While there’s nothing like hands-on experience when it comes to cooking on a smoker, fully mastering the art of barbecue also requires access to recipes and culinary knowledge.
Whether you’re a beginner, unsure how to start your venture into outdoor cooking, or a seasoned barbecue enthusiast hoping to take your skills to the next level, you could almost certainly benefit from consulting a cookbook.
As smoker technology has become both more advanced and more accessible, the production of literature on using smokers to their full potential has also increased.
We’re going to be reviewing 11 of the best smoker cookbooks on the market today, with the goal of helping you to improve your skills as a barbecue chef!
OUR TOP PICK
Overall, the best smoker cookbook currently in print has to be Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, written by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay.
‘Franklin Barbecue’ is actually the name of Franklin’s own Texas-based restaurant, which has become the most critically revered barbecue restaurant in the United States.
Franklin was presented with the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southwest in 2015. The recipes and knowledge in this cookbook are based on his own experience and success.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto is more focused on the general knowledge aspect of smoking than specific, instructional recipes.
For this reason, you won’t find much in the book about intricate methodology (at least, not until chapter 6), which may be a let-down to those readers looking for meal inspiration.
However, the book’s focus on knowledge, experience, and skill does have plenty of advantages.
For one thing, the first chapter of the cookbook delves into Franklin’s early personal experiences with smoking and barbecue, which makes for an enjoyable and interesting read.
For another thing, Franklin’s teaching of core skills and knowledge makes this book suitable for beginners, although the information in the cookbook also fosters long-term progress for chefs of all skill levels.
Something we particularly like about A Meat Smoking Manifesto is its structure, which covers all the core aspects of smoking meat, chapter-by-chapter.
From the smoker itself to the wood, the meat, and even the service, this cookbook provides a clearly-structured, comprehensive overview of meat smoking.
- Written by an award-winning chef - Expert advice
- Includes personal insight - Enjoyable read
- Teaches core knowledge and skills - Beginner-friendly
- Covers all aspects of smoking - Comprehensive
- Not recipe-focused - Not the best choice for meal inspiration
BEST FOR PELLET SMOKERS
For our runner-up spot, we’ve chosen Steven Raichlen’s acclaimed The Brisket Chronicles.
Steven Raichlen is well-known in the culinary world for his work as a television host, but one of his biggest successes is this cookbook, which has received 5-star testimonials from readers all over the world.
This cookbook is exclusively focused on brisket, which is a fairly tough cut of meat (literally and figuratively) to cook right.
However, with the help of the guidance and recipes provided in the book, you’ll soon master this barbecue favorite.
Of course, barbecue brisket is a main focus of The Brisket Chronicles, but the book also includes a selection of global brisket recipes and techniques, from Korean brisket to Jamaican jerk brisket.
In addition to many exciting recipes, this cookbook contains a wealth of knowledge on the history, theory, and techniques behind smoked brisket.
The Brisket Chronicles should also be appreciated from an ethical perspective since the section of recipes for leftovers promotes responsible meat smoking with minimal waste, which is crucial in the current climate.
- Covers various brisket types - Diverse recipes
- Features recipes for leftovers - Discourages waste
- Includes theory, technical and historical knowledge - Highly informative
- Exclusive focus on brisket - Not for other cuts of meat
BEST FOR ELECTRIC SMOKERS
If you own a pellet smoker, you might find it beneficial to consult a cookbook based specifically around pellet smoking.
In this category, the best cookbook is definitely Pit Boss: Wood Pellet Smoker and Grill Cookbook by Leona Air.
What really makes this book stand out from the competition when it comes to pellet smoker cookbooks is the sheer number of recipes it includes!
With more than 450 meat-based smoker recipes, even the most avid barbecue lover won’t run out of ideas.
Plus, there are hundreds of seafood, vegetarian, and vegan recipes along with gluten-free options, proving that smoking and barbecue can be inclusive of all dietary requirements!
Something else that customers appreciate about this cookbook is that it includes all the relevant nutritional information for each recipe.
Despite barbecue’s reputation as comfort food, Pit Boss demonstrates that it’s possible to enjoy smoked meat and other foods while remaining health-conscious - if that’s your thing.
While this cookbook is technically aimed at all skill levels, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for complete beginners since the book almost entirely consists of recipes as opposed to core knowledge and theory.
With that being said, the recipes are easy to follow, so anyone with a pellet smoker can benefit from this book.
