Smoke & Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith

Unlock the secrets of fantastically flavoursome grills with Smoke and Spice. Whether you like your food fiercely hot or prefer gentler aromatic flavours, Valerie Aikman- Smith has created an enticing array of marinades, brines, butters, rubs and glazes to add flavour to your cooking, either outside on the grill or in your kitchen.

Smoke-and-spice-coverI was conflicted about Smoke and Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith. In every pitmasters life there is a seminal moment when everything makes sense, when the heat, smoke and meat come together and create BBQ bliss.  That moment for me was the weekend after reading one of the truly great BBQ cookbooks ever released, Smoke & Spice: Cooking with Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue by Cheryl and Bill Jamison.  If you’re going to title your book the same as a classic book you better be ready to bring it.

Normally when I receive a new cookbook for review I like to sit down and randomly thumb through the book.  I go back and forth from cover to cover a couple of times to get the general feel of the book. Maybe it was the expectations I had from the book title but I was expecting a grilling/barbecue book what I got instead was a large sampling of recipes that had the term, “pre-heat oven to” in them.

Did the cookbook have recipes requiring the pre-heating the grill instruction?  Yes, there were some of those and they looked pretty darn good.  After my cursory look through the book I put it down for a couple of days to figure out what I was going to do. I wanted to be as fair as possible to the author.  My book shelves hold at least one other of her cookbooks and it’s a wonderful book on Salt.

After a couple of days I returned to Smoke & Spice with a fresh outlook. The fact that this is not a cookbook about outdoor cooking at the forefront of my thought process.  It’s not really even a cookbook about smoke.  What it is, is a cookbook about spice and the bold flavors you can get from using spices.  In most outdoor cookbooks the protein is the star of the show, here the spice is the star.  Take a look at the book cover.  You need to look at the title more like “smoke & SPICE,” because that is what the book is about.

“When you open your pantry door and reach for a simple everyday spice, have you ever stopped and thought how the contents of this small jar had led to the discovery of new lands and people?”–Valerie Aikman-Smith

With a new perspective and understanding what this cookbook is all about I took a closer look at it. Looking at Smoke & Spice with an emphasis on the spice I realized what a good book this was.  The book is loaded with recipes for sauces, glazes, rubs, seasoning that have bold, bold flavors.  Many of the recipes use spices and ingredients that are traditional to BBQ, but some recipes will allow cooks to fuse flavors that normally aren’t found together in BBQ recipes.  Take for instance the Cajun Crispy Pork Belly.  The pork belly is cooked with traditional flavors but the addition of a Kumquat dipping sauce gives the dish a whole different outlook.

The layout of the book is very well done.  There are chapters on various proteins along with veggies and desserts.  Each chapter starts out with a series of recipes on various rubs, seasonings, brines or sauces.  Those basics are followed my a couple of recipes using the previous recipes.  I liked how this was done, it provided a good base for how the recipe and flavors would build on the plate. The photography by Erin Kunkel is awesome.  The photos are rustic and simple just like the meals you’d find at home. 

If learning the basics of outdoor cooking is your priority when purchasing a cookbook then this one may not be the best choice for you.  But if you are looking for a cookbook that will teach you about spices, about using bold flavors in your cooking then you should consider Smoke & Spice.  Take a look at the recipe below for an idea of you can expect.


Prairie Rubbed Porterhouse Steak with Chimichurri
Recipe Type: Entree
Serves: 4
Recipe reprinted from Smoke & Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith, published by Ryland Peters and Smalls. Photography by Erin Kunkel
  • 1 large Porterhouse steak, 2 inches thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons Prairie Rub (recipe)
  • Sea salt and Cracked Black Pepper
  • Chimichurri to serve (recipe)
  1. Wash the steak and pat drive with a paper towel. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle the steak on both sides with the Prairie Rub Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate for 6 - 12 hours
  2. Heat a grill/barbecue to medium-high. Place the steak on the grill/barbecue and cook for 8 - 10 minutes on each side for rare and continue to cook if your prefer medium to well done.
  3. Remove steak from the grill, cover, and let it rest for 10 minutes
  4. Carve and serve with the Chimichurri sauce
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