Two rusty smokers line the stairs leading up to the front door of Bruce Aidells' woodsy home in Kensington, offering a cobwebbed clue to the meat guru's early sausage-making days.

The nationally distributed Aidells Sausage Co. started here, in the kitchen he now shares with wife and Boulevard chef-owner Nancy Oakes. But back in 1983, it was just Aidells, an old grinder, and strings upon strings of spicy andouille filling the window overlooking the bay.

An endocrinologist with a Ph.D. in biology, Aidells left the world of science and cancer research to pursue meat cookery. It was a passion with roots in the Los Angeles Borscht Belt, where, as a boy of 6, Aidells would watch in awe as his Jewish grandmother stretched knish dough across an oil-cloth-lined dining table and fed him chicken soup, piroshkis and brisket.

Just as it was for her, cooking became Aidells' reason for living. He loved it, and friends like Julia Child loved his sausages.

With no formal training, Aidells quickly became a fixture among the Bay Area food mafia, cooking at Berkeley's Poulet and publishing 11 cookbooks and hundreds of magazine articles that have helped define and shape the salumi- and charcuterie-loving culture of the moment.

His latest volume, "The Great Meat Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Buy and Cook Today's Meat" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40, 632 pages) is a comprehensive guide to the newest cuts of meat on the market and what their labels -- from "natural" and "heritage" to "pasture-raised" -- really mean.

The 250 new recipes read like a season of Anthony Bourdain shows, with Aidells uncovering both budget-friendly and fit-for-company dishes from taco-stand owners, cabdrivers and grandmothers around the globe. He says the 632-page tome is his last book.

"It's my swan song," admits Aidells, sitting in his sunny living room with Peanut, his Shih Tzu, at his feet. Aidells is 68, snowy-haired and as affable as everyone says he is. "I'm extremely proud of this book."

Writing was the reason Aidells left his sausage company via a buyout clause in 2002; he wanted to devote himself to cookbooks and freelancing. By then, he'd developed the flavor combinations we've come to know and love, from smoked chicken and apple sausage made with Washington state farm apples to Mediterranean-inspired artichoke and garlic.

He developed many of the recipes during his stint as a postdoc fellow in mid-1970s London, where he passed dreary winters cooking from Child's earliest volumes. It was the first time he'd made sausage.

"One night, just for fun, my girlfriend and I thought it'd be fun to try it," he remembers. "We made six varieties, and, the truth is, some of those recipes were ultimately included in the product line."

Though he can't take credit for the chicken and apple flavor: "Normandy was the closest part of France to me, and they do a pheasant with onions, apples and cream."

But it was hardly the first time he'd cooked. As a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, Aidells worked at the Kresge College restaurant making cabbage borscht and lentil soup with ham hocks. He sold his pates and chopped liver to a local Jewish deli and was known for a sandwich called the Uncle Meaty.

"I roasted the beef for that sandwich every day," he says.

Once a month, he presold tickets to an elaborate, international dinner inspired by Time-Life's brief "Foods of the World" series, which was published from 1967 through the early 1970s, when Aidells completed his graduate work.

"Those are the most important cookbooks for me," he says. "They shaped my cooking and gave me a taste for wanting to eat foods from all over the world."

These days, travels with Oakes are the source of great inspiration for both chefs, whether they're slurping pho in Hanoi or noodles in Campagna. The two met in the 1980s when Oakes was running Pat O'Shea's Mad Hatter in San Francisco's Inner Richmond. Aidells had just started his sausage company.

"She was one of my first and favorite customers," he says. "Every week she would show up and pay me $40 cash for 10 pounds of andouille, which I'd turn around and spend on beer and rack of lamb at her restaurant."

And, in case you're wondering, the only thing harder than handwriting a 632-page bible on meat cookery or lobbying on Capitol Hill in the wake of the latest salmonella outbreak is sharing a kitchen with another chef.

"It's the ugliest thing you've ever seen, so we don't do it," Aidells says. "If we're having people over, occasionally, she'll let me do the meat."

Follow Jessica Yadegaran at Twitter.com/swirlgirl_jy.