Cooks and Their Books
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Do cookbooks still have a place in a world that’s increasingly reliant on cooking websites, food bloggers, step-by-step videos, and other online recipe resources? “Most definitely!” says Karen Adler, owner of Pig Out Publications, a distribution company for barbecue and outdoor cooking books.
Adler, who also has authored numerous barbecue cookbooks, including “BBQ Bistro,” and “Red, White and ’Que: Farm-Fresh Foods for the American Grill” (Running Press) says, “People in their twenties may be looking for recipes online, but Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers (the generation between Baby Boomers and Millennials) still buy cookbooks for their own use and to give as gifts. Those are the folks shopping at specialty retail stores.”
JJ Boston realized this while teaching thousands of customers how to cook on kamado grills every year at his two Indianapolis-based kamado cooking schools/retail stores – Chef JJ’s Broad Ripple and Chef JJ’s Downtown. Boston, a professional chef, noticed that many customers wanted to purchase a book after attending a class, and the light bulb went on. Recognizing the sales potential in his own establishments, as well as the opportunity to reach a broader audience with his kamado gospel, Boston was motivated to write his own book.
“Go Kamado” (DK Publishing), due out this May, is a go-to guide for cooking on a kamado grill. It features step-by-step instructions for direct- and indirect-grilling, roasting, smoking and baking, as well as tips for setting up the grill, building the fire, mastering vent settings, temperature control, and other techniques. The book has over 100 innovative recipes for wild game, beef, pork, poultry, seafood, side dishes, pizza, and dessert, including tried-and-true favorites from Boston’s cooking classes and special-event dinners.
“The recipes are innovative, chef-driven, and show off the versatility of the kamado, but they use everyday ingredients and the instructions are easy to follow,” he says. “It’s all about good food with proper techniques, and it offers something for novices as well as experienced kamado cooks who are ready to take it to the next level with recipes.
“People like to have something to refer to,” Boston adds. “Every retailer who sells kamados should be selling kamado cookbooks. If you are teaching kamado cooking classes, you should be selling kamado books after class. Books are great impulse purchases.”
Boston will celebrate the book release at his annual kamado festival in May. He also plans a series of cooking classes and other events around the book launch, where attendees can learn to prepare dishes from the book and take home an autographed copy.
Best Book Practices
Even if you haven’t authored your own book (we’ll get into that later, in case you’d like to try!), you can still use cookbooks to grow sales. Adler says it’s smart to carry a few titles on general grilling techniques and basic sauces and rubs for beginning backyard cooks (for example, Steven Raichlen’s “How to Grill,” “Barbecue! Bible,” and “Barbecue! Bible Sauces, Rubs & Marinades”(Workman)). But she suggests focusing mainly on books that tie into popular barbecue trends, techniques and grill categories. She says books on smoking, kamado, pellet, and live-fire cooking are especially hot these days, paralleling the consumer interest and growing sales in those categories.
Adler offers more sage advice: While cookbooks still have broad appeal, the best practices for selling them have changed. “The traditional book rack doesn’t cut it anymore,” she explains. “You can’t line up books on a shelf with the spines facing out. Books sell best when you display them throughout the store. Put the rib books by the rib racks. Display the smoker books by the smokers.
“I’ll go into a barbecue store and start rearranging the books to show the retailer how to best display them,” she says, “and before you know it, I’m getting a follow-up call saying, ‘I can’t believe the difference; we’re selling far more books!’ It never fails. It requires a little bit of savvier merchandising and salesmanship, but when you pay attention, books, like other accessories, become wonderful add-on sales. Plus, including books in displays makes the store look so much prettier.”
Boston’s book is just one of a number of new or recent titles that would be beneficial additions to the retail floor. Continuing in the kamado category, “Ray Lampe’s Big Green Egg Cookbook” (Andrews McMeel) is a comprehensive guide to cooking on the Egg and a follow-up to the company’s successful first book published in 2010. Lampe, aka “Dr. BBQ,” offers tips and tricks gleaned over his 15 years as a “spokeschef ” for Big Green Egg, and includes more than 80 recipes for grilling, smoking, roasting and baking, many of them incorporating the company’s EGGcessories.
There are renditions of traditional classics such as Barbecued Pork Shoulder with Carolina Sauce, and Texas-Style Beef Brisket, as well as recipes for creative dishes that break new ground for the grill, such as Blueberry French Toast Casserole, Crispy Lobster Quesadillas, and Dessert Pizza.
