Food Find: Top Quality Smokehouse in Maine!!

Smokehouse 3

It’s the time of year in Austin TX when I think about escaping the dog days of summer. So I made my way across the country to a small rural village on the Atlantic coast: Camden Maine in Maine’s mid coast region. I’ve been visiting there for the past 20 years. There isn’t anything I don’t like about it. For starters fresh lobsters at $3.00 a pound and roadside stands heavy with home grown produce and scribbled signs asking you to please leave cash in the box for what you take.

Camden is host to dozens of food artisans. The Saturday morning farmers market is filled with creative enterprising locals selling their wares: cheese makers offering a potpourri of goat, cow and, soon, Mozzarella di Bufala, heavenly crusty breads, jams made from just picked rhubarb and strawberries, and fresh-baked wild blueberry pie. I was impressed by a couple offering homemade tofu so good it stopped me in my tracks. Smokehouse 5But my all-time high this summer came from meeting Andrew and Libby Smith from Smith’s Log Smokehouse, who live in a rural enclave in Monroe Maine. They were selling smoked meats and cheese. I asked Andrew “How do you smoke cheese?” His quick response was “cold smoking.” It’s unquestionably not like smoking brisket so I had to check it out.

I asked them if it would be possible for me to visit and see their operation and they were gracious enough to accept. Their smokehouseSmokehouse 1 is nothing fancy and has burned to the ground twice. The present smokehouse was built in 1980. Libby and Andrew work their operation together. Libby’s in charge of email, phone orders, bookkeeping and public relations. Andrew is in charge of everything that needs to be done in the smokehouse. During good-weather times of year, they load up their truck most days and head to the farmers markets scattered across the mid coast of Maine.

Smokehouse 2Libby and Andrew got their start selling jerky but they’re famous now for a variety of smoked meats, especially their cured black strapped molasses hams and bacon. The bacon (pork bellies) are slow-smoked for three days and rubbed with salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and garlic powder. They are smoked over smoldering pecan shells and oak that are ground into a powder-like form that resembles sawdust. Andrew explained that it’s a process much like smoking a cigar. Smokehouse 4

The temperature in cold smoking is kept at below 90 degrees. Andrew showed me how he gently shovels the sawdust-like mix into the smoker in layers to allow for a slow smolder. We crawled up a make-shift ladder into a tight opening in the smokehouse attic which is a surprisingly small space. The salmon and cheeses are placed on removable handmade cane shelving in the incredibly narrow alleyway above the smoke box. The attic holds 200 pounds of salmon, 200 pounds of cheddar and 150 pounds of mozzarella. The space sits above a 27-foot rise to allow the smoke to work its magic. This process takes about 19 hours of smoking. Andrew explained the importance of keeping any air drafts from entering the chamber and showed me how he tightly buttons down the latch. The smoker is smaller then I imagined and is covered with a blanket of insulating concrete plaster to keep it at a constant temperature. This is not an easy task since the ambient temperature outside sometimes reaches 30 below zero according to Andrew.

I left their home with an arm-full of smoked goodies and headed back to Camden. I love meeting people like the Smiths who have a real passion for what they do and are proud to show you how it all works. It also makes me incredibly aware of how much work and care it takes to deliver quality products like theirs. So if you want to impress your family and friends, order some smoked duck breast or the killer bacon for a BLT and please tell the Smith’s you read about them on the BBQ Lover’s Guide Blog!!

Brisket Fat Makes Diesel Fuel

I had a fascinating conversation with Bryan Bracewell of Southside Market and Barbecue at Brisket Camp this past year. Bryan was one of the speakers. His family’s Southside Market and Barbecue has been in business for 125 years.

bbqlovers-camp-smoker-wood-crowdWe were in a lecture outdoors assembled under a tent on a rainy afternoon. There was a beautiful collection of of custom built pits spewing smoke in every direction. We were discussing pit design, wood, meat, seasoning, heat control, timing and air draft.  I’m a curious observer and when I saw a grease spout at the bottom of a smoking pit dripping fat from the briskets, I asked Bryan “what do you do with all that grease?” His immediate response was “we sell it.”  He said he was paid a $10,000 signing bonus from a biodiesel company.  I love this idea!   Here’s the scoop in pictures and words from Bryan:

Oyler BBQ Pit

“See the spout on the left side coming out of the bottom of our Oyler BBQ Pit. The grease collects in the bottom of the pit and is drained out of this spout, collected, and sold.”

typical grease container

“This is what a typical grease container looks like.  The grease service stops by every 2 weeks and empties it and pays us.  We also have a container built into the ground (under the slab) that collects all the grease from our built in BBQ pits.  It’s basically a 500 gallon milk container that gets pumped every 2 weeks as well.”

