his attractively photographed book filled with recipes such as Peanut Butter and Grilled Banana Milkshake, and Teddy's Grilled Cheese Beef Burger with Ludicrous Beer Butter Basting Sauce.