How I feel every time I cook a pig larger than my body weight

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Introducing the Team!!

Whole Hog BBQ needs a decently large team. If nothing else, to move the massive dead weight of our pigs. So the Arrogant Swine crew in alphabetical order (of course I end up last)

Angel Mercado – Beer-conomist/Head of Infrastructure

Angel believes sobriety is a problem which must be dealt with extreme prejudice. So he’s in charge of calculating how much beer we need to get you properly sh*t-faced. He’s also our infrastructure guy, making sure minor little details like “WE HAVE NO POWER!!!” doesn’t get in the way of Hog cookery. Angel covers our business development activities for Queens.

Ed Mitchell BBQEd Mitchell – Patron Saint of The Arrogant Swine

As a North Carolina BBQ team our patron saint is no less than the legendary Ed Mitchell to hold us to those higher standards of whole hog smoking. Also since the Roman Catholic Church has already excommunicated 80% of the team, we couldn’t go with the normal roster of saints.

Josh Bowen – Banjo Plucker/BBQ Alchemist/Team Patron

Josh is the owner and pitmaster of highly popular joints John Brown Smokehouse and Alchemy Texas BBQ. He has generously acted as incubator for the team – supplying us with hogs, use of his kitchens, and keeping the local Fire Department from shutting us down (again…).

Steven Goldberg – Team mead brewer/Cicerone

Steve is our beer guy. We will not serve a single beer with our BBQ unless it’s Steve Approved. What the hell is a cicerone? It’s a dude who tells you what beer to pair with your food; now shut up and drink your beer!

Mark Macatangay – Event Photographer/Bigfoot-in-Residence

Left to my own devices, we’d never have any photos. Things start getting busy and I completely forget to record the action. This is why we have our very own resident Bigfoot to stand over the crowd and snap pictures. The other important reason for having your own bigfoot is to protect our pig head displays. Our pig heads are enormously popular with the crowd. People take more pictures of the head than they do me! Thus our bigfoot keeps our intoxicated guests from making off with our heads (again),

Matthew Gelfand – Director of Kosher Compliance/ Logistics & Crisis Management

Matt knows how Superman feels. No one ever calls him unless things have gone horribly, horribly awry. Pit get stolen 4 hours before cook time? Call Matt. Vegan protest? Matt’s there with the attack dogs as well as breakfast for the crew. On his last blind date, she wouldn’t give him her number but asked for his just in case her basement floods again. The Arrogant Swine is the only kosher compliant whole hog BBQ team. How does he pull that off? I’m not sure. Don’t ask don’t tell. Matt handles our business development activities for Brooklyn.

Arrogant Swine LogoTyson Ho – Founder/Hog Cooker/PhD in Redneck Anthropology  

They say the best job is the one that follows your passions. To the chagrin of my wife, I love cooking whole animals twice my body weight and I like starting fires. If that wasn’t bad enough I have the largest documentation on whole hog cookery in various American regions. Everything from the cooking styles to hog breeds. Surely that deserves a graduate degree no?

Breaking some Rules in BBQ for Success!

Recently a sport commentator remarked that the best thing you can learn from a sport is what’s illegal, specifically in combat sports. For example, we don’t let boxers hit each other while hugging because quite frankly it would be dull and it would sacrifice the development of beautiful crisp punches for the more effective “dirty boxing”. In high school wrestling, you were not allowed to lock your hands in certain positions because it gave an unfair advantage. The list of techniques banned in combat sports e.g. kickboxing, Judo, boxing, taekwondo etc, is filled with really effective moves. No amount of punching power will beat out a good ole “kick in the jimmy”.

So what does this have anything to do with BBQ? Contests are highly artificial. You will never find the world’s best chef in a contest. BBQ is no different. Take the top 5 best BBQ joints in the country by popular informed consensus and you won’t see a single big contest winner on there. They are solid and talented cooks but they’re not destination restaurants.

So what are the “illegal” moves in competition BBQ that would be effective for us to make superior BBQ? No too much is prohibited in BBQ contests but there’s plenty of implicit penalties for certain actions. So here’s a few.

Oil-based injections

Tony Chachere’s Injections are strange, slimy and very delicious. They’re also highly popular for one reason – they add great flavor to dry meats like turkey and pork loins. They’re also oil based. Oil based injections taste better because the vast majority of seasonings are fat soluble!!

