Following the Lost Highway:
ABOUT MY JOURNEY INTO SOUTHERN BARBECUE, SLOW-COOKED WITH HARD WOOD
I fell in love with Slow Smoked Southern Barbecue quite unexpectedly on a road trip around the U.S. one summer. I’ll never forget the first time I tasted those smoky ribs, juicy chicken, and tender pulled pork. I was touring and working as a guest chef in a number of America’s most prominent restaurants, including Commander’s Palace with Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme’s K-Pauls, Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse. Looking back, I realized that out of the hundreds of meals I ate on that trip, the most memorable was not in a temple of fine cuisine, but on a paper plate in a strip mall somewhere in East Texas. That’s when I had the epiphany that leads you to be reading about our barbecue at this very moment.
As I ate my way across the country, I collected recipes and discovered that the best barbecue establishments used only hardwood in their BBQ pits and never gas. Years went by and I was unable to find great barbecue like I had in the legendary barbecue capitals of Austin, Texas; Memphis, Tennessee and Kansas City. So I decided to pony-up and import an all wood burning Texas barbecue pit to Sonoma County. Since then, our company has been thrilling clients all over the Bay Area with the addictive flavor of real hardwood-smoked barbecue.
Our mission is not only to raise the bar for barbecue but for the side dishes as well. You will enjoy our flavorful side dishes as much as the main course because you won’t find bottles of commercially made barbecue sauce, dressings, or dry rub in our kitchen. Twenty years of testing and tasting have been spent creating our signature recipes, sauces, and rubs. We are so fanatical about quality that we make our own sausages and bring piping hot corn bread fresh from our ovens to your party.
BECOME A BARBECUE EXPERT
The best barbecue has a caramelized mahogany crust of crunchy goodness with incredible smoky-spicy flavors of its own. It is NOT reliant on barbecue sauce for flavor. In fact, in many parts of the country barbecue sauce is provided only for the tourists. You can find the best barbecue by looking for piles of wood next to smokers, rather than propane gas tanks or bags of charcoal. Beware of shortcuts; ask if the ribs are par-boiled or how long the brisket has been smoked. Real barbecue pit masters everywhere know its sacrilegious to smoke brisket for less than 14 hours. Par boiling is a nice way to make soup, but it steals the flavor from the ribs. The next time you eat barbecue, ask for sauce on the side and see how it tastes. Try ours and you’ll taste the difference.
Smokin’ with Larry ~ Questions Answered!
Q: What makes a barbecue pit that burns only wood so special?
A: No one says it better than the company that specializes in barbecue pits that only burn wood. Here is their explanation: “We pioneered the gas/wood combination pit in the 1970′s, but we discontinued it after only two years because we found that the barbecue produced in pits using gas to assist the wood was inferior to all woodfired pits. The ‘gas’ taste was very evident in the finished product. For safety, the gas contains smelly sulfur chemicals called mercaptans to make it noticeable when there is a leak. This adversely affects the taste of barbecue. That is why barbecue from all wood-fired pits is always better than product from our competitors’ gas/wood ovens. In these ovens, the products of the gas burner combustion, including the odorous components pass through the cooking chamber and come in direct contact with the meat. They will tell you that the gas is just there to ignite the wood, but don’t fall for that line… the gas burners in these ovens fire every time the temperature drops, tainting the meat with each firing.”
Q: What kind of wood works best?
A: We use hardwoods only, a combination of oak, apple and nut woods. We never use mesquite or other soft wood, because the smoke from those types of wood tends to be too strong.
Q: What kind of smoker do you use?
We’ve invested in the best, state of the art barbecue pit made. Compared to gas-fired smoke ovens, wood-smoked barbecue is not an easy or inexpensive way to barbecue. The best wood-fired pits (like the one we use) cost over $15,000 vs. $200 to $7,500 for the commonly used gas-fired pits with a supplementary wood box that creates some smoke.
A wood fire is more expensive than propane and requires more handling, time and attention than just turning on the gas, but the results are worth it. With our mission to raise the bar for barbecue, we had no real choice. In this case, the road less taken creates the best possible barbecue and nothing less is acceptable.
Q: How long are your meats smoked?
A: Our Beef Brisket is smoked at a very low temperature for a minimum of 20 hours. We know of no other company in the Bay Area that smokes their brisket for this long (a mere 8 hours seems to be the norm!). We charge a little more for our brisket because more time in the smoker causes it to shrink more and yield less. Simply put, the extra time to do it right costs us quite a bit more per pound. Our clients thank us.
Pulled pork is smoked with the bone in for a minimum of 12 hours at 225 degrees. This makes it lean, flavorful, tender and smoked all the way through.
Chicken is cut into 8 pieces, marinated and then finished with our signature dry rub that is made especially for chicken. We smoke dark and light meat separately for different amounts of time so breast meat is never overcooked or dry.
