Arrogant Swine

Beer Hall Carolina Whole Hog BBQ

Filtering by Tag: North Carolina BBQ in NYC area?


Hog Days of Summer!!!!


John Brown Smokehouse & Arrogant Swine Presents


An NYC Summer Celebration of Traditional North Carolina Whole Hog BBQ, Craft Beer Brewing & Heritage Pig Farming

  • Tamarack Hollow Farm Gloucestershire Old Spot slow-smoked over hardwood embers
  • All the Proper Carolina Pig Pickin’ Garnishes 
  • All You Can Drink Craft Beer
  • Live Bluegrass Band!!!

2 Sessions Per Event Noon (12pm – 4pm) & Evening Sessions (5pm – 9pm)

July 21st in Long Island City, QUEENS – Purchase Tickets HERE

August 17th in Long Island City, QUEENS – Purchase Tickets HERE

August 24th in Greenpoint, BROOKLYN – Purchase Tickets HERE

September 14th in Long Island City, QUEENS – Purchase Tickets HERE 

September 21st in Greenpoint, BROOKLYN – Purchase Tickets HERE 

A Portion of all Proceeds donated to support Just Food NYC

NYC Hot Sauce Expo 2013 !!!

See all the photos HERE

In Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, King Ulysses understands clearly the dangers of listening to the Sirens’ song. Not interested in following his drowning predecessors’ footsteps, he took the precaution of having his men tie him to a mast so that he could have a sample. Mankind has continued to enjoy tasting danger in safe samples ever since.

This of course brings us to the first Annual NYC Hot Sauce expo. 2 days and several dozen of the country’s most cutting edge producers of hot sauce ready for a mob of New Yorkers begging for some palate flogging. When the ingredients themselves are named after scorpions and poltergeist, it’s very clear cut that this is gonna hurt.

My role in all this was to cook up some Mangalista pork shoulders, kindly supplied by Mosefund Farms, for the VIP section. For the event I stuck with my classic Brunswick County rub recipe and slow smoked these beautifully marbled pork shoulders with oak for over 12 hours til meltingly tender. Mangalista is the PRIME-grade of pork. It’s heavily marbled and full of luscious porcine flavor that stands out even with the heavy smoking.

To pair it off I decided to change up my normal slaw for something a bit more interesting. So balance out the most expensive heritage pork in the country, I ended up creating the priciest slaw I’ve ever made. Now no one really thinks about the slaw, at least no Pitmaster I know thinks thru their slaw. On any given menu, the slaw recipe had as much time invested in it as the picking of which paper napkin to offer. Possibly less as paper napkins add up so choose wisely!

Many people for events will simply buy some slaw mix. This is to not to say the thought did come into my head once, twice or 40 times during the night. I’ve been working all week and the cabbage was gonna be given away for free anyway. There I was standing at the wholesale market ready to grab 2 cases of coleslaw mix and finally couldn’t bring myself to do it. Off I went to buy an entire box of fresh cabbage and 30lbs of 4 different varieties of apples. Late into the evening I prepared the dressing for my offering of the day – Sweet Apple-Mustard Slaw. A proper garnish for my pricey pig.

Slaw in North Carolina has to be sweet. This is a counter point to the spicy tangy vinegar sauce that dresses my pork. And it seemed that people enjoyed it quite a bit. The best reaction I got out of the day was this woman who claimed to only sample tiny nibbles of various samples in order to not be filled up my any one vendor. Well she took a bite; pupils dilated; and exclaimed “Ohmygawd”, before inhaling the entire sample. She then took two more. Seems like our BBQ pork found the perfect partner.

Being in the VIP area sounded like the best gig ever. After all, it’s VIP! Unfortunately for me, my tardy entry into the schedule meant I was planted next to the entrance facing the water. In any other worlds this would have been the most glorious spot to be. Refreshing breeze, glittering water, and being the last thing VIPs saw before they headed out to the crowd. Alas this was done during an NYC Spring.

The wind coming from the waters were absolutely frigid! Being next to entrance effectively put me at the beginning of a wind tunnel. All my stuff was being blow away – my tiny 2oz serving cups, my banner, my napkins, etc. Not the coziest serving space. I think they might still be attempting to scrap some of my slaw off the ceiling.