Try this at home. Warm up some garlic powder in some water vs some oil. Which one would you rather slather on bread? The water will smell like a broth but the oil will smell delicious!

Pitmasters are not ignorant of this fact and yet inject their meats with liquids instead of lipids. Why is that? Why bother with the apple juice when some olive oil would throw in a nice garlic punch with little effort? In fact, liquid injections are highly inefficient for flavoring due to the fact that the muscles naturally just squeeze them back out.

The reason is largely cosmetic. Judges at contests will penalize a cook because the oil based injections will leave a streaky mark. There’s nothing in the rule book on this but still you’re getting marked down. If you are interested in boosting some flavor try injecting with fats.

Use less sugar use more tart

In the first season of BBQ pitmasters, newbie cook Harry Soo discovers that one of the keys to winning was to make their meats cavity-inducingly sweet. You will not win any contests serving tart BBQ. However this is not true in the general market place. Tart is big amongst consumers. Stubb’s BBQ Sauce is thin and tangy. It is also the #6 best selling sauce in the country grossing over $20 million in revenue a year.

It’s pretty clear that Stubb’s BBQ sauce being used to glaze ribs at a contest would lose and lose badly. Again there’s no rule against tangy sauces but the contests in general prefer it sweet and sticky. It’s worth going back to the original tangy sauces of the South. They’re a natural partner to BBQ .

Bring on the Mustard

Mustard sauces get absolutely no love from BBQ contests (unless it’s sauce contest). If you took 10 random turn in boxes from 10 contests, I guarantee you that you’ll get 10 boxes full of red glazed meats. Any of the yellow stuff would get your entry fed to the dog.

Mustard sauce is popular in central South Carolina and parts of border towns in Georgia. They’re a great compliment to greasy meat. Given that everyone’s secret sauce is more or less composed of ketchup and molasses, give mustard a try. I think you’ll like what you find.

Some BBQ Poetry

The Pitmaster’s Dilemma 

The alarm failed to ring, it’s a quarter past eight!

And our dear poor pitmaster was dreadfully late.

We are way behind schedule, we are way past dawn.

The wood must be fired, the hog must go on!

Well the pig has been load, the coals have been lit,

the smell of pork smoke surrounds me as I felt free to sit.

Dear Lord what happened? How could this happen to me?

I lit up my cigar and sipped from a brew. It then became all clear! I was beginning to see!

A poetry reading my wife told me! It would be fun and a date!

If you keep ignoring me for BBQ, we’re getting divorced at this rate.

So I put on a tie and shined up my shoes. Ready for readings on floral and fawn.

I prayed the good Lord to kill me as I fought off a yawn.

There were readings on zen and faith and overcoming our fears

If the reader’s bosom weren’t so huge, poems would have bored me to tears.

Then PETA came up and plead the rights of chickens! So passionate So bold!

Oh dear Jesus that was so boring, it knocked me out cold.

It’s not that I hate poetry. I love it I do!

No I’m not joking, I swear that it’s true.

Well my pig is done smoking and we’re ready to eat.

Glad my friends aren’t vegan cuz there’s a whole crapload of meat.

We chop and season and mix up our hog

A couple brought a salad! Which we fed to the dog.

The beer flows freely, the air thick with song and play

Disaster averted, the pitmaster saved the day.

So the morale of the story O reader, write this down too!

Avoid all poetry readings, they’re dangerous for you.

Frank Underwood’s Ribs – House of Cards

If you’ve been watching Netflix’s House of Cards series, you’ll be quite familiar with how much the main character Frank Underwood loves his BBQ ribs. So let’s say you wanted to get the same ribs that Frank gets, what type of BBQ ribs would you eat?

Frank has his choice of 3 different types of ribs from the pig – Upper spare, Lower Spare, and Baby Backs.

Upper Spare – Frank would choose this one if he valued fat and meat thickness the most. The upper spare ribs are the ones closest to the neck and are meatier and fatter.

Lower Spares – If tenderness yet full flavor is what Frank prefers he’d the lower portion of the spareribs which have less meat and fat but since it’s thinner will cook up much more tender.

