Others might tell it's spring when the tulips open. Me, I look for the grilling and barbecue books.
Every year brings another crop. Some become classics, like "The Thrill of the Grill" by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, or Jeanne Voltz's "Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts and Other Great Feeds."
Others aren't worth the match it would take to burn them.
This year's batch seemed especially bountiful. We smoked them over to see which books sizzle and which ones fizzle.
Grilling for Dummies
By Marie Rama and John Mariani, IDG Books, 336 pages, $19.99 (paperback)
The "Dummies" series can be annoying. What kind of book series needs to insult readers in order to educate them? But this one was a pleasant surprise.
The book breaks grilling down into its most basic components and gives solid, useful information. Its manner isn't cute, just down-to-earth and understandable (despite truly awful puns like "It's thigh time to grill some legs.")
The color pictures are nothing special, but the drawings throughout the text are clear and helpful.
Born to Grill
By Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, Harvard Common Press, 490 pages, $27.95 (hardcover)
The Jamisons are America's Will and Ariel Durant of outdoor cooking, with books on grilling, smoking and spicy foods under their groaning belts.
This book is the summer's heavyweight. Scholarly and well-researched, it examines exactly what grilling is - and isn't.
Our covered grills, they teach us, act as both grills and ovens, roasting and baking large cuts of meat. They also broach open grilling - lifting the lid - as a means of getting more flavor and fire-tending challenge into your cooking.
This is the book for the journeyman cook who is ready to move on beyond chicken.
The Vegetarian Grill
By Andrea Chesman, Harvard Common Press, 288 pages, $14.95 (paperback)
"There's more to vegetarian grilling than bean burgers," Chesman promises. We would heartily agree - especially since Chesman delivers, with a lively lineup of grilled soups, salads and sandwiches, and dandy grilled appetizers like a smoked baba ghannouj.
The book includes a handy guide to grilling a whole list of popular vegetables. Ingredient lists are not spare, but not overly long or exotic, either.
All in all, this is a good companion to your other grilling books, or a stand-alone for vegetarians who want to join the backyard party.
By Clifford A. Wright, Macmillan, 202 pages, $16.95 (paperback re-release)
Why Italian? Wright makes a claim for a long tradition of cooking over a fire in Italy, including a whole vocabulary just for specific types of grilling - alla grigliata, alla brace, ai ferri.
Wright's recipes rely heavily on olive-oil marinades and traditional seasonings. This is the meat-lover's handbook, with lots of meat rolls, rustic sausages and spit roasting.
The Firehouse Grilling Cookbook
By Joseph T. Bonanno Jr., Broadway, 216 pages, $23 (hardcover)
We couldn't help liking this book. Maybe it's the idea, complete with a chapter on fire-safety tips. Or maybe it's Bonanno's grinning face - he looks a lot like a young Henry Winkler. His writing style? Fuggidabout it - very working-class New York, friendly, down-to-earth. This is Bonanno's second book; the first was "The Healthy Firehouse Cookbook," which featured recipes from firefighters all over the country. This one has some recipes from other firefighters, but most are Bonanno's. Simple and light, it's guy food on the healthy side.
The most interesting part is on fire methods (naturally). While we're all well-versed on direct and indirect grilling, his banked coal method is easily understood - a sloping pile of coals to create hot and cooler areas.
All Fired Up!
By Margaret Howard, Firefly, 219 pages, $24.95 (paperback)
Billed as a book of outdoor and indoor grilling, this one has pretty pictures, but suffers from confusion. Some of the recipes aren't even made on the grill, so it's not clear why they're there. The rest are mostly kebabs, grilled fish, grilled vegetables. Yeah, yeah, yeah - been there, cooked that. But what's this? Deep South Barbecue using beef brisket? Beef? Beef? Not in my neighborhood. If it's Texas barbecue, call it that.
Grilled Skewers of Sausage, Orange and Bay Leaf
Makes 2 to 3 servings
10 bay leaves
1 1/2 medium-size onions, cut into wedges
6 links Italian sweet sausage, cut into chunks
1 Florida juice orange, with peel, cut into chunks
10 (8- to 10-inch) wooden skewers or 5 metal skewers
Soak bay leaves (and wooden skewers, if using) in tepid water for 30 minutes. Drain.
Preheat a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat gas grill for 15 minutes on medium-high.
Double skewer all ingredients: Hold two skewers parallel to each other about 1/2 inch apart between your thumb and forefinger. Skewer a piece of onion, then a bay leaf, a piece of sausage and a piece of orange, repeating that order until all ingredients are used. There would be 2 or 3 pieces of meat per double skewer.