A Review of
Praise the Lard: Recipes and Revelations from a Legendary life in Barbecue
Mike Mills / Amy Mills
Reviewed by Andy May
Legendary barbecue pitmaster Mike Mills and daughter Amy Mills team up to deliver unto us a heavenly smoker’s cookbook revealing some of the best kept secret recipes in barbecue. But more than that, peppered between the detailed recipes, Mike and Amy’s stories unveil the best of what small town America has to offer: the values of community, family, work, and faith. Amy and Mike share generations worth of wisdom, experience, and a gold mine of creative recipes. As the original “slow food” movement, Mike and Amy emphasize that barbecue is more than just producing delicious and creatively crafted food, it’s also a basic building block of real community. As friends and family gather, for whatever occasion, the sights, smells, and slow pace of smoking meat provide an opportunity be reminded of the important things in life. Barbecue is sharing, barbecue is hospitality, barbecue is risk, barbecue is hard work, barbecue is love.
Not only are these stories enough to put my faith in the barbecue pit as an instrument of community building, I felt as if Mike himself was instructing me in real time over my shoulder as I attempted to duplicate his legendary recipes. The instructions are detailed, the menu is comprehensive. Included are what seems to be the entire menu from Mike and Amy’s award winning “17th Street Bar and Grill” in Murphysboro, Illinois. One can use these recipes often and never be in danger of duplicating the appetizers, main course, dessert, or cocktails. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or barbecuing for the first time, Praise the Lard has something for all to partake in. Luckily, Mike and Amy do not leave out the science and techniques behind the often difficult and mysterious art of creating fire and smoke. They’ll walk you through everything you need to know, down to the very finest detail on how to setup a proper barbecue grill or “pit” as they call it.
Cookbooks are a pleasure to review for obvious reasons; above all, I get to cook. Choosing a recipe to start with was no easy task, especially since I was pretty sure this cookbook contained leaked classified information. The recipes I attempted were the “Ain’t No Thing But a Chicken Wing”, “Savory Cornbread Pudding”, “Tangy Vinegar Cole Slaw”, and the “Apricot Glazed Pork Loin”. These recipes called for Mike’s “Pure Magic” dry rub, “17th Street Wing Sauce”, and the famous “Apple City” barbecue sauce. Once known as “Momma Faye’s” barbecue sauce, the Apple City sauce was a closely-kept family secret passed down from when Momma Faye created it as a family treasure she then began to sell to friends and neighbors.
Notes on the recipes:
- “Ain’t nothing but a Chicken Wing”: Using “Pure Magic” dry rub really brought out the flavors of the wings, and cooking them exactly to Mike’s specification produced a tender, flaky, smoky, and fully flavored meat. I particularly love traditional buffalo wing sauce and the “17th. St. Wing Sauce” being heavy on the “Franks”, surely hit the spot for me. Of course the “Apple City” sauce went great with it too. This sauce is also on the sweet/tangy side. Next time I make it I’ll add a little more heat.
- “Apricot Glazed Pork Loin”: My favorite of the recipes I tried. Following the directions in using “mustard slather” (mustard and pickle juice) really allowed the Magic Rub to adhere and create a wonderful bark and retain a great smoke ring. The apricot sauce was mostly ginger beer and apricot preserve with a dash of lemon. This created a very unique spicy, sweet, and sour glaze with an asian flare that kept me coming back for more.
- “Cornbread Pudding”: The texture turned out great, especially since I followed Mike’s advice to use a cast iron skillet. And the recipe’s call for the use of lard really made the cornbread quite rich. Being from above the Mason-Dixon, I was a little disappointed when I realized this was not sweet cornbread. If you love southern-style cornbread, this is a great twist on the traditional dish. Next time I’ll a dash of sugar.
- “Tangy Vinegar Cole Slaw”: Although I like just about any cole slaw, this recipe is based on two of my favorite ingredients: vinegar and sugar. Simple and straightforward, this recipe delivers if you have both a sweet and sour tooth!
As the title suggests, Praise the Lard: Recipes and Revelations from a Legendary life in Barbecue is a homage to meat, family, community, hard work, and specifically to God who provides them. In its pages, we are drawn into a more deliberate and seasoned world, one that ought be shared with those around us in creative yet simple ways.