Pork Ribs are trimmed, heavily dusted with our signature pork dry rub and slow smoked in our pit until tender and juicy. Are they “falling off the bone” tender? I hope not! Smoked rib meat does not fall off the bone unless it was boiled, par-boiled, steamed or baked first!
The next time you see an ad for “falling off the bone” barbecue, ask for a bite without the sauce. Where is the tell-tale caramelized crust on the outside? Where is the flavor? Usually, in a bottle. Properly smoked ribs are tender, succulent and flavorful. But they won’t be falling off the bone until you sink your teeth in!
Q: Why are you so obsessive-compulsive about barbecue?
A: Guilty as charged. It might have been that early classical training in French cuisine at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, New York. After a 25-year career in some of America’s most highly acclaimed restaurants and hotels, you learn to sweat the details!
Seriously, there are plenty of barbecue joints that do a great disservice to a great American food. Once I decided to set the record straight and offer up authentic regional American cuisine, I had to do give it the same level of attention as I gave authentic French cuisine.
Extended Studies: Articles & Blogs
Meathead, the Barbecue Whisperer knows his ‘cue. Learn what makes a good rib (and everything else about ribs!) at AmazingRibs.com.
Important! Read a Reuters article that explains the relationship of grilling (as opposed to smoked BBQ) and cancer at www.rense.com.
What makes it Memphis style barbecue? Find out when you read Memphis: The Great BBQ Debate.
I thought I knew everything about Kansas City BBQ until I read this article from experiencekc.com
North Carolina barbecue is the best — just ask anyone from North Carolina! Or take a minute to read about this distinct regional style at www.nctravel.com
The origins of BBQ are hotly debated in fan circles. If you like your Que with a side of the controversy, this article lays out some interesting questions on the origins of barbecue in black and white: Houstonpress.com.
What happens when a 5-start chef meets BBQ? This profile in the North Bay Bohemian tells the story of BBQ chef Larry Vito´s BBQ odyssey. Lone Star State of Mind.
A Barbecue Origin Creation Myth As Told In Texas
You should know there is a lot of mythology and controversy surrounding the origins of barbecue. The following is my humorous spin on the legend that is widely accepted amongst Texans — but I’d be lyin’ if I didn’t tell you it’s just a load of bull to others…
I am not a historian and it wouldn’t be fair to just present one barbecue creation myth as gospel. Scroll to the bottom of this page or visit the BBQ Article Links page for more.
…The cowboys did not just wake up one morning and say, “Tonight I am a-hankerin’ for some a that there barbecued fois gras.”
No sir! What really happened is more like this.
Some smart old German butchers in New Braunfels, Texas looked at the mountain of unsold brisket they had accumulated and wondered if they couldn’t make some more money off of it by doing something other than just pureeing it into hot dogs.
So they said, “What the hell” and tossed a few briskets into their sausage smoker one morning. That night they had a few beers and forgot to check the smoker.
The next morning when they got to work they found the blackened and shrunken chunks of brisket. Those butchers were going to throw the whole mess in the trash but then…
A cowboy walked up, powerful hungry. He didn’t care what it looked like. In fact, that cowboy took a great big bite and the rest, as they say, is history.
Feel like questioning your own BBQ creation myth? Find another — and radically different — version of the origins of Texas barbecue, as well as barbecue everywhere, at Houstonpress.com.
Introducing Regional American BBQ Cuisine
Like all types of cuisine, the roots of regional barbecue have evolved based on the types of animals and produce commonly available to an area.
Mix in the cultural influences of the predominant ethnicity and that’s how there came to be different styles of barbecue. That means pork shoulders and whole hogs in the Carolinas, beef in Texas, and chickens in Louisiana; its all hardwood smoked barbecue, but with different methods and ingredients in their preparation. Not that there aren’t worthy variations that deserve attention, but…
The four main U.S. BBQ styles are Texas, Kansas City, Memphis and Carolina
Texas Style: The State where beef is king and brisket is the crown prince. Beef ribs aren’t bad either. Texans like their barbecue “naked”, or with side sauces that tend to be a blend of tomato thinned with vinegar and Worcestershire. They are the least sweet of the tomato based sauces.
Memphis Style: Memphis style barbecue is known for wet marinated pork ribs that are also basted while smoking. Another style of ribs is to apply dry rub during or right after they’ve been cooked.
Pork shoulders, and butts are done the same way. Mild, sweet and spicy rubs, as well as mopping sauces, are basted on periodically during cooking. Want more about Memphis style barbecue? Check out Memphis: The Great BBQ Debate.
Kansas City Style: This is where southern barbecue influences are artfully combined with Western Beef and Pork. The meat is liberally seasoned with savory spices, sweet rubs and sauces then smoked in a hickory-stoked pit for hours.
