Rick Browne

The sun is shining, hopefully, and barbecue season is here again. Rick Browne, America’s No.1 barbecue guru, thinks there is much more to outdoor cooking than burgers and hotdogs, and his latest book – The Big Book of Barbecue Sides – showcases more than 130 recipes for on and off the grill.

Rick, the much-traveled host of PBS’ Barbecue America TV show and co-author of The Barbecue America Cookbook, believes the sexual divide influences the barbecue culture.

“Men love to actually do the cooking on the barbecue,” explained Rick, who is an avid collector of barbecue books via AbeBooks.com. “I think it takes them back to the Stone Age when men cooked meat on an open fire. However, the girls actually define what is cooked and select the ingredients. That’s why I wrote The Big Book of Barbecue Sides - I want to encourage variation. Men would be happy with beer and steak forever, but I feel girls want to see other dishes out there.”

Before Browne became the ‘Grill Master of the Universe’, he spent 25 years as a travel photojournalist and it was an assignment in Kansas City that altered the course of his career.

The Big Book of Barbecue Sides

“I was sent to Kansas City and I was taken to Arthur Bryant’s – this is a wonderful barbecue restaurant that was described as the best restaurant in the United States by Calvin Trillin in Playboy Magazine. Then I was invited to the American Royal Barbecue Contest (the world’s largest BBQ contest) and discovered a whole sub-culture of barbecuing. That started me on the road and then I wrote The Barbecue America Cookbook, and things took off.”

The success of his debut book led to more cookbooks – The Frequent Fryers Cookbook, Grilling America, and Barbecue America: A Pilgrimage in Search of America’s Best Barbecue - and the popular Public Television show that has run for five years.

“Back in the 1950s, barbecuing was very simple,” he continued. “The man wore a shirt and tie, and the woman had high heels. They cooked hamburgers and hot dogs, and not much else. Today, anything on the planet is cooked on barbecues.

“The West Coast folks have embraced Asian and Pacific Rim foods but there are regional variations throughout the States. Kansas seems to cook everything, Texas cooks briskets, Alabama and Georgia love mustard sauces.”

The Big Book of Barbecue Sides mixes classic with contemporary recipes, and reflects the fact Browne has traveled the world, not just the States, in search of barbecue recipes.

“Beans and salads are probably two of the easiest ways of adding side dishes to a barbecue,” said Browne, who admits to being a huge fan of Australian barbecue cuisine. “I love the Aussie style of barbecuing which is much simpler than ours. They have incredible seafood and lamb and just pour on olive oil, while the States loves its sauces.

When he travels, Rick is frequently asked what is his favorite barbecue dish and his answer is always the same.

“It has to be Beer Butt Chicken,” he laughs.

Unorthodox but very popular, Beer Butt Chicken features an entire bird placed on the grill with an open car of beer inserted into its rear end. The beer steams the flesh and produces very moist and succulent meat.

“I like to think that I’m the godfather of Beer Butt Chicken. I was the first to put it into a cookbook and now every book on barbecuing includes this recipe.”

[See all copies of The Big Book of Barbecue Sides]