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Eight New Cookbooks to Kick Off Summer

Eight New Cookbooks to Kick Off Summer
Written by Erin Byers Murray

It’s been a big season for new cookbooks and our visits to the local bookshop have had us regularly bringing home food books and cookbooks from new and established Southern authors. There’s plenty to learn about barbecue, of course, but also pizza, Sunday cooking, and the foodways of North Carolina. Here are our top picks for the most recently released cookbooks.  

New Cookbooks for Summer Grilling

Life of Fire: Mastering the Arts of Pit-Cooked Barbecue, The Grill, and The Smokehouse

By Pat Martin | Clarkson Potter

Cover of Life of Fire by Pat Martin

Pat Martin will be the first to tell you that his first book is not a cookbook—not in the traditional sense, anyway. While there are now oodles of barbecue cookbooks, even a handful specializing in whole hog barbecue, this book takes a very different, very personal tack. Martin has been studying whole hog barbecue for more than three decades and wants to convey that there are so many nuances that go into every single cook, so many that to distill it down to one recipe would mean leaving out way too many variables. So, Martin takes his time, pouring over details and personal experiences to craft something much bigger than a recipe. He organizes the book by the age of the fire itself, from Birth (building the pit, preparing for the fire, sourcing wood) to Middle Age (the cook, flipping the hog, reading the coals), to Cold Smoke (sock sausage and pork belly). There are recipes throughout but you’ll glean more from a thorough read-through—so you can pick up every ounce of knowledge he spills about building a pit and sourcing a pig, or be entertained by his straight-talk sidebars, like “A Case for Wine,” wherein he offers a pitch for pairing barbecue with natural wines.

Recipe we’re making: Martin’s slow-grilled chicken thighs, which the pitmaster strongly encourages eating with bare hands.

Bludso’s BBQ Cookbook
By Kevin Bludso  |
Ten Speed Press

Cover of Bludso's BBQ Cookbook

There’s no bullshit when it comes to the way Kevin Bludso breaks down his version of barbecue. Raised in Compton, Los Angeles, by a police officer and a Black Panther-supporting mother, Bludso learned how to cook with his “granny,” really his father’s aunt, who ran a bootleg barbecue stand in Corsicana, Texas.

Shuttled between the two worlds, he developed a love for the legal hustle with his grandmother’s guidance, as well as a fierce devotion to the Compton that raised him. He opened his first restaurant, a barbecue joint in Compton, after working as a corrections officer—starting with ten rib racks a day, the little shop eventually hit its peak, cranking out up to 1,000 a day. His trajectory led to more restaurants, a television show, and even a coveted review from the late, great Jonathan Gold.

The book shares not only his family roots and acknowledges the people who raised and supported him, but also an honest account of growing up in both worlds, with plenty of attention paid to the food. The recipes range from his OG BBQ to Sunday cooking to the holidays, all with a smoker as the central theme.

Recipe we’re making: Two stand-out sides, like the brisket baked beans and spicy creole cabbage.

More to Read (and Cook) this Season

Cover of My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef, by Kwame Onwuachi

My America: Recipes from a Young Black Chef 

By Kwame Onwuachi with Joshua David Stein | Knopf 

Whether you know Kwame Onwuachi’s name from his previous restaurants, his time on Top Chef, or as the author of Notes From a Young Black Chef (Knopf, 2019), you know that his story shares a version of America that is uniquely and solely his own—yet resonates with so many.

Raised in New York by a Creole mother, his heritage is a blend of the South, Nigeria, and the Caribbean. With his cookbook, he furthers his own evolution as a chef with stories you haven’t read elsewhere—full of personal essays as well as recipes, the book captures his travels to those areas his family hails from as he journeys to discover his lineage and legacy. There’s a road trip with his grandmother through Louisiana to Beaumont, Texas, and a fishing and cooking adventure to Jamaica, plus many others, that invite you into the front seat alongside him.

As for the recipes, Onwuachi is careful to distinguish where a dish originated (there are callaloo recipes from Jamaica and Trinidad, plus red bean sofrito from the Caribbean, and charred mackerel from Nigeria) and shares well-researched stories in the headnotes that trace each dish’s evolution. It’s a personal and standout collection of writing and recipes encompassing a flavorful, richly diverse version of American cuisine. 

Recipe we’re making: Braised cabbage and carrots, which get softened in coconut milk 

Sunday Best: Cooking Up the Weekend Spirit Every Day

By Adrienne Cheatham | Clarkson Potter

The Cover of Sunday Best by Adrienne Cheatham and Sarah Zorn

We were fortunate to get our hands on an early excerpt from Adrienne Cheatham’s debut cookbook for our Spring 2022 issue—and immediately wanted to get into the kitchen to cook with her book in hand.

Cheatham’s warmth, humor, and love for Southern food shine through the pages, especially as she’s talking about her own family traditions. But this book is also chock-full of fine-tuned techniques, picked up from her days cooking at restaurants like Le Bernardin and Red Rooster. The mango tajín gazpacho shooters, for example, was her first full recipe to land on the menu at Le Bernardin and the version in the book is impossible to mess up. (Keep an eye out for her sidebars like the “Extra Credit Idea” of pairing that gazpacho with a bowl of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos on the side.)