“Our grease service guy.”

bbqlovers-gloria-corral-photo of gaser-guy

Tom Abney, a biodiesel fuel broker, initiated a deal with Bryan’s Southside Market and Barbecue for the  signing bonus in return for a commitment to sell their rendered fat exclusively to one company. Bryan has been very generous in sharing information about how this program works. It also put me on a mission to search on the web for more information on “Animal Fats for Biodiesel Production.” This is just one of the many sites where you can read about this topic. But be warned – it’s a lot of stuff to read.

The bottom line – rendered animal fat is a sustainable product. Biodiesel made from animal fat means cleaner and more efficient burning in diesel engines. There is a steady supply of animal fat and the availability of tallow is relatively constant.  http://www.nationalrenderers.org/environmental/biofuels/

“Because of their chemical composition, fats release concentrated amounts of energy when burned. This energy can be used as a biofuel. Current usage of rendered fats in the biofuels is estimated at 3 – 8% of the approximate 11 billion pound annual production of rendered fats (yielding 43 million to 116 million gallons of biodiesel). Existing biodiesel technology yields a gallon of fuel for each 7.6 pounds of fat.”

Somehow this makes me feel good.  First, 50% of a “packers cut” is being recycled and, second, the hardworking pit operators are getting a few bucks for selling off the grease from the tastiest briskets in the country.  Now we’re talking! Just eat more brisket and save the planet!

BBQ Bash at Travaasa

Crowd in the Tent

I recently attended a BBQ extravaganza hosted by Travaasa Hotel and Spa to launch their new farm.  It was a benefit for Foodways Texas and designated as a BBQ Bash! Foodways Texas is one of my favorite organizations and the party provided a rare opportunity to eat an assortment of meats and sides dishes from five top Texas BBQ joints.  Thankfully the weather cooperated. Instead of a blistering-hot sunny day we had a Vegetablesbeautiful overcast cloudy day. The grounds were gorgeous with newly planted fruit trees along a garden path leading to a tented party site nestled along-side the Cypress creek. The tables were set with wildflowers collected from the grounds and abundant arrangements of fresh vegetables. The crowd of about 150 to 200 were buzzing about the resort and new farm, but even more so about the BBQ. Continue reading

Brisket Camp 2013

bbqlovers-bbq-camp-brisket-aandm-raw-meatFoodways Texas offered the first two day Brisket Camp at Texas A & M in January. The word on the street is these classes are very popular and sell out quickly. All true. If you’re lucky and sign up in the first couple days of registration you can get in. I think it’s limited to 50 people. It’s well worth the fee of $500.00.

Marvin Bendele, the Executive Director of Foodways Texas, coordinated the event.  He is a razor sharp organizer who sticks to a time line arranging interesting speakers and demos in non-stop sessions. Except to eat, of course.  Then it was all brisket – all meals brisket and more brisket. Some of the briskets were experiments; some were cooked by the staff at the university and some were catered by Southside Market and Barbecue and Fargo’s Pit BBQ, a Daniel Vaughn’s favorite. Continue reading

Texas Monthly’s top 50 BBQ joints across the state

lancepitmasterstylesBig News for BBQ fans this month: Texas Monthly’s June issue hit the shelves today naming their top 50 BBQ joints across the state. It’s a big undertaking with a team of writers spreading across the state which is most likely why they only publish this list every 5 years.
Austin has the reputation for the best BBQ in the state and for that matter Bon Appetit magazine named Franklin’s the best in the United States!! Five local joints made the Texas Monthly list: Franklin’s, John Mueller Meat Co., La Barbecue, Lambert’s and Stiles Switch. Some good joints were left out and perhaps your favorite was not listed in the top 50. I believe BBQ is the soul food of Texas. “The Best” in the state? It’s about the love, the people and the culture. Continue reading