Baby backs – Where as the spare ribs are flat, baby backs are curved at the bone. Hence if you look up at the photo, you’ll notice that Frank is indeed chopping on some baby backs. Several other proofs of this

  • Freddy the BBQ guy often opens early to serve Frank a breakfast plate of ribs in the morning. BBQ takes a long time to do, so unless the Pitmaster wants to wake up at 3 in the morning, it’s not likely that he’s cooking him spares.
  • Babybacks have a quick turnaround, most places will cook up babyback ribs in 3 hours. One famous joint Tennessee fires them out in just over an hour. Given that Frank likes his ribs at odd hours through the day, it’s likely babybacks are logistically more possible.
  • In Chapter 6 Freddy gets a last minute party catering request. Again, unlikely that he was going to fill that order without using baby backs.

Some reasons that it might not be baby backs

  • Freddy’s is dive. Like a real dumpy dive. Unless you’re a connoisseur, most people have trouble understanding the price premiums that Baby backs command.
  • Freddy’s a South Carolina boy and all the top rib guys there – Sweatman’s, Maurice’s etc use spares not babybacks.
  • Spares have more flavor and since he refers to his rib habit as a vice, it might lean more towards the fatty belly meat on the spares vs the lean loin meat of the babys.

Why Frank might prefer baby backs.

  • First off Frank eats a lot of ribs. A lot. Most people who like to eat a lot of ribs will tend to go for the baby backs as they’re less fatty.
  • Frank eats them before going to work. As baby backs are relatively more uniform than spares, they’re less messy to eat. Thought nothing says political power like BBQ sauce on your tie.
  • Baby backs are easier to eat. Frank looks like the type of guy to streamline everything. It’s hard to imagine that on his off hour, he’d want to deal with inconsistent bone structure of spares when he can have a nice neat row of ribs from the baby backs.

Sauce

It’s likely that Frank prefers a more tangy sauce with a bit of spice. This would be consistent with his Carolina heritage and the fact that he likes to eat a lot of ribs. BBQ sauces are sweet for a reason, because people don’t eat that much BBQ so the acute sweetness is very pleasant for the occasional smokey binge. But for people who eat BBQ all the time, the tart sauces cuts through the fattniess of the meat and enhances the smokey pork flavors.

Freddy’s BBQ Joint – House of Cards

I am awful when it comes to keeping up with new television. Several years have past after the premiere of BBQ Pitmasters before I even thought to tune in. So when Netflix came out with their subscription only political thriller series – House of Cards – I expressed my usual indifference. It’s not that don’t like watching TV, I love it, I just don’t really find the time to do it.

But then my wife started complaining about the main character’s affection for BBQ and how much BBQ kept popping up in the scenes. Well that caught my attention. In the show, Frank Underwood is a South Carolina Congressman whose playing at the upper levels of cut throat politics. Just as Tony Soprano does his deals at a strip club, Underwood schemes and does his backroom deals in a BBQ hole in the wall while stuffing his face with sweet sticky ribs.

Sounds like my kind of character!!

Several fun observations from the media on Frank’s choice of BBQ and my commentary.

Media: Frank Underwood is from South Carolina so he’s more likely to want mustard based BBQ

My Commentary: Frank’s from Gaffney, SC which is only a sneeze away from Charolette, NC. This area is pretty much ANY-TOWN, USA when it comes to regional BBQ i.e. it doesn’t exist. Only certain areas really stick to the old Carolina tradition. The closer you get to major cities, the less regional your BBQ becomes.

Take for example Daddy Joe’s Beach House BBQ in Gaffney, SC where Frank’s supposely from. On the menu the BBQ really isn’t any different than what you might find in Los Angelos or Boston. The rib likely the same as portrayed by the show – saucy and sticky.

Media: Frank would more likely be eating pulled pork than ribs being from the Carolinas.

My Commentary: That’s pretty on point except for a few caveats. I’m sure the show is picking ribs because it’s easier to see that he’s biting into a piece of BBQ. A pulled pork sandwich just looks like anything else between a bun on camera. For all we know he might be eating a tofu sandwich. The ribs is an interesting distinction between North and South Carolina. Strong representatives of the area like Maurice’s and Sweatman’s actually go through the trouble of preparing South Carolina style ribs. In North Carolina, ribs are an after thought because when someone says BBQ, they’re thinking chopped pork.

Media: The closest equivalent to Freddy’s BBQ would be Rockland’s in the DC area.

My Commentary: I would have to agree with that. Rockland’s is indeed very good. If Frank was eating here though, he might want to give the Beef Rib a go, it’s mind blowing.