Olympia – Jan/Feb 2018

South’s Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection

Matt Moore’s new cookbook, South’s Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection, explores Southern barbecue through the pork butt, the most revered cut of meat for ‘cue that the author calls “humble, affordable, and forgiving.”

Moore begins in the introduction with a brief history of Southern BBQ along with a map illustrating the geographic location of all the pitmasters he features later in the book. He writes, “… the pork butt reigns supreme in my book. Sure I like a good side of ribs, pulled chicken brisket, chipped mutton, sausage and whatever protein hits the smoke, but the pork butt is often my starting point for defining and enjoying good ‘cue. Southern BBQ has one, and only one common denominator: pig.”

The South’s Best Butts is more than a cookbook. It’s a celebration of some of the best ‘cue pitmasters in the country, all richly illustrated with photos (including many of the author digging into various versions of pork butt) by Andrea Behrends. Moore’s narrative, person-centered storytelling style is entertaining, but I’m not sure it makes for a particularly useable cookbook. Some readers, including myself, may be confused by how he organizes the book into three parts: Fuel = Flavor; Smokehouse Stories and Recipes; and All the Trimmings.

Matt Moore’s new cookbook, South’s Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection, explores Southern barbecue

In Part 1 Fuel = Flavor, Moore discusses the various “hardware” of ‘cue, various types of grills and smokers, the many methods of cooking, fuels and temperatures. He acknowledges that there are many roads to good BBQ and I came away from this section feeling more confused than enlightened.

“Five Mother Sauces,” the next portion, was much clearer for me. I learned the regional differences in sauce: vinegar-based in North Carolina; mustard sauces in South Carolina; dark or black sauce in Northeastern Kentucky; white sauces (vinegar and mayo) in North Alabama; red tomato-based sauces in Texas and Kansas City. A map of the BBQ belt and where the different sauces originate is helpful. Then he offers recipes for the five “mother” sauces.

In Part 2, Smokehouse Stories and Recipes, Moore tells the stories of a dozen different pitmasters and their families. Each section is divided by the restaurant of food truck, followed by their stories and their favorite recipes. While some of these personal stories are entertaining, it’s this section where the cookbook may be less useful and usable for cooks. That’s because each pitmaster may provide not only his/her pork butt recipe, but also recipes for rubs, sauces, pickles, potato salad, nachos, pork rinds and more. One saving grace is there are two indexes in the back of the book—a subject and a recipe index.

The organization of the recipes doesn’t get better in the next three sections: Snacks and Starters; Side Kicks; and Meaty Mains. In the Snacks and Starters section, for instance, the author groups things like beans and dips together, but we still end up with a plethora of recipes whose organization doesn’t make a lot of sense. For instance, there are BBQ popcorn, salt & vinegar chips, queso dip, followed by loaded baked potatoes, Dixie antipasto, and stuffed okra. This same section contains recipes for smoked chicken wings and pork belly. What?

The Sidekicks section appears a bit more cohesive with recipes like okra fries, fried green tomatoes, various salads and slaws and vegetable dishes. But again, the author tosses in a recipe for Sweet Potato Cornbread between the green bean recipe and the bourbon collard recipe. Shouldn’t cornbread be grouped with other baked goods? For me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Meaty Mains, recipes that utilize cooked pork butt, contains wide-ranging recipes like Chicken Brunswick Stew, Pork Belly Ramen, and Brisket Pho as well as Smoked Pizza and BBQ Spaghetti. While the organization of the recipes doesn’t exactly hold up for me, it does illustrate the many uses of pork butt. Then, just to make me crazy, Moore tosses in recipes like Beer-can Sticky Chicken. It leaves me wondering, what’s this recipe this have to do with pork butts?

The organization is much more cohesive in Sweet Things (desserts) and there are a number of delectable Southern cobbler and pie recipes and one cookie and pudding recipe, all beautifully illustrated by photographs that look good enough to eat.

Moore ends the book with a chapter on Condiments, including sauces, relishes, pickles, and more. For me, it’s not a logical end to the book. However, it is consistent with a cookbook with poorly-organized recipes throughout.

Real Bottom Line: It’s obvious that Matt Moore had a great time producing South’s Best Butts: Pitmaster Secrets for Southern Barbecue Perfection. He traveled extensively, tasted a lot of great recipes, and met and talked with barbecue experts throughout the South. Moore’s resulting stories are entertaining.

Photographer, Andrea Behrends, has done a great job of documenting Moore’s journey, capturing the pitmasters, and illustrating the recipes with her gorgeous photos. South’s Best Butts is a one pretty book.

Many of the recipes in this book are special. After all, they represent some of the top pitmaster secrets, honed from many years of experience. I also appreciated that Moore offers insight into each recipe with a brief description as well as yields and hands-on and total time to prepare. However, given the organization—or lack thereof—of the recipes in this book, I’m not sure how useful I’ll find it. Only time will tell. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor

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Bobbie Hasselbring

RFT founder and the website’s former editor-in-chief, Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. She’s been an award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook.