UK BBQ Mag Winter 2017/2018 - Page 65

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In April of this year I was given an amazing opportunity to travel through some of the Southern States of the US and gain an insight into the historical and regional development of BBQ.

I have known Byron Chism of Butt Rub fame for a number of years – he is a good friend and has a wealth of knowledge about BBQ history. So when he invited me on a road trip starting out in Texas and then heading up through Alabama, Louisiana and Florida to Tennessee I jumped at the chance! Byron was due to compete in Cedar Park just outside of Austin so I flew in to Houston and met up with him in his huge 5th wheel competition rig.

The Texas pit is where the magic happens. A long brick built chamber with a fire box at one end, the meat is slowly cooked as the hot, smoky gasses pass through the cooker. The fire is tended at one end of the pit. It’s the burning wood smoke and grease deposits in the cooker that give the flavour to the meat. Large metal lids, often counterweighted, give access to the cooking chamber.

We headed for Luling, one of the towns at the heart of Texas BBQ country. It’s only a town of 5000 people but boasts a number of BBQ joints. Most authentic of these is Central Market. The meat is served in a small, smoke stained room in with the smokers. Brisket and sausage were our target – huge slabs of juicy meat piled onto butchers paper. Historically, beef was the order of the day in Texas – people cooked what was in ready supply locally using local wood – often using post oak and sometimes mesquite. You find more pork in Texas these days but it’s the beef people come for.

From Luling we moved on to Lockhart, known as “Barbecue Capital of Texas” and the “buckle of the Barbecue Belt.”

Huge BBQ joints are on every corner. BBQ here was introduced by the immigrant Czechs and Germans and there are many places that all claim they are the top BBQ joint. Smitty’s, Kreuz and Blacks are all aircraft hanger sized places with Smitty’s and Blacks being at the centre of a famous BBQ feud that split the family. We headed for Kreuz BBQ where one of Byron’s friends knew the Legendary Pit master, Roy Perez. He was kind enough to take time out to show us around the huge, industrial pits. Just a few of the smokers were running. I can’t imagine how hot it gets in here when they are all fired up. We had great slabs of divine brisket, juicy sausage and tried some ribs.

Next up was the KCBS cook off in Cedar Park, Austin. It was interesting to see the number of homemade smokers being used. Mostly burning wood rather than charcoal with great streams of thick smoke belching out of the chimneys. Byron told me that it was oil workers who developed the huge off set cookers using scrap metal from the oil industry to make the smoke pit mobile. Most people seem to have a smoker and often cater for their friends. The heavy smoke became evident in the contest with the meat being unusually smoky. Sometimes too smoky for me!

We headed up into Tennessee via Louisiana and Alabama, visiting friends of Byron’s on the way. Byron has a farm close to Lynchburg, home of the Jack Daniels Distillery and home of the Jack Daniels World BBQ Championships. He often hosts teams from Europe, Australia and South Africa at his farm in the run up to the Jack, an international BBQ Boot camp if you like.

BBQ is very different here. Much like the rest of the South, its pork orientated with whole hogs, shoulders or butts being cooked in large brick pits. And the pit is very different too. Here, the wood is burnt in a separate fire box generating charcoal that is regularly shovelled directly under the pork. It’s very labour intensive with the Pit Master controlling the heat and distribution of the coals exactly. Overnight cooks require constant tending and an almost continual making and addition of charcoal and tending of the fire. The flavours are different too. The meat isn’t sitting in hot smoke and gasses from the burning wood like in Texas, but sits in smoke generated from the meat juices and fats dripping onto the burning embers.

Many communities in Tennessee would have had community brick pits. David Roper, a former guide at the Jack Daniels Distillery, has an almost unbounded wealth of knowledge BBQ and its development so took me to see some. They are rarely used now. The skills to run big cooks and the levels of commitment needed are disappearing.

How fortunate we were then to come across the tiny Hamlet of Mimosa. The community were out cooking 200 pork butts on the village pit to raise money for a local college fund in honour of one of their fallen community members. Fires were burning in two huge metal barrels. Every 20 minutes the pit master would instruct his team of 10 people to shovel coals into the pits under the pork for their 20 hour cook.

From Tennessee I headed up to North Carolina, dropping in to judge a KCBS contest just outside Memphis on the way. It was interesting to see that the cookers here were smaller than those in Texas, were mostly fuelled with charcoal, wood being added to generate the more usual wisp of smoke rather than the billowing smoke of Texas.

North Carolina uses the brick pit too. With a separate fire box burning wood that is shovelled under the pork. But here they chop the whole hog, butt or shoulder mixing it with a thin vinegary sauce. My first stop was the Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina. It has the reputation of being the best BBQ restaurant in America. I talked my way into a tour of the pits and then sat down for some incredible chopped pork. Here they chop the pork skin into the mixture resulting in what can best be described as a pork bomb.

Next stop was a tour of Lexington with Roger and Marsha Wise. They grew up in the BBQ industry and have been competing and cooking BBQ and whole hogs for a long time. With Lexington being declared as the Capital of North Carolina BBQ, there are BBQ joints everywhere. With local knowledge, we did a tour of 3 or the Wise’s favourites. All cooked in brick pits cooked over coals generated in a separate firebox, tended by a pit master.

A fascinating, long road trip that gave a real insight into regional BBQ in America. Lasting impression was that BBQ is pretty much everywhere. From huge restaurants delivering industrial quantities of meat to a simple smoker running on a street corner. And its just everyday food in the States. Go into any BBQ joint and you will find people eating at any time of day all of them happy to share their passion. And great food! If you are really lucky get yourself invited to a Pig Pickin’ – standing around a pit cooked whole hog just pulling pieces off with a pair of tongs with a beer or two and good friends!

BBQ – It’s the Pits!

-Andy Williams-

Central Market, Luling TX