Overall we had a very positive reception from the crowd, with people coming back many times for more pork. The Jarlsberg grilled cheese people were kind enough to keep us fed while the folks from Manhattan beers kept my crew well lubricated with brews. Clearly people were having a great time. WDM & I even got to escape for a bit an sample some of the hot sauces. My favorite being A&B their use of a carrot puree is absolutely genius and really got me to start thinking through what else I can do on my mustard sauces. My other favorite was Evil Seed, if for no other reason than their artwork and marketing being utterly inspired. They had these fantastic devil looking koozies for your sauce bottles and a “Big Evil” BBQ sauce seasoned with, get this, BACON BITS… mind blown. I really wanted to try the offerings from Empire Biscuits but I think they ran out before I could get to them. I smelled their food all afternoon but couldn’t escape my table. I also enjoyed the Chocolate Ghost Chili Salsa from Chesterville Pepper Co – this one fooled me twice (1) there’s no chocolate in it, it’s a TYPE of ghost chili (2) it seems pretty tame but the heat comes slowly, slowly, slowly, Oh dear Jesus it hurts, it hurts, why? why? why did I just do that?

My least favorite hot sauce person wasn’t even a vendor there! Some woman from Men Pa’w hot sauce was too cheap to pay for a table and was too cheap to bring in crackers or spoons for people to try her sauce. So she basically hovered around my table using my food as the “base” for her vile seasoning. There were several adverse reactions from people who she gave my BBQ as a sample with her sauce on top. It wasn’t pretty…. And to make matters worse, some thought we were in it together! So I had to kindly ask her to stop using my samples to sell her hot sauce. Took a few tries to shoo her away and yet she still kept coming back! You’d think she’d go get some Ritz crackers or something. Very unprofessional. So buy more Evil Seed and A&B and avoid Men Pa’w like the plague!

I also really wished I got to see the eating contests. From all accounts they were the highlights of the day. Not sure what it says about us as a society that we enjoy watching people torment themselves with these uber spicy eating contests, but we do.

It was a great first run at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo. I had a good deal of fun and I hope that it does indeed become an annual event. Perhaps next year I’ll set up a milk vending station. People definitely needed it!

5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Cook Heritage Breeds for Whole Hog BBQ

Now given that I already wrote why you should cook heritage breed hogs for whole hog BBQ I'm giving you the other side of the story and reasons why you wouldn't want to use rare breeds.

#1 It's Expensive.

Hell this might as well be the reason for #1-#4 with #5 being "Did I mention it's expensive?".

Cuban cigars are not the best cigars in the world. Some of the best cigars in the world are Cuban and I smoke a decent amount of them. To the average person the difference between a decent Cuban cigar and one from Honduras is indiscernible. This is because people don't smoke that many cigars.  People also don't go around tasting different breeds of pigs. So one might argue that unless you had a particularly gifted palate you're not likely to tell the difference between supermarket pork and heritage pork.

#2 It's Inconsistent 

There is basically no industry standards for heritage breeding. Much of it is self policing and many of the animal traders have to deal with rampant fraud. While people like to look down on "Factory Farming", there is a distinct advantage to factories - everything is uniform. Any chef working with grass fed cattle will tell you that one steak might be the most glorious piece of meat you've ever stuffed in your maws and the next one will taste like gym sneakers. All from the same farm too!

#3 Sourcing is a pain in the ARSE. 

When I want a plain regular hog for a client, I place an order with the same commerical butcher I have used for the past 3 years. I tell him how big and when I need to pick it up and I pay less than what most NYC restaurants pay for pig. When sourcing from a farm on the other hand, you need to call up an entire network of farms to see who might have your size ready at that moment. Pigs are not products that can be made on the spot. Thus because there's much less of the animal on these small farms, it's a pain to fill my order on size. If I'm too late to their slaughter season only a larger animal is available. If too early I might be stuck with two 60lbers when I really wanted one 140lb animal. Oh and yes, I have to pay more for this inconvenience.

#4 It can be a fire hazard 

What makes heritage breeds so tasty? Because they're largely bacon or lard hogs. All that fat keeps the meat juicy and gives your a nice succulent end product. Much of your flavor profile in Carolina BBQ is that grease dripping on the hardwood embers creating smoke.

But it also brings you the added risk of grease fire. Grease fires are no joke. Down in West Tennessee, insurance companies will not insure smokehouses because these grease fires have consumed entire buildings. They cooked a 280lb Mangalista pig, a particularly fatty breed, at last year's Southern Foodways Symposium and I felt for the 2 poor pitmasters. They basically had to get that beast cooked by a deadline without creating the greatest pyro-technic display in history. I don't care how many hogs you've cooked in your life, if you are dealing with that much grease and live fire, it makes you breathe just a bit more shallower. I did a 260lb Gloucestershire a few weeks back and that alone gave me missed heart beat moments.

