Martin became well-versed in ribs and barbecue sandwiches growing up in the northeast Mississippi town of Corinth, near Memphis. His whole-hog epiphany, however, didn’t come until he paid a visit to now defunct Thomas & Webb Barbecue while attending college in Henderson, Tennessee. Its pitmaster, Harold Thomas, became his mentor — the first of many. He wrote “Life of Fire” to document this dwindling barbecue tradition before it dies out.
“Understanding barbecue and other kinds of live-fire cooking — grilling, charring, ash-roasting, and cold-smoking — is mostly about mastering fire,” writes Martin. Each chapter, he explains, represents a stage of a fire’s lifespan, from Birth (“building the fire”) through Old Age (“cooking in ashes and embers”), and ending with After the Fire — a collection of church cookbook-type desserts.