- 450 + meat recipes - Wide selection
- Features fish, vegetarian, and vegan recipes - Inclusive
- Includes nutritional information - Health-conscious
- More focus on recipes than knowledge - Not the best choice for complete beginners
BEST FOR ELECTRIC SMOKERS
Do you use an electric smoker rather than a pellet smoker? In that case, we recommend Bill West’s The Complete Electric Smoker Cookbook!
The main reason we’ve chosen this cookbook as the best for electric smokers is the fact that it goes into so much detail on the foundations of choosing and using an electric smoker.
The opening sections of the book guide the reader through the process of buying the best smoker and figuring out how to work with it, including safety information and control mastery.
Beyond the introductory information, this book features more than 100 recipes, including classic barbecue as well as fish and vegetable-based recipes.
Anyone who’s ever bought a cookbook only to find that half of the required ingredients are obscure and difficult to source will know the frustration involved.
Luckily, this book is exactly the opposite. The focus is on easily accessible, everyday ingredients that you can dig out of your pantry and transform into a succulent meal.
The only potential issue with this cookbook is the fact that some customers have reported inaccurate cooking times.
This could potentially come down to heat distribution differences between smoker makes and models, but we recommend monitoring your food’s cooking progress when following these recipes to be safe.
- Covers foundational knowledge - Ideal for beginners
- Over 100 recipes - Meat, seafood, and vegetable options
- Focus on everyday ingredients - Simple and accessible
- Some inaccurate cooking times - Monitoring recommended
BEST FOR BEGINNERS
Many of the cookbooks featured in our selection are beginner-friendly, but the best smoker cookbook on the market for beginners has to be Smoking Meat 101: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide.
Another cookbook by Bill West, this one is a comprehensive guide to basic meat smoking.
The first part of this book, entitled ‘The Fundamentals of Smoking’, teaches the important theoretical aspects of smoking meat in an interesting and easily comprehensible way, perfect for total beginners.
There’s an entire section dedicated to the theory of flavor, which is crucial for beginners hoping to improve the quality of their cooking quickly.
Inside Smoking Meat 101, you can find over 75 recipes for poultry, pork, beef, lamb, seafood, and vegetables.
There is also a section devoted to sauces and rubs to take your smoking to the next level in terms of flavor.
While the majority of readers really enjoy this cookbook, some have reported finding the lack of photographs challenging when it comes to judging the success of their attempts.
- Teaches basic theory - Beginner-friendly
- More than 75 recipes - For all food groups
- Includes rubs and sauces - Flavor-enhancing
- No photographs of recipes - Difficult to determine success
Just because you have a lot of experience smoking and barbecuing meat, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep improving!
Pitmaster: Recipes, Techniques, and Barbecue Wisdom by Andy Husbands and Chris Hart is the perfect manual for more experienced cooks.
Featured alongside the recipes in this cookbook are plenty of tips and tricks for using your smoker properly.
As a practiced smoker user, you might think you have it all figured out, but you’d be surprised at how the smallest change to your settings or technique can have a significant impact.
While there are several recipes in this book that less experienced cooks could work with, there are also plenty of advanced recipes, such as the ‘whole hog’, which will challenge experienced barbecue enthusiasts.
Each section of the book features a guest Pitmaster - another expert chef with knowledge to offer on their specialty barbecue style.
Additionally, brand new and developing barbecue styles from the North are explored in Pitmaster, bringing new and exciting perspectives straight to your smoker!
Our only minor disappointment with this cookbook is that there isn’t as much focus on technique compared to recipes.
- Includes tips and tricks for smoker use - Easy ways to improve
- Features advanced recipes - Challenging
- Explores new barbecue styles - Innovative, fresh perspectives
- Recipes from guest chefs - Several sources of expertise
- Not much focus on technique - More of a recipe book
BEST FOR SKILLS
If you’re trying to improve your technique and practical smoking skills, Slow Fire: The Beginner’s Guide to Barbecue by Ray Lampe would be our top recommendation.
Slow Fire is, as advertised, a beginner-friendly book, and the reason it’s such a great book for those starting out is that its primary focus is on technique.
The first main section of the book is called ‘Tools and Techniques’, and it covers types of cooking apparatus, fuel, and tools, plus how to use them effectively.
The recommendations in the book’s first section are detailed, featuring information such as the type of flavor infusion that can be achieved by using different types of wood, for example.
Having covered the basics, Lampe goes on to provide 68 amazing recipes, categorized by meat type.
Crucially, these recipes range from beginner-friendly to advanced, so there’s something for everyone. The section on rubs and sauces will help you to put the finishing touches on the recipes you try.
