What Are The Books That Inspired You the Most? - Part Three

Here is Part Three of a fun and hopefully inspiring companion project to a book I published in 1996 called Books That Shaped Successful People. You can see Part One HERE and Part Two HERE from over the last couple of months.

In this 2022 version, I have asked prominent people in the barbecue world, the barbecue-adjacent world, and respected professionals in creative and business settings what 5 books (or more) inspired them the most during their life journey, along with providing some explanation as to why they chose each book. The list is a fantastic mix of interesting humans with equally intriguing book choices.

I am hopeful that these lists of books and notes provide you with some additional insight into each person and in turn give you the opportunity to get the know the person a little more. Possibly find some common interests.

Thanks again to a most excellent friend Kelly Yandell for taking the photographs of all of the books you'll see below. She's a creative force and a kind soul. You can see her photography HERE and has a killer passion project that involves amazing bandanas HERE.

“Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.” - Louis L’Amour

Here are the responses in their own words in no particular order:

Jess Pryles - Hardcore Carnivore - Jess was born and raised in Australia but truly found her spiritual home in Austin, Texas. Her meat knowledge is second to none and it's fascinating how she can balance entertainment and teaching seamlessly. She's one that must be on your radar if she's not already. Be sure to check out her book Hardcore Carnivore: Cook Meat Like You Mean It and her co-hosting gig on BBQuest Season 3 HERE.

Here are my submissions:

  • Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain - Yes, it's classic foods of Texas, but approachable, comforting, and without pretension.
  • Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: The manual for how to be a culinary rockstar. Bourdain showed us all how to simultaneously revere Michelin-starred dishes and greasy spoon diners, and I carry that with me in my approach to food today. 
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - Not related at all to cooking aside from a Lucky Dog connection, but a book that captures the quirky soul of another city I love, New Orleans. 
  • Any of Chris Lilly's recipe books: the way this man writes recipes... chef's kiss! He has a knack for describing his dish titles in a way that makes you immediately want to try them. And I know for a fact he is very strict with himself on testing recipes until they're just right. 
  • American's Test Kitchen cookbooks: probably the first time I started to appreciate the science behind food was from these books. Knowing that each recipe had been tested to obtain the BEST results (without being submitted to fine dining prep methods), was such a cool approach. You can rely on the recipes to work (as so many recipe blogs do not), and it was less about the traditional way "grandma used to make it", and more about "the best version of the dish".

Daniel Vaughn - Barbecue Editor at Texas Monthly Magazine - Author of The Prophets of Smoked Meat: A Journey Through Texas Barbecue, co-author of Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue with Recipes from Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ. super kind human, and a friend and supporter of my journey for too many years to count.

  • Legends of Texas Barbecue Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from the Pitmasters by Robb Walsh (published in 2002) – Reading this book was the first time I saw the different regions of Texas barbecue discussed in detail. It was formative in my understanding of the cuisine’s past and present, at least at the time I was reading it, and I still refer back to it for the stories from the pitmasters that Walsh captured.
  • Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country by Lolis Eric Elie and Frank Stewart (published in 1996) – When I was writing my own book about Texas barbecue I used Smokestack Lightning’s structure that chronicles a series of massive road trips. Elie through words and Stewart through photos shared the good and bad of the food, used the road and their car as a character, and provided more context to their stories than just observing the food preparation or the consumption of a meal. I still love diving back into this one when I need inspiration.  
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (published in 2007) – Truth be told, I learned more useful information about the beef industry from Raising Steaks by Betty Fussell, so I considered including it, but Omnivore’s Dilemma was foundational to my interest in food. In hindsight it’s too precious, and not always accurate, but no other writer up to that point had made me so interested in the American food supply than Pollan. I read it while traveling over New Year’s in 2008, and can still picture the rooms where I consumed it night after night.
  • Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas by Stephen Harrigan (published in 2019) I honestly haven’t read this book, but I have listened to the audiobook twice during road trips around Texas. I’ve read other Texas history books, but none have captured the triumphs, the defeats, and the self-inflicted wounds of Texas’s complete history than this one.
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat (published in 2017) Nosrat has a way of explaining how different flavors complement one another better than anyone I’ve ever read. Instead of just the how, she makes the why, both ingredients and technique, the central theme of her recipes. This book doesn’t just teach you how to cook her recipes, it teaches you how to cook.

Lance Kirkpatrick - Pitmaster at Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew - Lance has a long history in the barbecue business, having worked with Bobby Mueller at Louie Mueller Barbecue and was incredibly gracious to sit down with this green kid from Los Angeles for lunch at the Stiles' Austin location over a decade ago. Since then he has provided book recommendations throughout the years and nuggets of wisdom.

I had a hard time picking favorites, so I picked some of the more influential as well as an old favorite or two.

  • Mansions of the Soul by Harvey Spencer Lewis  - This book was gifted to me when I was about 18-19. This book provided a totally different outlook on life and death and reality. Its basis is Rosicrucian, and it taught me critical thought. I learned how to absorb information and contemplate different points of view. It changed the way I see the world. It also started me on a quest of learning about different world religions. 
  • The History of Art - Purchased as a textbook in 1988. I love this book. 
  • It: A Novel by Stephen King  - I read this book all through high school (like 3 times). It started my love affair with King. His use of ultra-dimensional ideas returns in many of his books and even works to tie his stories together.
  • I read a lot of western novels as a young person, some collections of short stories. Some L’amour and others. My favorite became Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. I was rereading Lonesome Dove during the hospice time I spent with a loved one. It is a treasured book. Augustus McCrae is one of my all-time favorite literary characters. 
  • Everything Is Under Control by Robert Anton Wilson - This is a collection of conspiracy theories and cult rituals and the like. It simultaneously introduced me to now two of my favorite things. I’m all in on investigating fringe ideas and so-called conspiracy. And I’m a huge fan of Wilson. He’s written some greats like The Illuminatus Trilogy and The Cosmic Trigger which reads like a biography of Wilson’s life. His lectures can be found on YouTube
  • The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu  - I can’t remember exactly how I first encountered the Tao. I now collect copies as I see them as I travel or buy them online. I’ve gifted the Tao to fellow cooks over the years and enjoy making parallels between the teaching of Tao and cooking barbecue. Tao means how, how things work, it translates to life using metaphors and poetry. My favorite way to enjoy the Tao is to listen to the translation by Wayne Dyer on YouTube while I cook on Sunday mornings. 
  • I’ve really only read one book about cooking and that is The Nasty Bits by Anthony Bourdain. It’s a great read and every time I pick it up I hear his voice, it reads just like he talked. 

I’m currently reading several books, all are nonfiction. My current favorite author is Graham Hancock. 

Erin Feges - Co-owner of Feges BBQ in Houston, Texas - What can you say about Erin other than be in awe of her accomplishments and generosity? She had a storied career in the food world prior to flipping the script on the barbecue world with her husband Patrick. If you haven't been to either Feges location please bookmark them for future Houston visits. She's also beyond kind, insightful, a good friend, and someone I am lucky enough to sit down with monthly for our podcast/YouTube show Wine & BBQ.

Here are my book options: 

  • The 5 People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom - I read this book in one day in college. It's not a long book but left a lasting impression on me. All the encounters we have, the people we meet, and the lives we touch have significance. Nothing is by chance. Everything is a gift. How you use those gifts is a choice. I think about this all the time in everything I do and how I do it. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - This was the first chapter book of notability I ever read. I remember feeling an immediate connection to Scout Finch,  I had an unfortunate bowl haircut, was a tomboy, and felt very misunderstood in my adolescence. The message in this book is so powerful and important. It has certainly remained a very important piece of literature. 
  • The French Laundry by Thomas Keller - The first year of my professional culinary career revolved around this one book. I had it memorized cover to cover and could recite recipes, techniques, and Chef Keller's now-famous stories like it was a party trick. This book was THE field guide to fine dining cooks and chefs in the early 2000s and set the framework for the next decade of hospitality. "Sense of Urgency" is still something I say to my team on a daily basis. So many important lessons came from this book and my time spent with Chef Keller and the team at Per Se. 
  • The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer - This was the first cookbook I ever owned. It was given to me by my mom. Even though I don't use it ever it has a permanent spot on my bookshelf because it acts as a reminder of who I was before my culinary journey ever began and the reason and people that have encouraged me every step of the way. 
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey - I have been obsessed with the concept of effectiveness my whole adult life. Leadership at its core is about understanding people. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't use the principles laid out in this book. There are so many wonderful books on leadership but this was one of the originals and one that helped shape my leadership very early on. 

Michelle Wallace - Executive Chef at Gatlin's BBQ & Catering in Houston and a 2022 James Beard Taste Twenty Chef. I knew that Michelle was a driven, creative chef, but didn't realize how wonderful a human she was until our sitdown interview HERE. Be sure to follow her when you can because this is only the beginning of our journey.

I often choose books of personal stories and history. I am motivated by reading about someone else's journey to success. The way in which they think and attack their obstacles in life is such a catalyst for me. It challenges me to think and think (and ultimately put those thoughts into action) in a  greater capacity than what I'm currently doing. Books of history interest me for obvious reasons. The story of African Americans is so rich. To learn and then pay homage through food is paramount for me. With that being said, here is my list, in no particular order!  (this was actually a tough list to make!)

Thank you again for including me!! This is awesome!

Matt Pittman - Meat Church BBQ - C.E.O. at Meat Church BBQ. An entrepreneur, a family man, and easily one of the busiest men in the barbecue world. What I like most about Matt is that he is highly focused on the success of his company, brand, and the brands he represents, but also has time to support the local barbecue spots that are killing themselves day in and day out to survive.

I worked a lot on leadership in my corporate career as I was starting Meat Church. These 2 books were key:

Jordan Salcito - Founder/CEO RAMONA - Jordan Salcito created RAMONA out of a desire to bring sparkling wines and spritzes to the public in a completely organic manner while also being intensely flavorful and refreshing. Her path towards starting her company included stops as a sommelier at Eleven Madison Park and as the beverage director of David Chang's restaurant empire but what I love most about her is the passion and thoughtfulness that she brings to business and life.

A few favorites are below, not in any particular order:

  • Deepak Chopra - Seven Spiritual Laws of Success - a recent discovery for me but one that now helps outline my thinking on a daily basis. It sent me on a deep dive into more of his work!
  • Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina - of course, the writing is spectacular but what stays with me from this work is the continuity of humanity, and Tolstoy's ability to see into its soul. I learn about people, generally, and myself every time I read this book, which is a reminder that our problems are not new, our hopes, dreams, and fears are not unique - and there is so much comfort in knowing that these emotions are truly universal.
  • BE 2.0 (Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0): Turning Your Business into an Enduring Great Company by Jim Collins and (posthumously) Bill Lazier - I'd read Jim Collins before but had never read his first book, Beyond Entrepreneurship which he co-wrote with his mentor and former Stanford Business School professor, Bill Lazier.  This one I discovered thanks to a Brené Brown podcast (in which she interviews Jim) and a recommendation from my husband, who had recently begun reading it and could not put it down.  Apparently, Reed Hastings also reads it once a year.  It's a good reminder to stay focused, motivated, and disciplined and to set Big Hairy Audacious Goals.
  • The Power of Intention by Wayne Dyer - I first learned of Wayne Dyer listening to a Sara Blakely podcast with Simon Sinek, in which she credits Dyer with learning "how to think" and not "what to think."  This resonated, and I love everything Sara Blakely so I bought the book and benefited from its messages on how to cultivate a positive mindset immensely. 
  • Honestly, I love reading Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad.  I read them aloud to the boys (in fact I read two stories from Frog and Toad Together tonight: "The Garden" and "Cookies" ) and Lobel is a genius at character development, humor, and finding peace and fulfillment in life's simplest moments. 

Pat Martin - Owner of Martin's Bar-B-Que joints and Hugh Baby's. and author of the incredible resource and indispensable tool in the cookbook toolbox Life of Fire: Mastering the Arts of Pit-Cooked Barbecue, the Grill, and the Smokehouse: A Cookbook. Every time I chat with him I feel smarter and what we touched on lingers long past our discussion. He's one of the really good ones and I'm honored to call him a friend.

Nick Pencis - Owner of Stanley's Famous Pit BBQ a Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ spot in east Texas that also serves over 90+ bourbons, Texas craft beer, and live music to a steady stream of regular customers. Nick has always been kind, accommodating, and genuine.

For Fun:

  • The Eyes of the Dragon By Stephen King - I moved from Texarkana, TX to Tyler, TX in 7th Grade (1989) - and although I wouldn’t say I was a troublemaker in the sense of being a “bad” kid, I was (and still am) super silly and clowned around A LOT! So, inevitably, I did get in trouble quite often, which in turn meant detention or sometimes SAC (Special Assignment Class or in school suspension). So, my sister had this book lying around, and it became my way to pass time when I was in trouble. So, basically, from 7th grade, until I graduated high school, I read this old tattered paperback version of this book probably a dozen times. 
  • Rainbow Six or Without Remorse by Tom Clancy (or literally ANY Tom Clancy book) - What young boy didn’t daydream about being a fighter pilot after seeing Top Gun or being in Special Ops after seeing Predator or freaking Rambo? Loved them! 
  • The Storyteller by Dave Grohl - No explanation is needed. It’s a badass and fun book by the most badass and fun rockstar alive today. I love Dave, and my heart breaks for him and all of the Foo Fighter Fam with the recent loss of Taylor Hawkins. So crushing. 
  • Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey - My dude is just slaying it and this is just a fun read to follow his journey. Makes me want to drink bourbon, eat barbecue, talk music, life’s journeys, and live in an Airstream.