#5 None of the best Hog masters use it.

Sam Jones, Dexter Sherrod, Rodney Scott, Ed Mitchell etc, all the biggest names in whole hog cooking. All who have made dramatic life altering BBQ have done so with commodity pork. Now you might argue that they might produce better BBQ with better pigs and I happen to agree with that sentiment. But at the core of the art of hog cookery is the techniques of fire management that brings about nirvanic flavors.




5 Reasons Why You Should Cook Heritage Breeds for Whole Hog BBQ

Now there’s a fairly zealous group calling for raising heritage breed produce. Calls for sustainable eating, old world farming etc. I wouldn’t say I’m deeply in that camp. Do heritage variety of tomatoes raised without pesticides taste better? Yes they do. But I like my generic tomatoes just fine and quite frankly the heritage stuff looks pretty ugly.

I do have a soft spot for preserving old world breed pigs though. They cost a whole lot more but I will outline 5 reasons why people doing whole hog BBQ should cook with heritage breed hogs.

#1 They taste better.

You really can’t beat the flavor of an old-school pig. Anyone’s whose had to choke down a dry pork loin will tell you something is amiss here. The term “eating high on the hog” comes from the fact that when hogs were cooked for barbecues pre civil war, the white masters got the loins sitting on of the back of the pig whereas the slaves got to eat everything else. Well if we were to go by our supermarket pork loins you might get the impressions that the folks down south didn’t really know jack about eating. To add insult to injury, the only way one can enjoy loins is to brine them. That’s right, the prize cut of meat on the pig needs to be bombed by a sodium solution to be palpable with all the flavor complexities cheap deli meat could provide.

When you get an old school heritage pig and your pull out the loins of a hog like the Gloucestershire Old Spot, it makes your heart skip a beat. It’s dripping with moisture slowly confit in it’s own backfat. I’ve had plenty of people who have eaten both my barbecues with heritage pigs and with regular commercial pigs who have told me I did a better job with the heritage pig. It’s not my technique being any different. The pig really does taste that much better!

#2 The Carolina dressings FINALLY make sense.

Now think about this for a second. Who in their right minds drowns their food in vinegar or mustard? Hardly subtle flavors are they? We tend to like the acidity or acridity of vinegar and mustard, respectively, when things are either very fatty or very salty. We like malt vinegars with French fries. We like mustard on salty pretzels. A poached chicken breast with vinegar or mustard sounds absolutely atrocious. There’s no counter balance for the weighty flavors of vinegar or mustard.

There are many who hate the vinegar pepper sauce. The mustard sauce on BBQ seems to make as much sense as round square. Most people “fix” these sauces by introducing a high level of sweetness to the sauce. This however was not the intention of Carolina pitmasters. The reason they used these seasonings were because of the fatty pigs they used. When you do a pig picking with a heritage breed hog and you see all that golden clear running fat, the vinegar or mustard just makes a whole world of sense.

#3 You can incubate hog farmers.

Most heritage breed hog farmers can’t supply restaurants. The reason for this is that restaurants order cuts, not animals. They place orders 50lbs at a time of chops, loins, and belly. Well this leaves the other four corners of the hog to get rid up. Even farmers who do fill these orders have to then end up grinding up the hams and shoulders for sausage meat, lowering their overall profit margins per pound. By ordering the whole animal, it keeps the farmers producing hogs for orders they can fill at a good return.

#4 It helps bring the price down for everyone

Let’s be perfectly honest. People will put up with sub-par food if the price is right. Is Taco Bell great food? Absolutely not. But at 10:30pm when I’m home late from work it’s quick, cheap, and does the job just fine. Plus I look forward to their churro dessert.

I believe there’s some campaign where people are encouraging others to eat less meat but better meat like pasture pork, grass feed beef, free range chickens etc. This is a very admirable and an ethically proper way of thinking; it’s also inefficient and will not produce widespread consumption of heritage breeds. It is like the morality that prevents condom distribution in high schools in favor of abstinence to reduce teen pregnancies. We simply cannot moralize our way out of a problem.

By getting more people to like and love the flavor of heritage breeds we can drive enough demand that farmers can safely begin increasing supply. Simple economics – increasing the supply in the market makes it cheaper for us all. Starbucks is wildly more expensive than regular deli coffee, but deli coffee tastes like ass and Starbucks is not prohibitively expensive. This is why we are willing to put up with the premiums that Starbucks charges and is a fantastic model of where heritage pork needs to be.

