A barbecue book is probably the last place you expect to see, and need, maps. But they are one of the wonderful and necessary elements of The South’s Best Butts. The first map of the Southeast shows the 12 states where Matt Moore found iconic barbecue joints. Not restaurants, but real joints. Those side-of-the-road places where you can discover sublime barbecue.

The second map helps you visualize the Five Mother Sauces of barbeque:

  • Vinegar along the Carolina Coasts
  • Mustard in the Western Carolinas
  • White in Northern Alabama
  • Black in Kentucky
  • Tomato Molasses in Kansas City

That’s the level of detail, and barbecue love, on display is this book. Matt begins with a chapter called Fuel=Flavor. It’s his intelligent survey of cooking techniques, noting that grilling is not smoking. And giving you the details on which woods to smoke with to achieve what intensity of flavor. You want to find an apple tree you can harvest. Nothing cooks like apple.

The second major chapter here is 140 pages devoted to those 12 barbecue joints. You meet the owners, learn some secrets and get a span of their recipes of pride. Not just meat, but the sides and sauces that make the food at these places particularly wonderful. There are thousands and thousands of barbecue spots dotting the Southeast. Many have good meat but not that many can give you a great meal: sauce, salad, sides, and of course dessert.

Dessert like Fried Banana Pudding. The bananas are peeled, dipped in flour, milk and vinegar, then fried. They go on the plate and are topped with banana pudding, whipped cream crushed vanilla wafers and chopped pecans. No, you probably won’t be eating this every night, but an annual sin seems quite possible.

You do have a dessert option here: Tennessee Whiskey Pie with Whiskey Whipped Cream and Easy Caramel Sauce. The choice is yours.

The 12 barbecue joints span a wonderful array of smoky ideas. The actual recipe for a butt can be quite simple, just a half dozen things. But those things will include a special rub or sauce. Or both. Those “secret” ingredients, honed for years, come with a particular balance of flavor that have won praise from the locals who flock to each of these eating establishments.

You probably have all the ingredients you need for a great rub or sauce in your kitchen already but it is the proportions you need and they are here, recipe by recipe. It is too easy to overdo the garlic powder.

The third chapter in the book, All the Trimmings, addresses that need to upscale your barbecue. Here Matt offers his own recipes for the items you need to make your barbecue a royal meal:

Starters: Rosemary Salt and Vinegar Chips, Texas Caviar Deviled Eggs, Cowboy Nachos with Brisket

Sidekicks: Spicy Okra Fries, Herbed Cucumber and Tomato Salad, Creamy Dill Slaw with Sour Cream and Mayonnaise

Main Dish Alternatives to Straight Barbecue: Chicken Brunswick Stew, Pork Belly Tonkatsu Ramen, BBQ Spaghetti from Memphis, Barbeque Pot Pie with Cheese Grits Crust

Sweet Things [yes, more desserts]: Caramel Blondie Bourbon Pecan Apple Pie with Apple Cider Caramel Sauce, Ultimate Chocolate Pie, Grilled Banana Splits

The simplest things in this book are some of the rubs and sauces. Just a couple of ingredients in some cases, but the right ingredients in the right amount. The full dish recipes are, well, often over the top. The Apple Pie with caramel and blondie cake and crust and bourbon and pecans, now that’s not your ordinary dessert at all.

Many of us think of barbecue as a special family weekend outing, an activity where we put our full focus and attention to the whole meal. The rest of the world can go away as we tend to the fire and the flames. That’s a great way to change the pace of life, to truly enjoy life. The South’s Best Butts is a noble guide to enjoyment and satisfaction.

Apple wood. You do want some apple wood.