Thick and sticky sweet sauces are slathered onto pork ribs and tangy briskets. You can learn more about Kansas City barbecue at www.experiencekc.com
Carolina Style: The State that’s gone whole hog over barbecue. More signs with dancing pink pigs are found here than anywhere else! Pig pickin’s and pulled pork are mixed with thin vinegar based sauces to make an incredibly flavorful and juicy barbecue! (You can tell its one of my favorites.)
Sauce variations are heavily laced with secret spice blends of salt, pepper, red pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic, nutmeg, molasses, whiskey, and brown sugar.
We favor the Eastern variety of North Carolina sauce. The Western North Carolina sauce has a wee little bit of tomato in it, and for me, its not as distinctive as Eastern. You can learn about North Carolina barbecue at www.nctravel.com.
South Carolina style barbecue sauce contains mustard, which was first added by the large contingent of Germans colonists that were among the first Europeans to settle there.
Glossary of BBQ Terminology
- Baby Back Ribs (or Loin Back Ribs): A small cut of ribs from the pork loin that includes the blade and center section of the loin. Weight should be 2 pounds or less, or as we say in the trade, 2 down.
- Barbecue: To slow cook meats over indirect heat of hardwood at a temperature of 180 to 250 degrees.
- Barbecue Sauce: A liquid mixture, usually tomato-based, sweet and sour, with spices. It can be applied to meats during the final minutes of cooking. It is usually served on the side but is not necessary with properly cooked barbecue.
- Bark: The outside crust of the butt or shoulder or brisket. Bark is enhanced by putting rub and sauce on the meat frequently.
- Basting Sauces: Thin, flavorful liquids that are brushed onto the meat while cooking to help keep them moist.
- Burnt Ends: The blackened, somewhat charred pieces of brisket ends that cannot be sliced.
- Finger Meat: The meat between baby back ribs is called “finger meat”.
- Finishing Sauce or Glaze: A sweet finishing sauce applied to meats during the final minutes of barbecuing.
- Marinade: A blend of liquids, spices and herbs that meat is soaked in for flavoring, and sometimes tenderizing, prior to cooking.
- Mop: A cotton mop used to baste meats while cooking.
- Pit: The cooking unit used to barbecue. May be a closed container, cement or brick structure, or even a hole dug in the ground.
- Rib Tips: The breast bone at the top of a slab of spare ribs.
- Rub: A bbq seasoning with lots of spices that is usually rubbed onto the meat dry, but sometimes liquid is added to make a thick paste that’s slathered onto the meat. Paprika is often the predominant spice, which is why most rubs have a red color. Rubs can be tailored to the type of meat, fish or foul you are barbecuing.
- Short End Spare Ribs: The last seven or eight ribs in a slab of spare ribs.
- Spare Rib: One of about 11 ribs from the belly section of the pig.
Grill vs Barbecue… Not The Same!
In California the terms “grill” and “barbecue” are used interchangeably. This is incorrect and nuts to barbecue aficionados. The confusion is compounded when the same piece of equipment is used at home for grilling and barbecue. The two cooking methods are radically different.
Grilling is a relatively fast, direct heat method of cooking. Food is cooked on a grill; just a few inches above live coals or gas flames, often at temperatures exceeding 550°F. Examples of meat that would be good for grilling are steak, hamburgers and hot dogs.
The high heat caramelizes (converts the natural sugars in the meat to a sweet brown crust) the surface of the food and seals in the juices. In the U.S., grilled meat is often served anywhere from blood rare to medium.
Grilling is a popular way to cook, just about everywhere in the world and is prepared using every conceivable combination of marinades and spices.
Barbecue is a slow, indirect, low-heat method of cooking.
In fact, it’s the opposite of grilling. Barbecue uses smoldering wood to simultaneously smoke and cook the food at temperatures between 180 and 250°F.
Examples of cuts of meat that are good for barbecue would be the tougher, larger and less expensive cuts, such as brisket, pork shoulder, ribs and even the whole damn pig. That’s right – from snout to tail.
Smoldering wood generates smoke that gives barbecue its wonderfully sweet and smoky flavor. The heat source should be separated from the cooking chamber to provide indirect heat. In order to circulate a uniform amount of heat and smoke to all the food throughout the chamber a fan or rotating rack is helpful.
Beware of a common but unhealthy hybrid of the two processes: grilling a piece of meat that contains fat on a covered grill — and what meat doesn’t contain fat? The thick black smoke that results from fat dripping on live coals is trapped inside the grill and bathes the meat with carcinogenic soot.
This is practiced at home and even at some businesses. You can see the clouds of smoke pouring out from under covered grills as you drive by supermarkets and delis around the county. Read a Reuters article that explains the relationship of grilling to cancer at www.rense.com.