With 30 books, seven television series, and two decades of barbecue cooking classes to his name, Steven Raichlen is arguably the world’s most recognized outdoor-cooking expert and definitely the most prolific author on the topic. His latest book, “Project Fire” (Workman), out this May, explores the hot trend of live-fire cooking. It’s a step-by-step handbook on techniques such as ember “caveman” grilling, salt-slab grilling, rotissing, leaf grilling, and much more, with 100 flavor-packed recipes for everything from starters to desserts, including salads, vegetables, and even cocktails.
“The book really romances the fire and shows people how to get that much-desired wood-smoke flavor,” says Adler. “‘Project Fire’ will appeal to Steven’s big fan base and should do well.”
Barbecue “geeks” will go for “Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Meathead Goldwyn, the barbecue evangelist who founded the AmazingRibs.com website, and Greg Blonder, a university professor of physics and food science. The book does a deep-dive into the chemistry and physics behind techniques such as marinating, brining, and reverse searing, and scientifically explains why longstanding myths, such as bringing meat to room temperature before cooking, allowing meat to rest after cooking, and soaking wood chips before smoking, don’t hold water.
The New York Times bestseller balances the technical details with a hefty dose of humor, 118 creative and thoroughly-tested recipes, and scores of photos, charts and diagrams. “This book sells very well,” says Adler. “It’s great for people who want to understand the science behind grilling and barbecuing. There’s nothing like it.”
Adler predicts “Cool Smoke: The Art of Great Barbecue” by Tuffy Stone (St. Martin’s Griffin) will also be a bestseller when it’s released in May. Stone, the winner of 40 Grand Championships and five World Championships as lead pitmaster of the Cool Smoke competition team, and a judge on the hit television show “BBQ Pitmasters,” gives an insider’s peek into the world of competition barbecue with advice on everything from picking a cooker and prepping the meat, to creating a winning turn-in box.
Stone also shares more than 100 delicious recipes for backyard cooks who want to celebrate the art of low-and-slow barbecuing and smoking. “He has great consumer awareness because of his TV exposure,” says Adler. “I anticipate this will be the number-one smoke book this year, and it should have staying power.”
In the pellet category, books such as “The Complete Wood Pellet Barbeque Cookbook” by Bob Devon (Square One), and the “Wood Pellet Smoker & Grill Cookbook” by Peter Jautaikis (Ulysses Press) are the top choices for cooking food in a pellet grill. But a new book by Traeger Grills shows how to make delicious drinks from ingredients smoked in a pellet grill.
“Crafted: Traegered Cocktails” combines two hot trends – artisan craft cocktails and pellet wood smoking. It features more than 30 recipes for classic cocktails with a twist, such as Smoked Bloody Mary with Grilled Garnishes, and Bourbon-Bacon Old Fashioned, as well as inventive, alcohol-free “mocktails,” such as the Smoked Arnold Palmer blending sweet tea, lemon juice and smoked simple syrup, all developed by veteran mixologist Casey Metzger.
To accompany the book, Traeger has launched a new line of bottled cocktail ingredients, including Traeger Bloody Mary Mix, Smoked Simple Syrup, and Jacobsen Bloody Mary Cocktail Salt. “It would be great to bundle the book with some of these products in gift boxes to sell for Father’s Day or other holidays,” says Adler.
Writing Your Own Cookbook
Even if you’re not a professional chef such as retailer JJ Boston, you can still create your store’s own exclusive barbecue cookbook. There are a number of online companies that specialize in helping individuals and businesses publish custom, professional-looking cookbooks using their own recipes. The publishing companies make it easy for novices to design the book with turnkey templates and software that formats recipes into proper style.
Typically, books may be bound in a choice of hardcover, paperback, plastic coil, or wire-ring binders, and can be ordered in quantities from one to unlimited copies. You may submit your own photos to illustrate the recipes, but some self-publishers offer stock food photos and other graphics available for use.
Prices vary depending on factors such as binding style, number of pages in the book, and number of copies ordered. Some companies offer discounts if the book is to be used for a fundraiser.
As for recipes, you might want to feature a collection of recipes from your store’s cooking classes. If you host an annual festival, cook-off or other event, the book could feature prize-winning, fan-favorite, or other “best-of” recipes cooked by participants at that event through the years. Or you might even invite customers and employees to submit their own signature recipes to be compiled in the cookbook.
Similar to Boston, you could sell your cookbook at cooking classes, store events, demos and festivals. You might use it as a value-added give-away with a grill purchase; the book will be a long-lasting reminder of your store when customers refer to it. The book could even be created and sold as a fundraiser, with proceeds going toward Operation Barbecue Relief (www.operationbbqrelief.org) or another charity in your community.
Whether you create your own book or leave it to the experts, offering barbecue cookbooks is a fun and easy way to add excitement to your store and boost sales.