Review: Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire

The other day I sat down with legendary Chef Michael Symon and talked about my favorite subject: barbecue. Ok, not really, but it felt like I did after I read thru the Chef’s new cook, Playing with Fire. Full of techniques, recipes, pictures, and written very well, it got me jonesin’ to fire up my smoker and get to cookin’!

Many of the recipes in the book come from Mabel’s BBQ, Chef Symon’s BBQ restaurant outside of Cleveland, which is definitely on my bucket list. There’s a lot in here about techniques and mastering them. The recipes are all pretty straight-forward. Sprinkled throughout the book are ‘pitmaster profiles’, little sidebars highlighting BBQ pits around the US and their specialties. Good stuff, and you can sure bet there’s one near you that you need to visit (I’m a huge fan of supporting my local BBQ joints. Nothing wrong with chains, but make sure your neighborhood pitmasters get your business). Back to the book..

Introduction: I was going to skip this section. It talks about the different kinds of smokers and grills and such. I have over 20 grills and smokers, so I’m pretty up on that stuff, though there’s always something to learn no matter how long you’ve been at it. The section on fireplace cooking made me stop and pay attention. If you live in a cold place like Chef Symon (and I) do, being able to cook inside over a big open fire is a plus. If you’re new to the world of smoking and grilling, this section is a fantastic read.

The rest of the book is about recipes, and there’s a good amount of them, with great pictures and details. You’re sure to amaze your guests with everything from Playing with Fire. There’s a section on pork (hard-core great recipes, from my favorite, pork belly, to pigs ears, to cracklings to homemade bacon), beef (only seven recipes, but don’t let that bum you out. They’re all amazing, from pastrami (something I make often) to prime rib and rib eye), chicken (I cook a lot of chicken outdoors. This section of the book does not disappoint. It’s old-school favorites done right and done well), seafood (fish, shrimp and clams), lamb (not something I cook regularly, but this section will inspire me to do just that!), vegetables and sides (oddly my favorite section of the entire book. Not a lot of recipes, but those that are there are really great. Quality, tasteful dishes. Quality over quantity.), and last, sauces, relishes and rubs (darned near my favorite section too!).

I found that Playing with Fire really focuses on the important things in barbecue: technique, quality and flavor. Every dish in it is something special. At first I thought that it’s more for the hard-core barbecuer, but a novice can make anything in it too. Not many cookbooks can accomplish that.

Michael Symon’s Playing with Fire is a great book for anyone serious about barbecue. It rates very high on my ‘Mater Rater scale.

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