A Peek at Sunset’s Very First BBQ Book

June 21, 2013 | By | Comments (2)

Grilling is so much a part of the modern Westerner’s DNA that it’s hard to imagine a time when the gear wasn’t available at every hardware store (the Weber grill was invented in 1951), and recipes weren’t at our fingertips. In 1938, Sunset’s Barbecue Book (complete with a genuine redwood cover) arrived to help.


Back then, if you wanted a backyard grill you built your own. The book provided dozens of ideas and plans, including this one for a grill that cranks up and down.

Sunset built-in bbq 1938

Modern grill manufacturers, would you work on the crank idea?

Sunset pit bbq 1938

Here’s a plan for building your own barbecue pit to feed 350 to 600.

Grilling tools and comfy furniture for hanging out near the grill were in their infancy too. Not every idea has stood the test of time.

Our 1938 book recommended asbestos gloves and furniture made from an old car seat and bricks.

Our 1938 book recommended asbestos gloves and furniture made from an old car seat and bricks.

And then there was the food: The book’s recipes are pretty simple by today’s standards, but cooked in the open air on a hand-crafted grill, they must have tasted sublime.

Sunset Hamburger Feed menu 1938

The burgers for this crowd-pleasing menu were cooked on a “barbecue flat plat,” what we call a griddle, or plancha, today.

Hamburgers de Luxe

From Sunset’s Barbecue Book, 1938

In the kitchen, press uncooked hamburger into very thin, flat plates between waxed paper. Put 2 cakes together with a filling made from finely chopped raw onion mixed with steak sauce, pressing the edges of the cakes together firmly. Carry out to the barbecue and broil quickly on both sides on the hot flat plate. Serve in large hot picnic buns, split and buttered.

Sunset steak grilling 1938


  1. Elaine Johnson

    Thanks, Lynn. Isn’t that last illo great? And of course the guy is doing the grilling.

    June 21, 2013 at 5:59 pm
  2. Lynn Donaldson

    This is great! I love the last illustration.

    June 21, 2013 at 1:09 pm

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