None of the recipes are vegetable-based, however, so this is not the best choice of cookbook for plant-based chefs.
- Prioritizes technique - Perfect for beginners
- Contains 68 recipes - For all skill levels
- Details of sauces and rubs - Completes recipes
- No vegetable-based recipes - Not vegetarian or vegan-friendly
BEST FOR SCIENCE
Understanding the science behind smoking, grilling, and barbecue is one of the best ways to improve yourself as a cook and the quality of your food.
If you’re interested in the scientific perspective, consider reading Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling by Meathead Goldwyn.
Goldwyn is a best-selling author and also the 40th member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame, so he really knows his stuff.
Most of this cookbook focuses on the technology and science behind smoking meat, including ‘The Science of Heat,’ ‘Software,’ and ‘Hardware’.
The book also dispels many common myths that could prevent aspiring barbecue chefs from realizing their full potential.
The second half of Meathead features more than 100 smoked meat recipes, including rubs and sauces to pair with them.
One thing to bear in mind is that some of the guidance in this book contradicts traditional meat cooking methods, primarily from France and Italy, meaning that this may be a controversial read for some.
- Best-selling author - Expert guidance
- Delivers technical and scientific knowledge - Detailed but easy to understand
- Dispels common myths - Important information
- 100 + recipes - Plenty of meal inspiration
- Contradicts some traditional methods - Slightly controversial
BEST FOR INNOVATION
Once you’ve been smoking meat for a few years, it can start to feel like you’ve tried everything.
To keep expanding your repertoire of interesting smoker techniques and recipes, we recommend consulting Project Smoke by Steven Raichlen.
100 recipes are included inside this cookbook, so there’s plenty to choose from and something to suit all palates.
What’s really special about this cookbook, however, is the fact that some of the included recipes are so unique and daring.
The book even includes a recipe for smoked cheesecake, alongside other smoked desserts!
Project Smoke includes a step-by-step, 7-part method to creating the perfect smoked meal, detailing everything you need to consider and source for success.
This structure is informative and easy to follow, no matter your level of experience.
The main drawback to this cookbook is its lack of index in Kindle format, which makes finding individual recipes and ingredients more difficult.
- Step-by-step guidance - Easy to follow
- Includes 100 recipes - Extensive choice
- Unique meal ideas - Includes smoked desserts
- No Kindle index - Difficult to navigate
Being on a budget doesn’t need to hinder your progress as a barbecue chef! The Traeger Grill & Smoker Cookbook 2022 is both affordable and highly informative.
Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or already have some smoker skills, you can make use of the recipes in the book since they vary significantly in terms of experience level.
With that being said, there’s no section on technique or specific skills, so it’s best to already have some knowledge of smoker use before you pick up this book.
The recipes in this book include meat, seafood, and vegetarian-friendly options, and there is even an entire section on smoked desserts! The choices here are varied and inclusive.
As you might have expected due to the high affordability of this cookbook, it’s not especially long, consisting of just 104 pages. This means that it has fewer recipes than some of the others on our list.
- Beginner to advanced recipes - Suited to all skill levels
- Meat, seafood, and vegetable options - Inclusive and varied
- Includes dessert recipes - Create multi-course meals
- Only 104 pages - Relatively brief
- No focus on technique - Some prior knowledge needed
Michael Symon’s Playing with Fire by Michael Symon is a great smoker cookbook to suit all levels of skill and experience.
Michael Symon is the owner of several highly successful barbecue restaurants, so all of the advice in this book is based on years of experience.
This cookbook features 72 recipes for all types of smoking, from classic beef barbecue to vegetable dishes and sides.
If you’re a beginner or want to branch out into different barbecue techniques, there’s a whole section at the start of the book dedicated to various smoking methods.
However, our advice would be to add seasoning slowly and taste as you go if you can when following these recipes. This is because some of the recipes call for a lot of very strong flavors which can be overpowering depending on your palate.
- Written by barbecue restaurant owner - Experience-based advice
- 72 recipes featured - From meat to vegetables and sides
- Explores different smoking methods - Technique-enhancing
- Some overzealous flavoring - Taste as you go (where possible)
As you can see from the exciting selection of cookbooks we’ve reviewed today, there’s no one way to learn and improve your barbecue skills.
Whether you’re a beginner looking for a complete introduction to this cooking style, or a smoker enthusiast hoping to broaden your skill set, there’s a book on our list to suit your needs.
Remember to consider the type of smoker you’ll be using as well as your dietary requirements before you choose your cookbook. This will help to ensure that you get the most out of the learning (and eating!) experience.