  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach - My wife and best friend, Jen, gave me this book to read while traveling many years ago. I just really identified with his independent spirit - and knowing we can be more than what we are led to believe. 
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - Another great read that Jen gave me. I’m quite a dreamer and have an adventurous spirit. Also, usually pretty annoyingly positive too! I kind of tend to see obstacles as just part of the journey - and without a solid plan - just approach it as something that can be figured out. Somehow. Someway. Just choose your destination (or desire), and you’ll get there. (Yes! very lofty indeed!) My wandering heart soaked it all right up. This is a great reminder to read this one again ASAP. 
  • The Secret by Rhonda Byrne - A band playing at Stanley's had originally given me this book, and I immediately had an “Aha!” moment. The concepts of the laws of attraction and the power of gratitude have always been in my brain, and it was cool to see them. I have always manifested much of what I want in this life by thinking and living this way. So, the book is a great way to be reminded to be intentional with the energy you put out there! Grateful for this book! 

Food and BBQ: 

  • The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt - This is unquestionably my favorite cookbook and resource. I love knowing WHY to do things a certain way, along with HOW. This book breaks down the science behind cooking and is backed by killer recipes. 
  • Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto by Aaron Franklin & Jordan Mackay - I met Aaron when we both seemed to be gathering momentum in our journey to “making it,” (as in being able to make a living doing this BBQ thang), and I have enjoyed seeing the world recognize his talent and passion. I love this book’s straightforward explanations of how he does what he does and how BBQ works conceptually. I can almost guarantee that any pit master in this new era has taken some notes from this book. 
  • The Prophets of Smoked Meat by Daniel Vaughn - I met Daniel after he first reviewed Stanley’s on his blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, and instead of getting mad at him, I asked him for help. He was out there, seeing what was going on, while I was in the joint trying to figure it out. I dig the adventure, the info, and getting to know the others that are in the same boat. 
  • Texas BBQ & Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown by Wyatt McSpadden - Wyatt’s photographs are incredible and I can’t think of anyone kinder. These books will always be on the table in my house. 

Business & Leadership:

  • Setting the Table by Danny Meyer - The principles and importance of HOSPITALITY seem lost in our industry and I can’t conceive how that’s possible. This book is the one that I was instantly in sync with. I modeled a Hospitality Guide for all of our employees off of this book and I buy a copy for every new manager that comes to work with me. 
  • Start With Why & Together is Better by Simon Sinek - Simon has been a huge inspiration for the management crew and me. I bought everyone a copy of Together is Better and often send links from his talks or quotes from his Twitter feed. His principles of leadership are top-notch. 
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin - A book about accountability in leadership, written by two badass Navy SEALS, with war stories and real-life examples of applying lessons learned in war to business. Yes, please! 

Justin Clemons - Editorial/commercial photographer based in Dallas and founder of the collective Flocc Studio and the online lighting school that is more like a photography family called That Photo School. It's not often that person's talent matches their kindness but Justin has been able to prove that excellence can be obtained in both categories.

  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki - I don’t recall learning about money, investing, or anything really to do with using the money I earn in intelligent ways.  Rich Dad, Poor Dad became my teacher for a time.  It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about money.  No, I didn’t go invest in real estate (even though I wanted to, haha), but the concepts in this book were so valuable for me and my financial future.  
  • The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss - Oh my goodness, this book was huge for me.  It came at the perfect time.  My photography business had really picked up and the just wasn’t enough of Justin to do everything.  I really learned the value of my time and the art of delegating.
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling - I know its a funny one to put in here, but was an amazing series for me.  Yes, it was a fun story with fun characters, but the biggest thing for me was to have a simple, easy-to-read book to dive into at the end of the day.  It was really good for my mind to get into a fun imaginary world and out of my stressful one.  It gave my mind a break.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - It was forever ago that I read this book ( in college), but was pretty impactful.  This book was the first time I saw the power and creativity of words.  There was this character in prison that was so descriptively written about that I can remember him today.  It was more vivid than a movie. I didn’t realize this was possible.  
  • Proverbs - A book in the Bible that has a tremendous amount of wisdom.  I want to be wise, and I want to make good decisions in life and this book is an amazing guide.

When I finally made time to do it and process this, I actually enjoyed it.  Thanks for that.  All the best Kevin!  Thanks for the honor of being a part.

Rajat Parr - An Master Sommelier turned regenerative farmer at Phelan Farms in Cambria and partner in Scythian Wine Co., Domaine de la Cote, Sandhi Wines, Evening Land Wines, and Raj Parr Wines. Co-author of The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste: A Field Guide to the Great Wines of Europe and our guest on Wine & BBQ Episode 6 HERE.  

  • The New Great Vintage Wine Book by Michael Broadbent - this book taught me a lot about old vintages. It was especially important during my early days in wine.
  • The Apple Grower by Michael Phillips - here I learned a lot about organic farming. I am using many theories from Michael Phillips at Phelan Farm today.
  • The World Atlas of Wine by Jancis Robinson & Hugh Johnson - a book that every wine lover should have.