#5 It makes for the greatest secret ingredient ever

Well not that secret given that if you’re paying that much for heritage pork you might as well like everyone know about it. But everyone looks for a signature edge. From a professional cooking background the secrets in BBQ are both silly and useless. Professional kitchens hold what are known as “Stages”.

In these, the stagire cook works for free doing the most menial tasks for the opportunity to learn another chef’s recipes. I’ve done several myself at big name places like Le Bernardin, Payard, and La Caravelle in New York City years ago. In them I peeled carrots, mixed pastries, prepped raviolis, basically any and everything that the other cook on the station didn’t want to do. In exchange recipes were freely offered. Nothing was ever held back. People would take out their own notepads and let me copy down their notes and then show me live how that restaurant did things.

So rather than hunt around for some special ingredient by walking down the supermarket isle and getting inspired. It makes more sense to have a very poignant ingredient up front and person. You can mix in obscure Indonesian spices all you like, nothing will beat just having a better hog.

Sorghum Molasses & North Carolina BBQ

My recipe section is in desperate need of revision. Much of the list needs reworking and/or rejection. The one recipe I keep the same is my Brunswick County Pork Butt. It has been used by several professional caterers who have commented to me on their success with it. I get emails like this all the time

“Hey Tyson, Yesterday XXX and I did six Butts with your Brunswick recipe - they turned out the best we've ever made. So thanks a ton for that recipe.”

Aside from my affection for the general story of Clay’s sniper rifle aimed at any one who dares to violate the recipe with cumin, it has the added bonus of introducing a technique involving molasses.

As a northern sojourner to the American South, molasses was not a familiar product to me. Several things I never knew included (1) there is more than one type of molasses & (2) it has an extensive presence as a condiment in rural area – much of the North sees molasses as an ingredient.

The molasses in question for North Carolina is “Sorghum Molasses” which our trusty Wikipedia articles notes is not a “true” molasses. Making sorghum is a dying practice in North Carolina. I imagine more Carolinians are pouring a sweetener on their pancakes made in Vermont or Canada than they are sorghum from Moore County, NC.

In broad strokes, molasses is largely thought to be a Kansas City ingredient for BBQ. My first encounter with sorghum came from research into whole hog traditions in Western Tennessee. So to see it pop up in North Carolina was surprising to me. Interesting enough it really only made its way to the coastal regions and affected the barbecue in Brunswick County.  A dating of the ingredients probably means that this tradition isn’t really all that old. Carolina BBQ is cooked with direct heat over wood embers. This would run the risk of burning the molasses coating on the meat.

The further application to Carolina BBQ would be to try adding it to Lexington style dips – the more liberal of the binary State BBQ styles. The one issue would be trying to keep the sauce thin enough to remain a meet and right vinegar sauce. I imagine some dilution with water will help its case. The buttery smokey complexity of the sorghum instead of using plain white sugar should be well within Piedmont Triangle orthodoxy.

The most fascinating discovery I made was the practice of eating hot biscuits with sorghum molasses and butter. Now I have plenty of Southerners who a giggling at me for being so excited at such a commonplace practice down south. I would contend that ubiquity does in no way diminish the sheer genius of this flavor combination. I have personally never seen molasses on biscuits even on my many travels down to North Carolina for research. So for me the vision of hot flaky biscuits sandwiching some complex sweetness with salty butter just generates a sheer amount of excitement.

So as we explore more ways of incorporating sorghum molasses into Carolina style BBQ, we can definitely declare hot biscuits with molasses and salted butter as proper breakfast item for pitmasters.

The thought process came about in conversations with fellow blogger Biscuits and Such. Here is her biscuit recipe.

Dry ingredients.  

Whisk (which will lighten the flours) together

  • 1 1/4 cup self rising flour,
  • 3/4 cup pastry flour (or cake flour),
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder,
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda,
  • 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sugar

Cube four tablespoons of butter and, using, your fingers, work it into the flour.  I like to smooth the butter out into long, thin pieces.  This way, when you press the dough out later, it forms layers of butter between the flour, which is what makes the flakes.  Work the butter quickly so that your hands don’t warm it too much.

Stir in 1 1/4 cups heavy cream with a wooden spoon, bringing together all the ingredients until they form a rough ball.  It should be on the sticky side as it is always easier to work more flour in than it is to fix a dry dough.

