Posted 6 years ago
One of the perks of working at Sunset Publishing Corp. (I wrote and edited for the magazine, the custom-publishing division, and the book division from roughly 1992 until 2009) was the free-book pile. Every so often, when old stuff needed to make way for new, the archives would be thinned.
This copy of Sunset's legendary "Barbecue Book" is one score from one such culling of the printed-word herd. It's not the first edition—that copy had real wood covers—but in 1947, even though the book was in its 11th edition, the publishers were still willing to spend a few extra bucks to give the cover of their bbq book an embossed wood grain texture ("Photographed from California Redwood Plywood" is the credit on the jacket's back flap).
There are so many gems in this little tome that I hardly know where to begin, but here are a few examples. The first sentence of the book tells you all you need to know about Sunset's reputation for worrying the details. In that sentence, an asterisk follows the comma that follows the word "barbecue," which leads to definition explaining that while the noun "barbecue" is "defined in the dictionary" as "a social entertainment... at which one or more large animals are roasted or broiled," this book will treat "barbecue" as the word that describes the structure upon which said large animal(s) are cooked.
Equally charming is the general lack of direction in the plans themselves, of which there are 25. This was an era when it was deemed enough to just give readers the main dimensions and a handful of illustrations. No need to go into a lot of detail on how to do things like mix mortar or level a foundation...
Some of the suggestions in this book no doubt seemed reasonable at the time but would surely raise eyebrows today. I mean, you've got to love the adventurous spirit that made Sunset editors think it would be a good idea to turn a wheelbarrow or child's wagon into a portable barbecue (what could be better than fire? how about fire on wheels!), but the advice to use asbestos gloves was certainly just a product of the blinkered times.
Another time-capsule piece of advice is to soak sawdust in kerosene ("not gasoline," the authors warn in italics), and then sprinkle this super-sawdust on your oak or maple fuel (charcoal is mentioned; propane not at all) when starting your inferno.
And then, of course, there are the recipes. Like many books of this era, there are lots of illustrations to help cooks do some basic home butchering, as well as tips for cooking every cut of meat imaginable. For the vegetarians in your family, there's also advice for grilling corn, fruit, baked potatoes in an "ovenette," and even pancakes. Mmm... barbecued pancakes.....