Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Pitmaster - Recipes, Techniques, & BBQ Wisdom by Chris Hart and Andy Husbands

New BBQ book season is upon us and the first one we are reviewing for 2017 is a winner - Pitmaster by Andy Husbands and Chris Hart.  We received a complimentary electronic copy for review prior to the March 15, 2017 release date.  

I like to bring in other opinions than my own and brought Jeff Greene on to add his thoughts about this book.  Jeff shares our BBQ and grilling madness and runs the Twitter handle @Grill_Porn.  He came to Knoxville by way of South Carolina and loves cooking on his Big Green Egg.  He says he's "just a backyard and tailgate" guy but don't let his modesty fool you, he knows his way around a grill.

BBQ Cookbook review for Pitmaster 2017

Pitmaster - Recipes, Techniques, and BBQ Wisdom

Andy Husbands and Chris Hart
Fair Winds Press
RELEASE DATE:  March 15, 2017 (available for pre-order now)

It's no surprise that this BBQ and Grilling book rocks because the two authors are well respected in the BBQ family/community/asylum and this is their 4th book.  Andy Husbands is the Chef at Tremont 647 and The Smoke Shop in Boston.  Chris Hart and Andy won a World Championship at the Jack Daniels Invitational in 2009.  Andy was on Season 6 of Hell's Kitchen and Chris was on BBQ Pitmasters and Chopped.  They know a lil' bit about the world of BBQ and grilling.

Physical Description

  • Available in hardcover and Kindle
  • 224 pages 
  • Hardcover is about 8 x 10 
Jeff's thoughts
“Pitmasters” is definitely a book I would buy if I saw it in the book store.  I love the overall look of book.  The layout seems well thought out and the pictures are very well done, and do a great job of adding to the overall experience.  I also really enjoyed getting to know more about the philosophies, approaches and histories of some of the more well-known pit masters, which I imagine why the book is titled the way it is.

Chris' thoughts
This book is an eye catcher with it's gorgeous cover photo of that amazing smoking beef rib.  I like the way they organized the book a bit differently into categories of Backyard, North Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, The North, and Competition.  The content is also not limited to recipes.  They share techniques and I was quite fond of the segments throughout the book talking to other pitmasters about their food and BBQ ideas.  


For me, one barometer of a BBQ/grilling book on the first flip through is how many of those adhesive flags/tabs I used to mark recipes that I want to try.  This book was full of those eye catching "Oh, I've got to try that" type of recipes.  

They cover from the basics, such as pulled pork on a kamado grill and Memphis dry rub ribs to more advanced recipes like the competition style steak which applies flavoring in multiple layers.  Andy and Chris do a good job of breaking down the steps to make the recipes approachable, so even those new to grilling and BBQ can try these recipes.

Butcher Paper Brisket from the BBQ book - Pitmaster
Butcher Paper Brisket - I used a Certified Angus Beef brisket to use the first of two brisket recipes in the book.  The second one is their competition recipe that scored a perfect 180.  I was going to use my stick burner but the weather didn't cooperate so I smoked it on my Grilla Grills wood pellet cooker.  The simple seasonings of salt, pepper, and smoke lets the delicious beef shine through. 

Sweet and spicy rub for pork from the BBQ book Pitmaster
Everyday Sweet and Spicy Pork Rub - I made a batch of this rub. The blend of sugars gives it an up front sweetness that melds into smokiness (because I used smoked paprika) and finishes with a very mild heat. This is a good general purpose BBQ rub and gives a good color to butts, ribs, and chops.  That is a quart jar in the middle so this makes a good bit of rub. 

Pulled Pork for the Kamado cooker from the book - Pitmaster
Pulled Pork on a Kamado Style Cooker - Being a kamado guy, of course I did this recipe. It wasn't anything fancy and that's good sometimes.  Simply the Sweet and Spicy rub with a proper smoking and you've got great results.  I did a pair of butts on my Grill Dome with an Adjustable Rig set up and followed their recipe. I like both pulled and chopped pork, so I did half and half.  It is a solid recipe and I like the fact that they give you 2 different timelines, one cooking at 225°f and one at 275°f. 

