The Kentucky Barbecue Book is a love letter to the landscapes, people, and rich barbecue traditions of the Commonwealth. Honoring the wood-burning pits, lip-stinging sauces, and belt-loosening barbecue pork, beef, turkey, and mutton of his beloved home state, Berry asserts that Kentucky’s barbecue is worthy of recognition and exploration.
Barbecue brings people together. Whether it’s standing around the pit/grill or sitting around the table, no other American food tradition evokes the same sense of camaraderie that BBQ does. But, at the same time discussions about which BBQ style is the best might just, at times, destroy that fun and friendship. Those rowdy discussions might be about who makes the best BBQ or it might be someone who narrowly defines what is.
The Kentucky Barbecue Book by Wes Berry takes us on virtual road trip of KY BBQ restaurants. In 2009 Wes set out in his Ford Ranger to visit and eat at every BBQ restaurant in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. When I read this in the Introduction of the book I had two thoughts. The first was “what was he thinking?” The second thought was, “I’d sure like to do that.” Four years later Wes has visited untold numbers of BBQ restaurants in the 120 Kentucky counties.
The book tells not only the story of each BBQ restaurant but revels in the personalities of the people behind the restaurant. KY BBQ tells the story of BBQ better than most books because it capture what the real essence of BBQ is…people. Sure BBQ is about the smoke and flavor of the finished product, but without the people, BBQ would be like eating in a fast food burger joint. It’s the friendships and happiness BBQ brings to groups of people that makes BBQ the special experience that it should be. Each story in the book makes you feel as though you are sitting down to eat at that particular restaurant. It’s like enjoying BBQ without needing the wet wipes or napkins and you certainly won’t have to loosen your belt while reading the book.
The book is divided into regional BBQ styles and then broken down into counties within that style. The picture to the left shows half the state. One of the interesting aspects of Kentucky BBQ, for me, was the diversity. I’m not sure I know of a regional BBQ style that includes so many ways to cook or meats cooked. From hickory smoked pork shoulder and turkey breasts to mutton to beef brisket and beef ribs. No other state in the South has such a diverse selection of cooked meats to choose from.
BBQ sauces and “dips” are many. The sauces vary by county as to what is the most popular. From vinegar to mustard to tomato based the sauces are there to compliment whatever the popular smoke wood and meat used in that part of the state. You might not even be able to consider Kentucky a regional BBQ style itself. Wes points out the state has eight distinct BBQ styles. There’s something for everyone no matter what your taste preferences are.
If you’re going to tackle a project like this you need to be able to speak the local language and for those hoping to follow in Wes’s footsteps there is a glossary at the beginning of the book. With explanations of what a “Barbecue Potato” is all the way to what a “Texas Crutch” is. You’ll learn enough about speaking BBQ from the first four pages of the book to make the price worth it.
Mutton Dip: A Worcestershire sauce–based sop used to baste mutton during manyhours of slow-cooking, also used as a dipping sauce for cooked mutton.
In addition to some great stories about BBQ and BBQ people Wes has gotten them to share a few recipes. Those special recipes are scattered amongst the stories and make me want to try cooking some real Kentucky BBQ. Wes and his publisher was kind enough to share three of the recipes with my readers.
I love this book. I’d put Kentucky BBQ up against two of my favorites BBQ “story” books:Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pit Bosses by Robb Walsh and the legendary Peace, Love, & Barbecue: Recipes, Secrets, Tall Tales, and Outright Lies from the Legends of Barbecue by Mike and Amy Mills. The Kentucky BBQ Book captures everything about BBQ. If you want to know about BBQ then this book will teach you all you need to know about “being” BBQ.
- 4 cups distilled vinegar
- 5 cups sugar
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- 2 heads large cabbage, chopped
- 1 carrot stick, chopped
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- ¼ green pepper, chopped
- Heat vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Set aside and let cool. Add 7 cups cabbage mix to the cooled vinegar. Stir well and refrigerate.
- 1 gallon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 gallon water
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 cups white vinegar
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 2 pounds brown sugar
- 5 pounds tomato paste
- In a large pot, cook all ingredients until paste dissolves. Use it to baste meats, preferably mutton, periodically throughout the many hours of cooking required to tenderize the muscle tissues. When serving mutton, offer this dip in a bowl on the side for the dipping of individual pieces. Yields about 2½ gallons.
- 3 pounds shrimp, peeled or unpeeled (both ways work well)
- 10 medium-sized Vidalia onions, quartered
- 6-7 pounds pineapple chunks, with juice
- Spicy dry rub (with cayenne, black pepper, paprika, etc.) to suit your taste
- Spray large foil pan with cooking spray. Add onions and dry rub to pan and place on smoker at 250°F for 1 hour. Add pineapple and shrimp, shaking on additional dry-rub spices. Smoke for about 20 minutes or until shrimp is pink. Serve with barbecue sauce.