Chef McPeake’s Backyard BBQ: The Art of Smokology is a best-seller that is now in its fourth printing. There are good reasons for it; this is one of the best basic barbecue books you can find on the market today. This book does not have anything fancy; you will not find a lot of recipes calling for high-class ingredients or complex preparation. You also will not find many of the glossy mouth-watering photographs that are so common in cookbooks today.
What you will find is information, and plenty of it. This is the barbeque cookbook for those aspiring cooks who need step-by-step instructions. If you are more advanced in your cooking skills, you will still find more than enough value in the recipes to justify the purchase price, but the book is aimed at the novice who needs as much basic information as possible.
The Art of Smokology is laid out like a textbook. In fact, Chef McPeake uses it as such in the barbequing classes he teaches. The book starts with the basics of barbequing, such as how to start your fire. It then moves on and explains how to select, buy and trim your meat. Only then does he get into the heart of the matter: how to smoke the meat properly.
Chef McPeake spends the majority of the book explaining the science behind proper smoking and how to do it correctly. He not only gives you information on how to smoke, but which woods to use, what kind of grill is best, how flavors work with smoking and how to use the process to your advantage to create meals that are not only mouth-watering but award-winning. Many amateur cooks have gone on to win awards using his techniques. He even tells you how to convert your gas grill into a smoker.
McPeake describes both basic and advanced techniques with hand-holding detail. He gives you plenty of troubleshooting tips as well. Because this is a book aimed at novice smokers, there is even an entire chapter devoted to defining common smoking terms.
This book goes beyond teaching you how to cook the meat, however; it also teaches you how to season it properly. Included is a chapter on how to make the perfect dry rub, while another teaches you how to make the best barbeque sauces and still others are devoted to brining and similar flavor-enhancing techniques.
The recipes, once you get to them, cover everything you might want to put in your smoker. Beef and pork are represented, of course, but so are chicken and various types of seafood, including salmon, lobster and scallops. He also includes recipes for side dishes like baked beans and potato salad. A sampling of the recipe titles is enough to make anyone’s want to fire up the grill: Hell Fire Brisket, Twice Smoked Pulled Pork, Mustard and Pepper Spiced Beef Tenderloin, Coconut Curried Scallops and Zesty Backyard Baked Beans.
One of the big flaws of this book, aside from the lack of pictures, is the absence of a good editor. Chef McPeake published the book himself and did a great job, as evidenced by its popularity, but the book definitely needs some tweaks and minor touch-ups here and there. Pictures aside, the book is also not a “pretty” cookbook, so many foodies may take a pass, but if what you want is good recipes and solid how-to information, the way the book looks will not matter. This is a simple cookbook that will teach you the basics of the art of smoking in a straightforward manner.
Chef McPeake has been a professional chef for more than three decades. He won the President’s Award from the American Culinary Federation for his work in 2008. The chef teaches barbeque classes year-round in Kansas City, Kansas and sells pre-made barbeque rubs on his website. He also keeps a blog with tips and additional recipes.