Life of Fire Cookbook Review

Life of Fire Cookbook Review
By The Cooking World, Editorial Staff
June 13, 2022

Life of Fire: Mastering the Arts of Pit-Cooked Barbecue, the Grill, and the Smokehouse: A Cookbook

Continuing with our series of Barbecue Cookbooks, in this week's cookbook review, we decided to bring you Life of Fire Cookbook.

From one of the south's most acclaimed pit masters comes the definitive guide to real pit barbecue, live-fire cooking, and cold-smoking hams and bacon.

Pat Martin, one of the few pitmasters still carrying the torch of West Tennessee whole-hog barbecue, shares a lifetime's worth of practice and pleasure - a life of fire that will transform the way you cook.

From Selecting Wood to Whole-hog Barbecue

Accordingly to Andrew Zimmern, Life of Fire is the most important book on cooking over live fire in decades. The book illuminates everything from coal beds to home-built pits to simple, delicious recipes and enough whole hog know-how to impress the weekend warriors without intimidating newcomers.

In Life of Fire, Pat wanted to document West Tennessee whole-hog barbecue on paper and explore live-fire cooking as no one has ever done before in a cookbook.

The book begins with the basics of building a fire for cooking. Chapter 1 covers selecting and sourcing wood for live-fire cooking and building and maintaining a "feder fire" that will produce the fuel you need for various styles of grilling and barbecue. Chapter 2 will teach you how to take the young coals produced by a fire and use them for high-heat grilling and charring.

Chapter 3 is about open-pit barbecue, how to use the coals that have cooled down to smoke ribs, chicken, rabbit, and smaller whole pigs, and how to build a spit for cooking various cuts of pork. Chapter 4 is dedicated to whole-hog barbecue.

Even once a fire has died down to ashes and embers, it still has lots to offer. Chapter 5 will teach you how to use the tail end of a fire to cook ash-roasted vegetables and various types of aluminum foil-pouch dishes. One of fire's by-products, smoke, is in itself a tool for preserving and flavoring meat. Chapter 6 brings us to the smokehouse, where you'll learn to cure and cold smoke everything from hog jowls to duck breasts and Pat's favorite DIY charcuterie, sock sausage.

Last but not least, chapter 7 is a collection of Pat's family's greatest dessert hits, with recipes from her mother, Pam, and her grandmothers.

Pork Shoulder. Photography by Andrew Thomas Lee (p. 193)

The Art of Cooking with Live Fire

Like in all barbecue cookbooks we reviewed, accessibility is not one of these books' most significant selling points. However, there is always something you can learn from them, especially in books like Life of Fire.

Although most home cooks will never venture alone to cook a whole hog, this book offers much more. You'll sear tomatoes for sandwiches and infuse creamed corn with the flavor of char from the temperamental, adolescent fire.

You'll grill chicken with Alabama white sauce over the grown-up fire, and, of course, you'll barbecue ribs, turkey, pork belly, and pork shoulder over the smoldering heat of mature coals. For those who want to start slowly, you can begin by roasting vegetables buried in white ash or grilling some sugar snap peas.

Life if Fire has a great diversity of well-written recipes that allow cooks from different skill levels to have great fun around the fire.

Ribs. Photography by Andrew Thomas Lee (p. 207)

Final Thoughts

There is so much to learn in Life of Fire! In addition to recipes, and there are a lot, this book has plenty of instructional sections making perfect for those who want to learn the art of cooking with life fire.

We know that some barbecue devotees will always be critical of technique and approach, so has we read online "take all of this will a grain of salt: this book peels back the curtain so home grillers have have a peek from the pitmaster.".


Life of Fire is one of the most practical and profound barbecue books to date. An homage to West Tennessee's whole hog barbecue, this book promises to keep this tradition alive for generations to come.









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