Sprinkle a little all purpose flour on the countertop and dump your dough out.  Using floured hands gently press the dough out flat.  I like to work it a little at a time, working it out and then flipping it so that no one area or side gets too worked.  Continue to press it out until it is 1/2″ thick.  If at any time it starts getting sticky, pop it into the fridge for 20 minutes.

Cut the biscuits and heat your oven to 475, and place them on an ungreased pan.  

The last thing you want to do before baking is give them a glaze.  I like to take the measuring cup that I used to measure out my cream, stick 2 tbsp of butter in there, and melt the butter in the microwave.  Then I brush the butter/cream on my biscuits.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Let them rest for 10 minutes before you cut them (any sooner and they’ll crumble).

Where to buy Sorghum

Bourbon Barrel Foods has popular one that uses a 5 generations old recipe.

Doubletree Farm comes highly recommended. Call them to see if they’ll do mail order.

Whole Hog BBQ - It's all in the MIX!!

IMAG1146 A good friend of mine and I met for lunch yesterday and it shocked me that while he has always heard about my work with “Whole Hog BBQ” he didn't quite understand that every whole hog plate had every part of the pig mixed together. This was shocking to hear especially from my buddy, a well-read foodie. I figure if HE had trouble understanding this, others will have trouble as well.

In my particular branch of the American BBQ family – Eastern North Carolina – whole hog BBQ means that an entire pig is slow smoked over hardwood embers before being pulled, chopped, and mixed together. This way you have all the goodness of the pig present in every bite. Kinda like mixing up a “meat salad”.

Now for traditional pig pickings, people basically come by the hog and pick out the portion that they want – loins, hams, bacon, shoulder etc. For commercial purposes and for larger feasts, the hog is mixed together because it makes a better product. This seems counter-intuitive for most people. For example, shoulders are the predominant pork cut for BBQ in the South. For many people there doesn't seem to be a need to add any white meat hams into the meat. If shoulder is superior cut, why dilute it with an inferior one? I’ll list 3 reasons of why it’s better to mix:

  • Mixing lean and fatty meats makes the pork tastes porkier. Take for example pork belly, it’s delicious due to its richness but it’s hard to eat an entire plate of belly because the richness overwhelms the pork flavor. Add some loin to that and you’ll discover why Italians been mixing belly and loin in their “porchetta” roasts for generations.
  • Every piece of the pig has a different flavor. The tenderloins taste different than the loins, the hams markly different than the shoulders. Adding all this goodness together makes for a more complex set of flavors. The reason we all love chocolate is that it contains over a thousand flavors, since we can’t taste 1,000 flavors we all taste what we find the most pleasant. Same with the whole hog, you’re getting hits of pleasure based on your palate and it has the profile to satisfy all.
  • It allows everyone to get a bit of everything. There’s only so much tenderloin on the pig and the precious neck muscle isn’t as large as the belly. Since the spirit of the whole hog is sharing with all, it’s best to mix.

Now the guys over in Western Tennessee actually do pull to order from the hog. So if you went up the counter at some Western Tennessee spot and asked for a “whole hog sandwich”, they’ll probably shoot you a “Which part arsehole?” look. They’re expecting you to order a shoulder sandwich, or a tenderloin (aka catfish) sandwich etc. But since this is a North Carolina BBQ blog, they can get their own blogger to justify why this is a better practice.

Conversations with Charles Stamey - Can Lexington Style BBQ Work Elsewhere?

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This is the fourth part of my reflections on my conversation with Charles Stamey, patriarch  of Stamey's BBQ.

Lexington Style barbecue exists primarily in the western part of North Carolina. Stamey contends that it's an immense challenge to be able to bring his style of barbecue to other areas. Even intra-state barbecue styles present a challenge. A Eastern North Carolina whole hog guy tried opening a joint in Greensboro which failed miserably. Just because it's extremely popular in one region doesn't mean that it will work in another.

To Kansas City barbecue's credit, they have been able to get their style of smoking and saucing to the general American public without much adulteration. While there are places claiming that they are serving Texas brisket, Memphis style ribs or Carolina pulled pork, they most certainly are not. If you traveled down to Lockhart or Winston-Salem or Memphis, it will be crystal clear from the first bite that what you're eating at Generic BBQ LLC is not even close. Just as while you might find orange chicken at your local Chinese food takeout, no such dish exists in China. Kansas City on the other hand has a national influence. Every time you dip your chicken nuggets in some "Barbecue sauce" you're tipping your hat off to the pioneers in Missouri/Kansas.

