The National BBQ Association declares May to be National Barbecue Month – so let’s celebrate!! Where you live in the world makes a difference. Here in Texas, the idea of not eating BBQ on a daily or weekly basis is odd. The Aussie’s are famous for “throwing another shrimp on the Barbie.” I have read countless articles asking whether grilling is BBQ? I believe you can call it whatever you want as long as you’re having a good time preparing great food over a real fire!
I attended the Austin Food and Wine Festival where Chef Tim Love of Lonesome Dove in Fort Worth Texas gave the crowd their money’s worth at his grilling session. One hundred fifty grills and three hundred participants gathered together over smoking hot Weber kettle grills. He instructed us in the proper way to handle a “hot” grill. I’m sure he was hoping everyone was paying attention so they didn’t burn or maim themselves, but it was hard with so much going on. He led the session in rapid-fire fashion that I called “mob style BBQ.” He’s not only a great chef but a funny entertainer with a potty mouth. This session was called the “Grilling Station.” Is this BBQ?
The big guns of Texas BBQ were at the Festival too, manning the “Firepits.” Only the professionals were allowed to manage the fires in this area. The guests were served the amazing food cooked in many fire-crazed ways such as roasting chickens flying from dangling chains over a contraption that looked like a children’s carousel arranged around a live fire! There was a refashioned fire truck customized with a rotisserie welded on the back where they slow-roasted whole animals. The truck also had a shelf built in for grilling. Every once in a while someone would sound the horn to let everyone know that something delicious was coming off the fire. No one can miss the urgency of a fire truck horn! The festival offered cooking demos and panel discussions. “Be on Que” peaked my interest. This was a real deal discussion with Arron Franklin of Franklin’s BBQ, Tim Rattray pitman at The Granary , and Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue talking “Texas BBQ Religion”
Austin Food and Wine Alliance hosted the annual Live Fire event on April 17th. This is another illustration of food being cooked over open fires by some of the best pit men in the country. Is this BBQ?
I say “Yes!”, “Yes!” and “Yes!”
I think it’s a good idea to kick up the awareness of food cooked over fire and declaring May to be National Barbecue Month. Thank you National BBQ Association! I’m officially declaring BBQ as food cooked over live fire!! If you can’t have a grill where you live, find a decent BBQ joint, order to go and gather your family and friends for a BBQ!! Make some potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw and banana pudding for sides. If you live in Texas this probably won’t work. You’re better off dragging out the old smoker, loading it up with wood, and sitting over it all night tending to the meat and heat. Of course everyone will love you tomorrow when they eat the melting slow-smoked brisket.
Yumm – life is good.
Happy Memorial Day friends. Make it one to remember!
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. But 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 smokehouse 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.
Libby 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.
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!!
Big 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