Cookbook Review: Slow Fire - The Beginner’s Guide To Barbeque by Ray “Dr BBQ” Lampe

Burgers, Franks, and the occasional Steak are not barbeque. Before everyone gets their knickers in a twist and posts endless comments let’s go over some of the basics.

Hamburgers, Hot Dogs and Steaks are grilled. Since barbeque is traditionally cooked outdoors that’s where barbeque somehow evolved to mean most any cook out.

Barbeque is cooked low and slow, its smoky and saucy, and did I mention it takes time, lots of it, at low heat, for a long time. Think brisket so tender if literally falls off the bone, with a knife used only to push the tender meat onto the fork.  Yankees refer to this as “Southern Barbeque” but foodies know it simply as barbeque.

Enough of my rant, what about the book?

From the title, the book appears to be written for the novice but anyone with a penchant for perfecting their barbeque techniques can benefit. Let’s face it, your ribs might rock but your brisket might be another story. Written a bit more like a DIY manual than cookbook, the first portion of the book reviews the tools of the trade and explains that good b-b-q is cooked at 225 – 250 for a long time. While barbeque is traditionally cooked over wood coals, it is possible to achieve great results on a gas grill and Lampe confirms this (the trick is low indirect heat). While the author lists various tools including water and gas smokers for information and education, and yes, even the traditional Weber Kettle can be usd. Additionally, I don’t see why the reader can’t make this section really useful by leaving hints in the margins – Santa sometimes needs gift suggestions!

Lampe’s strength is explaining the techniques and reasons of this particular cooking method. Broken into chapters based on the headliner of your meal (beef, pork, poultry) readers can start thematically or jump around. The recipes are easy and straightforward, because at the end of the meal the big difference between good barbeque and great barbeque is technique. Put another way, think of how most Thanksgiving turkey tastes about the same, but sometimes it’s a juicy wonderland, and other times we’d like to remember the holiday as being about getting together with family – the technique matters, and that same lesson holds true for barbeque.

 My favorite part of the book is the rubs. Store bought rubs often have an overabundance of salt – lets face it, salt is cheap. Here the rub recipes have that wonderful balance of flavors that will leave wondering why you ever bought the packaged stuff to begin with. Making your own not only produces something with more flavor than the store bought variety, but makes your barbeque truly your own. They’re easy to make, can be done well in advance of your barbeque, and store well.  

Of course a real barbeque includes sides and desserts. Lampe offers recipes for sides like twice smoked cheesy potatoes, bacon and blue cheese coleslaw and the world’s greatest banana pudding.

At 200 pages, with 60 recipes, the book seems a bit small compared to some of the others out there. Stop a moment and think logically, since most barbeque is done on weekends, and with 52 weekends a year, there is more than enough information here to have an endless number of feasts. It’s the ideal size. With Father’s Day coming up, this book also makes a great gift. (hint: if Dad already barbeques, write something on the gift card about taking his skills to the next level or better yet, skim through the book and leave a post it on a recipe that you would like him to make for a future family gathering)

Slow Fire by Ray Lampe is available at Williams Sonoma, including the store on Valley Road Montclair, and Watchung Booksellers in Watchung Plaza Montclair.