With some exceptions in Virginia, I don't know anywhere else in the country which offers Western Carolina BBQ. Memphis style pork comes pretty close but their sauces tend to be sweeter.

New York City, ironically enough is actually leading the way when it comes to hyper-regional BBQ. Hill Country BBQ actually reproduces in partnership with Lockhart's Kreuz Market the Central Texas flavors and experience. Delaney BBQ smokes Texas Brisket completely with a wood burning offset. RUB NYC and John Brownsmoke house specialize in Kansas City.

The Stamey challenge asks what needs to be done to effectively propagate Carolina BBQ. Several challenges exist

  • Narrow menu - Carolina BBQ is solely pork and limited in the types of cuts where as Central Texas and Kansas City has a wider variety 
  • The Vinegar - Vinegar and mustard are natural pork enhancers but are not well suited for tasting alone. Kansas City sauces pretty much go with anything
  • Lack of national awareness - North Carolina isn't really that present in people's thoughts. We think of cowboys in Texas and Elvis in Memphis. While North Carolina is growing into a national center of finance and medical research, most people in the country couldn't name anything about the state.

A reflection on a year in BBQ 2012


One of the hallmarks of a happy and successful existence is the feeling that you wish you had more time. There have been several years where I was fully glad to turn the page and see what the New Year offers me. This year more than any other, I'm sad to see her leave.  I have done much this year and have made strides in both my personal journey as well as my professional life. There was much traveling to new countries in 2012, a promotion, new friends, deeper bonds with family. Since this blog is about BBQ I'm listing out my year in BBQ.

  • This year alone I have smoked 31 Whole Hogs. Most of which are over 200lbs with the smallest pig being 125lbs. I couldn't begin to count how many chickens, pork butts, or sausages I've smoked.
  • Being too cheap to head down to Memphis to see the country's Biggest swine cooking competition. I threw a Memphis in May Party for my friends in NYC. Many who have never been to the South to taste real BBQ.
  • I ate through 11 Barbecue Joints in 3 days during my research & development travels through North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. BBQ Roadtrips rule!
  • I cooked with my teacher, North Carolina pitmaster Ed Mitchell at this year's Big Apple BBQ FestivalTalking BBQ with a master of hog - Aubrey Mitchell long through the night, stoking the fires at 3AM.
  • I enjoyed an almost 2 hour long conversation with North Carolina BBQ patriarch Charles Stamey. As a Carolina BBQ stylist, this was akin to seeing the grandmaster up the mountain. A cherished memory.
  • Had the honor of cooking through the summer with New York's top BBQ blogger and Competition Team Head - Josh Bousel.
  • Previously the Arrogant Swine was just a photo page for some of my cooks. Even though wordpress uses a blog platform, I didn't really use it as a until my buddy Angel forced me to start posting my thoughts and in the span of 4 months we have hit over 8,060 views.
  • Made some great Smoking friends with Chris & Julian of the Island Smoke Ring BBQ Competition team. Lots of meats and cigars smoked!
  • It wouldn't be the proper start to the Fall unless I did my annual Carolina Whole Hog Event.
  • It was my distinct honor to cook with Josh Bowen & John Zervoulakos - Pitmasters of John Brown Smokehouse, where we combined their deep Kansas City flavors with my whole hog pit to cook a 200lb Gloucestershire Old Spot pig. The finest heritage breed I have ever smoked. Not only was John Brown named #1 BBQ Joint 2012 by the Village Voice, I was named their resident Whole Hog expert, a title I wear proudly.
  • I cooked at this year's Georgia State BBQ Championship better known as the Big Pig Jig with Team Bubba Grills, where we took on over a 120 competitors and came in First Place in the uber-stacked category of ribs.
  • After YEARS of envy at Big Bob Gibson's dual cooker trailer. I got my own 16 foot 1,000lb meat capacity trailer. 2 multi-tiered cookers capable of smoking 2 hogs and still have enough room to knock out enough chicken to feed a football team.
  • Finally 2012 I had the chance to break bread with some of the biggest names in the New York City BBQ scene including Robbie Richter, Daniel Delaney, and Matt Fisher.

I'm sad to see 2012 go. It had its ups and downs but overall it was a winning year. I hope for more like it. There's unresolved goals I hope to meet. I thank all my readers to sharing the journey with me.

Conversations with Charles Stamey - Designing a New Pit

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This is the third part of my reflections on my conversation with Charles Stamey, patriarch  of Stamey's BBQ.

