With fall comes the chef cookbooks, the serious tomes, the encyclopedias. In spring, the kookier books get their time. Maybe they’re oddballs because they take risks, or their topics are hyper-specific, or they smush two usually disparate subjects—outlaws, food; Ansel Adams, food—into a book. This time of year, you also get a lot of grilling books. Because those won’t do you much good in the snow, will they?
You get to know photographers. You feel closer to the figures you’d only previously seen in museums, or read about in your well-off uncle’s coffee table book. There’s nothing that humanizes a famous artist quite like knowing their method of microwave cooking.
The recipes are surprisingly great. The book is exactly what it sounds like—a compilation of recipes from well-known photographers—and exactly nothing like what you expect. Some of the recipes are oddly good—Ansel Adams made eggs in the microwave with beer and sherry—while others wink and nod. Les Krims explains his “Formalist Stew”:
It has 185 ingredients and takes 31 days to prepare. The only problem is, you die of hunger and boredom before it’s ever finished.
2. Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling by Meathead Goldwyn
For you if you like (and highlighted): The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt
It busts myths. Grilling is full of myths and wive’s tales that steer people wrong in the heat of the moment. Meathead (not his legal name) knows this, and organized his book by grilling myths (that red juice isn’t blood, that meat has to rest). He unpacks why they’re wrong and what the right answer is.
It's for home cooks, through and through. Some barbecue books might not be immediately helpful for we home cooks at our grills (we're looking at you, Franklin Barbecue). But this one is—even the advanced ideas can be executed at home without too much hassle. Bonus points: There are tips for grilling at camp and beach sites.
You want it, it's got it. This book is written by the professor of outdoor cooking, the founder of AmazingRibs.com. (How’d he get that URL?) The design is clunky, the red type yells at you sometimes, the photos manage to make barbecue porn reminiscent of science diagrams, but all the information you need for better barbecue and grilling is there.
You'll cook smarter. Yes, this book provides each and every step (including recipes) for living a joyous, low-sodium life. But it’s also worth it if the words “low-sodium diet” have never crossed your mind because—guess what—we all cook with salt. There’s information (lots of it) that will make us all better informed cooks. Did you know sometimes frozen foods are pre-salted so they stay vibrant in color? That’s good to know before you go salting your defrosted lima beans!
Your problems will be solved. The book is solution-oriented, by which we mean: It’s easy to write a health-focused book that’s based on fear. (“Salt, it’s hiding everywhere—like monsters in your closet!!”) But the author says “I got this” to the realities of a low-sodium diet and offers feasible solutions and alternatives that lets us be in control of what we’re cooking. It’s like scaring those monsters with a smile.
The author is really happy. Jessica—a Food52 contributor—made this book so bouncy and happy, we couldn’t not love it. Here we were, reading about salt and molecules, laughing. The tone is peppy and enthusiastic without verging on shrill. It’s a joy to read, and even better that we’re learning at the same time.
Learn about a drink through a narrative. There are five thousand books about classic cocktails. But this one (the first revision of the original 1934 book) casts each drink’s narrative through the lens of a historic bar. It’s as much about this epicenter of New York cocktail culture as it is about the recipes.
This book has opinions. The gin in a Collins is Hayman's Old Tom; in an Aviation, Beefeater. “Drinks with juice, dairy or muddled herbs are shaken; everything else is stirred.” It’s your decision whether you listen (shaken martinis are still good), but at least the info is there as a guide, to know how one iconic spot does it.
The cover is swoony. It’s textured and the right shade of emerald green and has the right design doodads to take you to ritzier, more happy-drunk places.
5. Dining with Leaders, Rebels, Heroes, and Outlaws by Fiona Ross
For you if you like: Mysteries of all stripes.
The voyeurism here is undeniable. Of course you want to know Fidel Castro's favorite cocktail (El Presidente, naturally)—or Freud's most beloved food (mushrooms), or Chairman Mao's crutch (salt). And how to make the food yourself; the author includes recipes.
Very good suspense-building. Fiona writes with such a sense of discovery and allure and humor. She’s at the front of the pack with her head-lamp on, building suspense, knowing what's around the corner, and throwing in jokes and jabs to make sure her tour group isn't checking their phones while she's talking.
The historical research keeps the mysteries rich. The book isn't a listicle of superlatives or an embellished murder mystery. It's meticulously researched and so full of detail, the stories are palpable. Even if they were about "normal people"—not leaders, rebels, heroes, and outlaws—we'd be sucked in.