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"Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling" by Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn deserves our best overall spot for its wide range of recipes and helpful grilling tips. For the beginner, we recommend "Real BBQ: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Smoker Cookbook" thanks to its easy-to-follow and crowd-pleasing recipes.
A great barbecue is more of a math problem than a mystery. Not to be confused with grilling—which is basically cooking food quickly over a fire—barbecue is a process that requires very specific conditions. But with quality ingredients, the right equipment, solid technique, and a whole lot of patience, anyone can make perfect brisket, ribs, and more. While you might not become a pitmaster overnight, these barbecue books can lead you in the right direction, whether you’re all about the beef, super into spice, or even a vegetarian.
Best Overall: Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling
Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn—perhaps best known for his award-winning Amazing Ribs website—has studied everything there is to know about barbecue so you don't have to. But maybe you want to learn the science behind perfectly grilled and smoked meat. In that case, look no further than Goldwyn’s eponymous barbecue primer and recipe collection. In addition to more than 100 recipes, Goldwyn dispels commonly held barbecue myths and offers incredible insight into those nagging questions everyone has about the science of cooking with fire, brining with salt, basting with sauce, and so much more.
Best for Beginners: Real BBQ: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Smoker Cookbook
Whether you’re new to smoking or just want to branch out from the same three things you always cook, this barbecue cookbook from professional recipe developer Will Budiaman will give you the confidence to master just about any smoked meat. Throughout the nearly 100 recipes—including beer can chicken, hickory-smoked pork belly, "all day long" smoked beef Brisket, and beach barbecue lobster tails—Budiaman thoughtfully demystifies perfectly smoked meat. Instead of waxing poetic about the “art” of barbecue and the “secrets” of smoking, he shares the science behind the “why” and the step-by-step instructions for the “how.” In this book, you'll also find materials primer as well as pitmaster tips, shopping advice, and even a few drink pairings.
Best for Smoking Meats: Project Smoke
Since he wrote his best-selling "The Barbecue! Bible" more than 20 years ago, Steven Raichlen has been a well-respected authority on all things grilling and smoking. Since then, he’s traveled the world to study different techniques, authored numerous cookbooks, and hosted a handful of television series on the topic. Shockingly, though, "Project Smoke" is his first book focused entirely on smoke. For this step-by-step guide to smoking, Raichlen starts at the beginning: how to choose the right smoker and tools for the job. He goes on to teach tried-and-true techniques as well as clarify some more intimidating ones, like smoking with tea and hay. The 100 super-accessible recipes go beyond meat and potatoes; think smoked cheesecake, cocktails, and more.
Best for Brisket Lovers: Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto
From what may very well be the most famous barbecue restaurant in America (and in turn, the world), this New York Times-bestselling cookbook is for anyone who wants to geek out over smoking meat. More than just a collection of recipes, this textbook-like tome details Aaron Franklin’s personal journey and his now-famous method that somehow both honored and defied low-and-slow Texas barbecue traditions. Of course, the book goes beyond brisket with recipes for sausage, ribs, and more, but when it comes down to it, this is a must-have for brisket lovers.
Best History of BBQ: Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue
Explore the intricate past of American barbecue and its roots in Black history and culture with this thoughtfully researched book by James Beard Book Award winner Adrian Miller. He delves deep into the history of barbecue in the United States, starting with its Indigenous origins in the 16th century and exploring Western African influences on American BBQ's culinary heritage. By sharing the rich stories of a number of these men and women who have had an impact on the grilling scene throughout the centuries and in the present, Miller honors and celebrates Black American legacies. This book also features 22 specially curated and mouth-watering BBQ recipes.
Best for Kamado Grill Owners: Hot Coals: A User's Guide to Mastering Your Kamado Grill
For many barbecue enthusiasts, a ceramic kamado-style grill setup for smoking is the best way to do low-and-slow cooking, whether they have a Big Green Egg, a Kamado Joe, or a less popular brand. This book, translated from Dutch, is a deep dive into how the kamado works, starting with its history and focusing heavily on how to make the grill do exactly what you want it to. While there are only 30 recipes, they’re a testament to the versatility of these cookers and lay a solid foundation for more adventurous preparations down the road.
Best for Caribbean Barbecue: Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style
In order to achieve the Caribbean flavor profile known as “jerk,” you need more than just the Islands’ signature spice blend—you need smoke. This distinct barbecue style is the subject of Helen Willinsky’s "Jerk From Jamaica," a collection of more than 100 recipes that go beyond chicken with jerk pork, beef, lamb, goat, and seafood, plus traditional Caribbean barbecue sides and desserts. If you're a fan of spicy smoked meats or ready to expand your barbecue repertoire, this is the barbecue cookbook for you.