One of the main differences in Ed Mitchell style whole hog BBQ is the technique of "banking the fire". As far as I know, only Mitchell students bank the hog. The act of banking a fire is to get your wood fully burned down into coals and then shut off all but the barest source of oxygen so that the temperature will decrease and hold steady for a long time. Keeping true to the North Carolina tradition, the "pit" used by Ed & Co is really nothing more than a box with a cover. The metal hog coffins are popular all around North Carolina and most party stores will rent them out if you want to cook a hog.

One of the big interest we talked about was my designing a new style of barbecue pit that would be uniquely Carolina in flavor and reproducing Ed's cooking style. Stamey was very interested in how Ed was doing his cooking, as his process requires less tending than they do at Stamey's. He was especially interested in my design and says he's looking forward to seeing it.

There's several philosophical guidelines in which I'm designing my pit.

#1 Carolina flavor.

Carolina flavor is that of embers and hog juices. The fat drips on to coals and smokes back on to the meat. In the Carolinas the flavors have to be a delicate balance between a roasted and a smoked flavor. A pork chop tastes roasted but not smoked, a slice of ham tastes smoked but is definitely not roasted. That is the profile you're looking for.

The way that commercial smokers are designed now is based off of a Kansas City/Texas flavor profile. Gas powered smokers burn wood for flavor but that's a completely different flavor than the subtle flavor of wood embers. There are many who claim that there is basically no flavor imparted to the meats with embers, which I strongly disagree with. Open up any North Carolina pit and you'll be hit with a strong punch of hickory and oak.

So my pit is going to aim for that Carolina flavor by combining the dual hits of hog juice and blue ember smoke.

#2 Off Center Chambers

One of the major reasons that traditional pits have to be tended to is the danger of grease fires. Because this isn't like Texas offset smoking, the danger is always there. A pit needs to be designed where you're able to get the heat and blue smoke into the meat without the coals being exactly under the meat. Many whole hog open pit practitioners also shovel their coals on the side. Huge names like Sam Jones and Larry Hite do not shovel the coals underneath the animal any longer. If there was an benefit to it, the risk-adjusted return just simply isn't worth it.

#3 Fire Banking Option with Embers

Mitchell disciples like those at The Pit in Raleigh use Pits designed by Ed. These are designed to cook with both wood and charcoal. I believe that one can be designed that will be able to solely cook with wood. Same banking technique minus the charcoal.

Conversations with Charles Stamey - Making Tradition Sexy

Stameys 44

This is the second part of my reflections on my conversation with Charles Stamey, patriarch  of Stamey's BBQ.

Usually when we think of "tradition" we think of simply mindlessly rehashing the same thing over and over again. We choke down dry turkey year after year on Thanksgiving is a prime example. Maintaining tradition is most certainly not sexy. Most people don't shop for designers who are preserving your grandma's shoes.

In our conversation we discussed how hard it was to bring North Carolina BBQ to other places but how difficult it is to stay relevant. The North Carolina menu is already pretty stark. The one thing you will likely never hear at a Carolina BBQ joint are the words "Today's special is....". This sentiment is also echoed by current family pitmaster Chip -

I think it’s as much work to keep things the same as it is to innovate and change them.- Chip Stamey

When your menu is as set as it is, like Stamey's, the challenge is how to not only to preserve the tradition but make it sexy. Forces for change come from all sides, some customers, your staff, your family. Many times, Chip notes, these changes are subtle and progressive, so much so that eventually you end up where you didn't want to go.

But to bring North Carolina BBQ to that next level, there will need to be thoughts on what can be done to make it sexy and relevant for our generation. My greatest clue to that actually comes from chefs who think through recipes by Auguste Escoffier.

Escoffier is the fuddy-duddy of French cooking. We owe him for establishing the systematic operation of the commercial kitchen as we know it today. There are many of his recipes though, that are pretty out of date. Here's an example of chef Michel Roux Jr making an old Escoffier dish sexy. Perhaps it's a paradigm on how we can think through NC BBQ. Not to make it all fanciful, but where can we take tradition and form it into our own.


Gods of Whole Hog BBQ - Ed Mitchell

Ed Mitchell BBQ It's Friday! Can you believe we've already had an entire week of "Gods of Whole Hog"? Today grabbing the mantle is my teacher, Eastern Carolina pitmaster Ed Mitchell. As far as I know, there really isn't anyone but Ed getting out there an promoting Whole Hog BBQ like Ed is. Well there's my website but that's a bit too much self promotion there. There's plenty of whole hog guys being written about but none have grabbed the pulpit and nationally preached the gospel of swine as widely as Ed. If the other pitmasters were saints of our religion, Ed is the prophet. I mean just look at him! With the beard and the size, all you need are some stone tablets in hand and we got a prophet of biblical proportions.

