Here's the skinny: Al Roker's Big Bad Book of Barbecue (Scribner, 2002, $27.95) is neither big nor bad. It's simply a slickly produced, beginner-level 100-recipe cookbook on backyard grilling.
That's probably a compliment and it comes a bit grudgingly. It's pretty easy to resent a book as carefully marketed as this one is - from its celebrity (and strictly amateur cook) author to its Food Network tie-in (the book's production was developed into an hour-long special that recently aired on the cable network).
But then it's also pretty tough to dislike the affable Roker, whose day job is to provide a steady stream of yucks as weatherman on NBC's Today show. His writing is as engaging as his TV manner, but he also shows a deep reverence for family and home cooking - many of his recipes have a personal connection.
The big guy must have rubbed shoulders, pork or otherwise, with a few professional barbecuers, because there's some expertise reflected in these pages. He prefers hardwood lump charcoal to briquettes, shows a healthy disdain for gas grills and worships the slow-cooked authentic barbecue of the South.
For the most part, the recipes are straightforward, the accompanying glossy photographs are certain to make you hungry and there are some helpful glossaries and beginner tips.
Of course, even a barbecue devotee can't live by grilled meat alone, and the book has its share of side dishes, desserts and drinks, too. One of the best of these is a recipe for potato salad that he credits to his wife, ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts, who learned it growing up in Perry, Ga.
"In the South, I think it's a criminal offense for there to be a barbecue without potato salad or coleslaw," Roker writes.
Deborah's Perry (Ga.) Potato Salad
6 medium white or Yukon Gold potatoes (3 pounds)
3 large eggs
1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped pimento
3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup spicy brown mustard
freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 1/2 -inch chunks. Put them in a pot and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Salt the water generously. Cover the pot and set it over high heat. Bring the water to a boil, then add the eggs. Reduce the heat to a brisk simmer and cook, covered, until the potatoes can be just pierced by a fork, about 15 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, remove the eggs from the pot and set them aside. Drain the potatoes and place them in a large bowl. Rinse the eggs under cold running water until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop 2 of the eggs and add them to the potatoes. Add the onion, pimento and relish to the potatoes.
In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and the mustard. Spoon over the potato salad, season with salt and pepper, and mix gently.
Peel the remaining egg and slice it. Place the slices on top of the potato salad. Sprinkle with the paprika.
Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 hours. Serve chilled or at room temperature.