Best for Korean Barbecue: Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces
If you think Americans obsess over barbecue, you haven’t spent much time in Korea. Barbecue is central to the South Korean culture; you can find a barbecue joint (or three) on every corner in Seoul. What sets each one apart is its sauce—sometimes secret, sometimes not. For his Korean BBQ cookbook, Bill Kim starts with seven essential sauces, ranging from sweet to spicy to just about every flavor profile in between. But there’s so much more to this sweet-and-spicy barbecue style. Kim and co-author Chandra Ram spend most of the book breaking down the techniques that define Korean barbecue through recipes for meat, poultry, vegetables, and more. Of course, each one gets one of the seven sauces.
Best Vegan: VBQ―The Ultimate Vegan Barbecue Cookbook: Over 80 Recipes―Seared, Skewered, Smoking Hot! Paperback – Illustrated, May 1, 2018
“Vegan” may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think “barbecue,” but those who eat a plant-based diet deserve more than fake-meat patties and black bean burgers when gathering around the grill. Vegans can now enjoy the 'cue, too, with this collection of more than 80 savory, smoky recipes including seitan ribs, zucchini steaks, tandoori tofu skewers, eggplant hot dogs, and pulled mushroom sandwiches, as well as sides like crunchy coleslaw and grilled potato salad. And you don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian to enjoy "VBQ," either. Anyone who wants to eat more veggies and likes to cook outside will enjoy this take on the traditional barbecue cookbook.
Best for Variety: America's Best BBQ: 100 Recipes From America's Best Smokehouses, Pits, Shacks, Rib Joints, Roadhouses, and Restaurants
Barbecue experts and BBQ Hall of Famers Ardie Davis and Paul Kirk are your tour guides for this road trip-style barbecue cookbook that taps the knowledge of the country’s best pitmasters. For the book, Davis and Kirk traveled to the usual regions (Dallas, Memphis, and their hometown of Kansas City) and a few unexpected ones (hello, North Dakota?) in search of the very best recipes for everything from pulled pork to barbecued shrimp. But a true American barbecue experience includes sides and dessert, too, so you’ll also find recipes for mac and cheese, fried green tomatoes, and peach cobbler. In between meals, or while you wait for your meat to smoke, you can read all about the people behind the recipes.
Best for Sauces: American Barbecue Sauces: Marinades, Rubs, and More from the South and Beyond
Americans love their barbecue sauce. But how that sauce is prepared is all over the map—literally. This cookbook explores sauce styles from all over the country and presents them in easy-to-follow recipes, using easy-enough-to-find ingredients. There’s a sauce for every palate, whether you prefer sweet, spicy, or tangy, and it goes beyond basic glazes with rubs, mops, brines, and more. For new barbecue enthusiasts, there’s a helpful section on stocking your pantry with barbecue sauce staples (think: sugar, spices, etc.) as well as the ever-important disposable gloves.
If you only invest in one BBQ book, let it be "Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling" written by Craig "Meathead" Goldwyn. It has more than 100 amazing recipes, as well as valuable insights about all things grilling. If you're just delving into the world of BBQ, "Real BBQ: The Ultimate Step-By-Step Smoker Cookbook" is a beginner-friendly choice with lots of great recipes.
What to Look for When Buying a BBQ Book
Most cookbooks are tailored to a specific audience, whether it's total beginners, experienced pitmasters, or grillers somewhere in the middle. As you shop for a BBQ book, keep your experience level in mind—if you purchase a book for beginners but have been barbecuing for years, you probably won't get much value from it. On the flip side, novice grillers may be overwhelmed by more advanced books that assume you know basic BBQ techniques.
You'll also want to consider the type of grill or smoker you own. Many BBQ books are tailored toward one type of grill—whether it's a pellet smoker, kamado grill, or charcoal kettle grill—so you'll likely want a book that provides techniques you can use with your existing equipment.
Finally, think about whether you want to focus on one particular culinary style, such as Korean or Caribbean barbecue, or if you want to try a little bit of everything. Certain BBQ books take a deep dive into a certain culinary style, while others provide a broader collection of recipes.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Emily Farris is a food and lifestyle writer as well as a recipe developer, who has written about grilling for Bon Appetit. She obsesses over kitchen design and is married to a four-seasons griller. She’s also embarrassingly good at buying expensive things online and can see straight through a fake review.