Grilled porterhouse on GrillGrates
Competition Style Beef Ribeye - Steak competitions have taken off thanks to the Steak Cookoff Association.  This is Chris and Andy's version of a competition steak. I used a porterhouse steak instead of a ribeye and used Hard Core Carnivore Black instead of salt and pepper, but I did make the Umami Steak Sauce and Steak Finishing Butter. I also used the GrillGrates that they and seemingly most every SCA team uses. The sauce uses the umami power of concentrating portobello mushrooms, brisket au jus and more.   I cooked it on a small kamado grill and was very impressed with the results. 
Red Slaw, White Slaw - While we were making the pork butts, we made two of the slaw recipes from the book. The white slaw is a creamy slaw that you would expect at a BBQ joint or fish shack, you're probably used to that, but red slaw?  Red slaw is a signature dish from Lexington, North Carolina.  Instead of the typical mayo or vinegar base, red slaw uses a spicy tomato base. I don't like it by itself as much as I do vinegar and white slaws, but it is freaking awesome on a pulled pork sandwich.  

Western Style North Carolina Sauce - The first real BBQ I had in my life was smoked pork shoulder with a Piedmont sauce mixed in and that is what made me fall in love with BBQ at 7 years old. Unlike Eastern NC vinegar sauces, Piedmont style sauces have a light touch of ketchup and some sweetness added in, like this one.  This is pretty close to one of my treasured recipes that was handed down to me by my grandmother. 

Gold Sauce - Mustard based BBQ sauce is the hallmark of South Carolina.  Golden BBQ sauces are one of those things you either love or hate, I love them and this one is a good one. This recipe has the predominant mustard and vinegar kick with the slightest kiss of sweetness.  
Jeff is a South Carolina guy so I wasn't surprised that he also made the Gold Sauce when he cooked several recipes out of Pitmaster for his Superbowl menu. Here are his thoughts about the recipes he cooked from the book.

Jeff's Thoughts

I like how the authors intermixed their own recipes with those from the other pit masters that were included, many of which were fresh takes on traditional foods.  I am not sure how many cookbooks have taken this approach, but for me this is a new and novel way to write a cookbook that I thoroughly enjoyed.  I not only liked the thoughts of the pit masters that were sprinkled throughout but I also appreciated the differentiation of regions or styles of bbq.   It has everything from backyard to competition and hits most of the major bbq regions from New England to Texas.  I was saddened that South Carolina bbq was not included, but I may be a bit biased in that opinion being a palmetto state native.  Plus my experience from travelling “up north” is that there is little to no difference to New Englanders’ between the two Carolinas, but rather only one “Carolina” but I digress.

Gold Sauce - Being from South Carolina and having grown up on mustard based bbq sauces, I can say without a doubt the Gold Sauce recipe is legit.  This sauce has a wonderful balance of sweet tanginess on the front end and nice heat on the back end.  The only change I plan to make moving forward is to use a little less thyme, but this is a personal preference.  Gold Sauce is on par with many of the best “Carolina Honey Gold” mustard based sauces I have tried, as it is a bit sweeter than most mustard based sauces, but not so sweet that it detracts from the experience.     

Lexington Style Cheerwine Pork Shoulder - This is a nice take on smoking a pork shoulder.  I have cooked dozens of shoulders but have never used any of the “soda” injection recipes popular in some circles.  The injection had a very nice taste with a balance of sweet, heat, and vinegar bite.  I cooked the shoulder per the recipe although I generally smoke at lower temps than the 275-300 degrees that is called for.  This recipe only uses Kosher salt as a dry brine/rub, and calls for spraying the shoulder every hour with Cheerwine.  

This is a nice take on smoking a pork shoulder.  I have cooked dozens of shoulders but have never used any of the “soda” injection recipes popular in some circles.  The injection had a very nice taste with a balance of sweet, heat, and vinegar bite.  I cooked the shoulder per the recipe although I generally smoke at lower temps than the 275-300 degrees that is called for.  This recipe only uses Kosher salt as a dry brine/rub, and calls for spraying the shoulder every hour with Cheerwine.  

[Chris' thought on this - Around here, "pork shoulder" sold in the stores is usually just the picnic end of a whole shoulder and that looks like what Jeff had to work with.  When cut away from the other half (pork butt), these picnic shoulders are leaner and can dry out easier than when cooked as a whole shoulder.]