With her classic training, Cheatham brings finesse to staples like smothered pork chops, which she pairs with smoky red gravy, and chicken with cornbread dumplings, and even brings leftovers back to life in reimagined ways (we’re all in on the overnight grits arancini).

Recipe we’re making: Crunchy hoppin’ john bhel puri for its sweet-tart crunch

Adrienne Cheatham's Black-Eyed Pea Snack

Pizza Quest: My Never-Ending Search for the Perfect Pizza

By Peter Reinhart | Andrew McMeel Publishing

A self-proclaimed pizza freak, Peter Reinhart might have everyone’s dream job: searching high and low for perfect slices of pizza. While his official search started with the 2003 publication of American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza (Andrew McMeel Publishing), he’s been seeking out stories of the ultimate dough-sauce-topping combos for as long as he’s been eating pizza—and lucky for us, there’s no end in sight.

For Pizza Quest, Reinhart (who also puts on the International Symposium on Bread through Johnson & Wales) pays tribute to dozens of his heroes—revered professional pizzaiolos (think: Tony Gemignani of the International School of Pizza, among others)—by sharing variations of their recipes. Variations is the key word: Reinhart’s not divulging any seriously kept secrets here but rather has “covered” their recipes, much like an adoring band would do their best rendition of the Beatles.

Reinhart’s covers are made for home cooks, starting with several dough recipes that he’s perfected, plus the sauce recipes and topping combos that match the pros’—all with ingredients and equipment that most at-home pizza makers will have on hand. There’s every style of pie here, from round pizzas topped with pepperoni cups or white sauce and gorgonzola creme, to square and pan pizzas with that perfect frico crust.

Recipe we’re making: Summer peach and corn pizza adapted from Portland, Oregon, pizza maker Sarah Minnick.

Cover of Gullah Geechee Home Cooking by Emily Meggett

Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island

By Emily Meggett | Abrams

Eighty-nine-year-old Emily Meggett has been living and cooking on Edisto Island, South Carolina, since she was born. Her Gullah Geechee has lineage shaped every part of her life, including her community, her family, and every dish that’s come out of the kitchens she’s worked in.

Starting as a teenager, she cooked in home kitchens around the island, mostly for the Dodge family, where she learned how to feed crowds—and she hasn’t stopped since. In her book, Meggett shares the story of her life and of her family’s history, while also shaping a portrait of Gullah Geechee culture—from working on the family’s farm before and after school to raising her own ten children, her life on Edisto is portrayed as simple but full.

Meggett has cooked and cared for countless others and, through her food, shares her love and compassion. The recipes, meanwhile, are ones she’s perfected for decades in home kitchens, meaning they’ll become part of your tried-and-true repertoire, while also giving you a taste of Meggett’s island life. Her tomato casserole, oyster stew, and chicken perloo speak to her sense of place, while beef stew and sweet potato pie are stalwart classics she’s happy to pass along.

Recipe we’re making: Shrimp rice for its simplicity and big flavor.


Lessons We’re Learning  from these New Cookbooks

Cover of Edible North Carolina, one of 2022's new cookbooks

Edible North Carolina

Edited by Marcie Cohen Ferris | University of North Carolina Press

Diving deep into North Carolina food culture, Edible North Carolina pulls together many voices from across the state. Each offers a thoughtful essay that, together, shapes a story of the state’s modern food movement, complete with recipes. What starts with a thorough history of North Carolina’s regional food history moves into various landscapes—political, cultural, social, and economic—covering a breadth of topics.

There’s Sandra Gutierrez unpacking her experience as a mujera del sur and sharing the culinary movement of the Nuevo South. Michelle T. King writes about the nuanced lives of Chinese restaurant owners. Ronni Lundy weighs in with a snapshot of Asheville’s “foodtopia.” And Courtney Lewis sounds off on the “erasure of Native Nations from the culinary narrative of the South.”

From the local fishing industry to Charlotte’s working class food scene to the pockets of Lao communities across the state, these stories teem with wisdom and flavor while shaping a core story of North Carolina food today.

Recipe we’re making: Gramma Adell’s tea cakes, to read alongside writer Shorlette Ammons’ essay on farming.

Cover of Grain and Fire by Rebecca Sharpless, one of 2022's new cookbooks

Grain & Fire: A History of Baking in the American South

By Rebecca Sharpless | The University of North Carolina Press

Baking, especially of the sourdough variety, may be having its moment but pairing grains and fire goes back thousands of years, as Rebecca Sharpless points out. This deep-dive nonfiction food narrative shows painstaking research into the foodways of our past, tracking the movement of the people and ingredients that shaped our region’s baking past.

From acorn cakes to the arrival of wheat on these shores to the varieties of grains that followed, Sharpless lays out a layered and complex thread, while zeroing in on the people who grew, harvested, milled, and transformed the grains into edible form. Her look at more recent history turns a lens on traditions like recipes for cornbread, the spread of king cakes outside of Louisiana, and the recent heritage grain movement led by Glenn Roberts and others. 

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