Beef and Grass, Cheese Dogs and Hamburger Cake: A Sunset Magazine Barbecue

In all it's redwood-grained glory...

Nothing says summer like a barbecue (or if you live east of the Rockies, a “cookout”).  This set of recipes is sure to be a hit with your friends and neighbors at your Memorial Day party, or any summer festivity. Thanks to the fine folks at Sunset Magazine, we have the Sunset Barbecue Cook Book, (first edition, 1952), a tome of “251 tested recipes, 37 sauces, 26 barbecue menus and instructions on how to barbecue,” printed across 96 redwood-grained pages.

Long known by it’s motto as “The magazine for western living,” Sunset began as a travel rag on Southern Pacific Railroad‘s famous Sunset Limited train, which ran from New Orleans to San Francisco (it still runs to Los Angeles).  Part tourist guide, part PR campaign, the magazine printed features on landmarks, events and cultural icons of the western states, particularly California.

Former Better Homes and Gardens advertising executive Lawrence Lane purchased the magazine in 1929, and for 60 years, his family transformed the magazine into a guide for living in western states.  The pages were filled with gardening tips, food articles and travel advice.  The editors  championed famous architects like Cliff May, and began the Sunset Western Home Awards program, co-sponsored by the American Institute of Architects.

The Lane family started a publishing company that printed reference books like this one about cooking, landscaping, architecture and DIY projects like deck and fence-building.  The most well-known publication may be the Western Garden Book, a thick reference guide that mapped microclimates of the western states and provided an encyclopedia of plants and growing tips.  The Sunset climate zones are still used by other publishers and government agencies.

Lane Publishing sold the Sunset empire to Time Warner in 1990, and under the guise of appealing to a younger generation, it has slowly devolved into a series of vacuous travel and entertaining tips, product catalogues and photos of hipsters sipping bourbon cocktails at $300-a-night hotels in Healdsburg a la Martha Stewart Living.

It's a swirling, smoky world of meat!

Which brings us back to our Barbecue Cook Book.  Nothing says “Western Living” like a newly-built suburban home in Scottsdale, Van Nuys, or San Jose with a brick barbecue built into the patio and a bag of briquettes leaning eagerly beside.

But before you pour lighter fluid on that charcoal and toss a match, you need to be prepared.  Here are some tips from W. Foster Stewart, Technical Consultant in the Book:

“A barbecuer can surround himself with a formidable inventory of accessories.  Here’s the minimum: large bib apron, asbestos gloves or half flour sacks for pot holders; long-handled spoon, fork, spatula; poker and ash shovel; clothes sprinkler; large skillet, Dutch oven, and a giant coffee pot.”

Looks like all the safety measures are here in case your clothes catch fire:  A clothes sprinkler to put out the fire.  Or a lot of coffee so you can put out the fire with your own pee.  I think the flour sacks are to wear if you’re unsuccessful.

I know what you’re thinking.  Asbestos might not be the healthiest choice for handling food.  But you haven’t read the ignition sources yet.

“Paper and kindling will usually coax charcoal into flame, but sometimes more encouragement is needed….such as alcohol, anti-freeze, kerosene, diesel fuel, white gasoline….  These solutions should be allowed to burn off completely, however, otherwise they may impart a disagreeable taste to the meat.”  Disagreeable, indeed.

Now that the fire’s on.  Let’s prepare the meat.



1 egg

1 pound ground beef

1 handful each of finely-chopped spinach and watercress

1 tablespoon chopped onion

1/2 teaspoon paprika

salt and freshly ground pepper


Break an egg over the meat, add the spinache and watercress, chopped onion and seasonings and work together until well blended.  Then broil on the grill.  NOTE: Chopped oysters can also be added to the formula; parsley substituted for watercress.

My recipe notes:

You probably thought this was a recipe from a Cheech and Chong cookbook.  Alas…



“Here’s a novel way to cook the ever-faithful hot dog: Take any quantity of frankfurters (the short, chubby ones are best) and core them with a piece of thin-wall 3/8 inch copper tubing, that has been sharpened at the cutting end.  Cut strips of cheese 3/8-inch square, and stuff in the hole.  Grill until the frank is cooked and the cheese melted inside.  Serve in toasted hot dog rolls.  The frankfurter cores have to be punched out of the tubing with a stick.  Chop them up and add them to a fresh garden salad.”

My recipe notes:

“Novel” is one way to describe this masterpiece of mid-century cuisine.  Nevermind the process of making this recipe, the pleasure here comes from the consuming.  Imagine an asbestos glove handing you the warm hot dog roll, then sinking your teeth into a plump, chubby frank, hot cheese oozing from it’s center.  Shiver me timbers.



Shape seasoned meat in to large round cake.  Grill over coals, brushing surface with your favorite barbecue sauce during the grilling.  Cut into pie-shaped wedges and serve between scones or buns.

My recipe notes:

Meat lovers may consider this a dessert.  But I believe the proper etiquette is to serve with scones, especially if you host your barbecue near tea time.  Pip, pip!


No time for all of these great other recipes, but here’s a sampling of the tasty treats from 1952:

Barbecued Bologna Roll

Ground Round and Marrow

Hamburger Doughnut

Frank Frittata

Hungry yet?  Go ahead, pour some anti-freeze on the charcoal, make a large pot of coffee, put on those asbestos gloves and grill to your heart’s content!


One thought on “Beef and Grass, Cheese Dogs and Hamburger Cake: A Sunset Magazine Barbecue

  1. The clothes sprinkler is for extinguishing flames when hot fat falls on the coals from all that well marbled meat he just slapped on the grill, not to mention the sugar-laden BBQ sauce. That REALLY burns well!

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