Cornbread with Butter, Honey, and Sea Salt - Oh my gosh this The Smoke Shop corn bread was a big hit at the SB party.  People could not get enough of it.  Being from the south and growing up on white and sugarless corn bread, I had in my mind that I was not going to like this recipe, but I could not have been more wrong, this was a very nice change of pace.  The cornbread itself was light and fluffy and it was all set off by the sugar crust.  I will say that the recipe was somewhat labor intensive, but it was worth the extra work.  As if it could get any better, when you add the sea salt and honey butter on the top it became even more delicious.   
Classic Macaroni and Cheese: The recipe was easy to make, and my wife and kids thought it was good.  If you are looking for a replacement for grandma’s Sunday dinner mac and cheese, this is not it.  However, it is billed as more or less a replacement for “shells and cheese” and it does quite well at this.  It could use a bit more nutmeg, but that is a personal preference.  

Chris' Favorite Pitmaster Recipe

My favorite recipe from Pitmaster was the City Ham recipe aka Canadian Bacon. We did the book's version and one of our own with bourbon and brown sugar.  Both were fantastic.
Making your own Canadian bacon saves a lot of cash. When we made this batch, it was selling for $0.43 per ounce.  Accounting for the Smithfield Prime Reserve pork loin, coal, and ingredients, we spent $0.20 per ounce.

Making Canadian Bacon with a Smithfield Prime Reserve pork loin
Tied off and ready to go into the smokers. Notice that I tied one (bottom) differently than the other two.  That was just for knowing which one is which.

Smoking Canadian Bacon on a Grilla wood pellet grill
I smoked one of the Pitmaster versions on my Grilla wood pellet cooker.  

Smoking Canadian Bacon on a Big Green Egg BGE using the Flame Boss 200 and a Thermoworks DOT
I did the other two on one of our Big Green Eggs. I had hickory and lump down below. Next was a spider, stone, and drip pan under an Adjustable Rig.  I had a lot going on this day so I went on auto-pilot and used the Flame Boss 200 controller to regulate the temperatures of my BGE.  I had a DOT remote probe thermometer in the second piece.  

Smoked Canadian Bacon made at home, recipe from the book Pitmaster
Great color on these hams and they smelled great.  I put them in one of our garage fridges for two days to let the smoke flavor balance through the hams. It's also easier to slice cold firm ham.

We started with a little over 9 pounds of pork loin and finished with over 8 pounds of finished bacon, so you don't lose much to shrinkage.  We vacuum seal most of this in 8 ounce packages and freeze them.

I burned out my last slicer years ago and have been hand slicing my bacon for the past year.  Alexis got me a new, more robust, slicer this month and I am thrilled with it.  It has a bigger 10" blade and a more powerful motor.  If you are considering a slicer, skip the cheap versions (I burned out two Waring Pro's) and spend the extra money to get a heavier duty slicer.  It doesn't have to be a commercial Hobart slicer but the $300 range will get you something decent for most home purposes.

Eggs Benedict featuring canadian bacon made from Smithfield Prime Reserve
Canadian Bacon means Eggs Benedict!!!!  

Photos and Graphics

Pitmaster features gorgeous color photography by Ken Goodman. Ken is a phenomenal photographer and his work has graced the pages of several books in my personal collection. He collaborated with Andy and Chris on their three previous books and continues his excellent work here.  As a wannabe food photographer, I study the work of artists like Ken.  The thing that sets his work apart to me is his mastery of shadows and highlights.  He uses them judiciously to create moods and tell stories.

Ken's shot of Pitmaster's Kansas City Tribute Sauce.  Notice the highlights in the sauce on the first two ribs and the perfect amount of shadows under the bowl and ribs. That's no accident - that is skill.

Burnt Ends from Pitmaster. Again, look how the lights play off of the sauce to starkly contrast the shadows hiding in the midst of the burnt ends.  
Almost all of the shots are plated or finished shots of the food.  There aren't a lot of step by step photos but Pitmaster makes up for it with a wise use of graphics, especially visual time lines for certain recipes.


Chris' Thoughts
Not to cop out, but see Jeff's thoughts.  He summed it up perfectly.  

Jeff's Final Thoughts
This book should have a wide audience, not only because of the various pit masters and wide range of regions included, but for the varying levels of techniques presented.  It would have been easy for the authors to focus primarily on the experienced bbq cooks considering the subject matter of the book.  However, the book includes topics to help lessen the intimidation factor for the novice that may just be getting started, while at the same time including more advanced techniques and recipes for the experienced bbq cooks.  In short this book literally has something for everyone.  

5 stars – an absolute resource, will refer to frequently
4+ stars – very good cookbook with value added tips, photos, guides, and other content
3 stars – Good, average cookbook, glad to have it on my shelf
2 stars – a recipe collection

1 star – would give it away to someone else to get rid of it, but only if I didn't like them very much