Along with promoting whole hog BBQ, he's going one up further on the supply chain. He believes that farms raising heritage breed hogs can and should make a living doing so and whole hog BBQ is the vehicle to preserve not only America's oldest existing culinary practice but her long standing heritage breed husbandry.

Style - James Kirby's "banking" technique where coals are arranged around the hog. The fire starts off very hot and lowers to a steady temperature through the control of the dampers. Purely Eastern Carolina style here where the hog is chopped up and mixed together both lean and fat. The skin is then crisped up on the pit to be chopped up and mixed into the meat.

Fuel - Ed uses a mixture of charcoal and hickory wood.

Sauce - Eastern North Carolina is straight vinegar pepper. It takes as much to preserve the old traditions as it takes to innovate. Ed doesn't deviate from the sauce his grandparents used. There is a secret ingredient to his sauce though, it's moonshine. The secret is that you put that moonshine in the pit cook and not the sauce bottle.


Gods of Whole Hog BBQ - Ricky Parker

Western Tennessee probably has more whole hog restaurants than any other region in the country. It's sandwiched between Nashville and Memphis. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the same sexy music appeal as the two. I'm not sure how Eastern North Carolina's whole hog cooking method arrived in the area, but they're pretty faithful to it. Ricky Parker is the owner and head pitmaster of Scott's Barbecue in Lexington, Tennessee. He has been cooking hog for close to 37 years. The Duroc-Yorkshire hybrids weight between 180 to 200lbs and a picked for their thick backfat. Tennessee style whole hog necessitates a bigger pig because they serve each individual part separately - Shoulders, hams, bacon (middlin'), loins, and tenderloins (catfish). The thicker backfat protects and seasons the loins through the long cooking process. Parker not only continues the old tradition of cooking whole hog, he's actually thriving where many of his competitors in the areas have shut down due to the loss of the meat processing plant.

Style - The duroc-yorkshire hybrids are cooked on their back over hickory embers in open pits. The top of the pit is covered with cardboard paper that Parker has specifically made for him. He goes through 3 hogs a day and needs to change the cardboard every 3 days because the heat causes them to crumble.

Fuel - Tennessee is all hickory all day. Apparently it's really good hickory too. A good friend of mine in the region actually trucks hickory up to BBQ joints in New Jersey. He gets them in planks for a sawmill.

Sauce - Like in North Carolina, his sauce is a vinegar pepper sauce. He does have some super spicy and some sweet sauces he says are for the "tourists" from Memphis.


Gods of Whole Hog BBQ - Samuel Jones

SOURCE: Southern Living Magazine

Up next on deck for my "Gods of Whole Hog" series is Samuel Jones of the Skylight Inn. Now heirs to any throne usually get the short end of the stick public court of opinions. When Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche, one of London's most expensive restaurants, took over from his father, the Michelin Guide unceremoniously demoted them from 3 to 2 stars. Bit harsh considering that many consider Michel's talents to exceed his father. The fact that this family has been doing whole hog BBQ for over 180 years, you'd think there would be some type of empire going on. Some generic sauce being sold at whole foods. "Skylight Inns" that bake their pigs in an oven popping up all over the country. Hell a stock listing perhaps. But it's not. The Skylight Inn to this day is still a dive located in the middle of nowhere. It is still to this day where the faithful go to pray. Their butcher block an altar, and like the Eucharist, you get bread and flesh. So I'm assuming he's not in it for the money.

Style -  Classic North Carolina cooking here - burn wood down to coals and shovel around the pig. Around and not under. No thrills, no frills. Jones is also adamant that it needs to be hog cooked with wood embers and it needs to be in an open pit. So all of us with our shiny fancy doors on our trailers, we ain't pit cooking.

Fuel - All oak here. No wood blends. If they cooked with any other wood, we might need to place those trees on the endangered species list.

Sauce - Jones says you can keep your secret sauce and it's pretty likely he'll just give his to you if you ask nicely. A beer would help too. But it's simply cider vinegar, salt, black and red peppers and a dash of Texas Pete hot sauce. Don't try to give him any of yours though, he has unkind words for that glob that people drown their hog in.