Whole Hog Pitmaster Ricky Parker has passed

The Southern Foodways Alliance alerted us to the passing of Whole Hog BBQ legend Ricky Parker.

Mr Parker was taken far too soon from us. At 51 years of age he was still relatively young gentleman. With our country seeing a resurgence in interest and passion for BBQ, there was hope that he would be able to see a revival of a tradition he loved so dearly.

I wrote a bit about Parker HERE concerning his specific style of cooking and his preferred hog breeds.

Parker definitely wasn’t a celebrity pitmaster. He wasn’t particularly known save for a few foodies and even amongst those, very few understood exactly what he was doing and what he was preserving. When I was in college, my linguistics professor was collector of rare and dying languages. A brilliant man, he noted that we can collect data for future generations to study and make contributions to Linguistic Theory. However, any attempts to preserve dying languages are sadly futile. Regional barbecue styles are like languages. Even in its limitation of expression it can sometimes most clearly describe who we are.

Barbecue has become more popular now than ever before. Television shows, forums, Youtube videos, all point to the fact that people really care. Not only do they care they’re opening their wallets for good BBQ. Real BBQ. Parker sadly is no longer with us to see the next chapter. Hopefully he will have inspired the next generation in Western Tennessee to continue the art of whole hog cookery. Express to us the public and to themselves their heritage in the living language of smoke.

Rest in Peace Mr. Parker.

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!

News from around the BBQ Blogsphere

BBQ Sauce Review tests out the new Pit Barrel Cooker from the Pit Barrel Cooker Co. “The Pit Barrel Cooker also known as the PBC, is a drum cooker made from a brand new 30 gallon steel drum that has a very durable high-heat all-weather powder coated finish that is rated for 1,000º. The PBC is an American Made product that’s extremely well-made and can be used for low and slow cooking as well as grilling.”

No Excuses BBQ definitely knows how to diversify his BBQ menu. This week he cooks up some Bear stew on his Keg. “The finished product was very similar to the beef stews we’ve cooked up in the past, although there was a definite gamier flavor. The meat was very lean, yet tender. And the dinner conversation was punny; it seems my children have picked up the family tradition of mangling the language at every opportunity.”

Fed Man Walking gives you a behind the scenes look at the Austin Food & Wine Fest!

The MEATWAVE reviews Big Bob Gibson’s White BBQ Sauce. “White sauce is made to do one thing really well, make chicken taste even better. On the grill, I think that’s the best way to use white sauce, but off the grill it can accomplish much more. Beyond being a great dip for light meats like chicken and pork, white sauce would probably serve you well as a dressing for backyard side standards like potato or macaroni salad. I really like this sauce, but at the same time that the vinegar and creaminess are attractive, there’s also a slight chemically flavor. It’s because of this that it’s knocked down a place or two—if you take the time to make your own white sauce, you’ll get something better than what comes out of the bottle in my opinion.”

Texas BBQ Posse thinks turkey is a may be a new permanent addition to the Texas BBQ canon. Maybe not but time will tell!

Full Custom BBQ visits Hammerhead in Louisville, KY. “Hammerheads is a great restaurant with plenty of imagination and mostly spot-on execution. The items I normally judge a joint on are the brisket and pork ribs. Here the brisket was average and the ribs were a bit overcooked. In the end these were the only items on the menu I had any qualms with, and I can’t wait to get back to Louisville for another visit to Hammerheads.”

BBQ Guy smokes up some meatballs wrapped in bacon, also known as “MOINKs”

DivaQ drops some tips on how to get your grill ready for grilling seasoning. “I BBQ all year round. I understand there are people that put away their BBQ’s at the end of summer –  (We need to talk people – you can BBQ in winter and fall!) You need to perform ongoing maintenance and grill inspection -remember a clean grill is a happy grill.”

Man Up Texas BBQ visits Smoke Shack in San Antonio, TX. “Couple of weeks ago, I stopped in for my first visit to Smoke Shack, the San Antonio BBQ trailer that recently won a field-of-32 BBQ tournament for San Antonio. My order: pulled pork, quarter chicken (dark), brisket slider, pulled-chicken slider, two pork ribs.”

Patrons of the Pit calls the cheese burger the Pit-master’s thumbprint. Tell him how you cook your burger and he’ll know the character of the cook. “My eldest brother has long-held to the tactic, when visiting a restaurant for the first time, that the safest, and most efficient stroke you can play there is to try their cheeseburger.  For they are not likely first off to screw it up, but more over, in a gastronomic gumshoe sort of way, you can tell a great deal about the rest of their fare, their cook, and their establishment as a whole, but from the mere details revealed in their humble hamburger. … Likewise on the grill. It is a pit junkie’s thumb print, the hamburger.  And everybody who has flipped a patty has one. Every finger print is a little different it seems, and like a thumb into an ink pad, it is our most basic impression onto the BBQ arena. Want to get an idea of a pit keeper’s prowess, consider first his cheeseburger.”

Big Wayner’s BBQ Blog reviews Ubon’s Sauce, a 5 generation recipe from Mississippi. “Ubon’s does it all and has done it all for well over 30 years.  Ubon’s Barbeque of Yazoo (and pitmaster Garry Roark) is featured year after year at the Big Apple Barbeque Block Party and has received numerous accolades.  Ubon’s is a regular on the competition circuit (and especially at Memphis in May).  Garry’s daughter Leslie is a partner in the restaurant/catering/sauce business as well as the rib & chicken cook for the competition team.  And having the pleasure of meeting the entire Ubon’s family at Memphis in May last year, I can say with 100% confidence that they are some of the nicest people I know!”

Grilling with Rich share Dave (FAMOUS DAVE’S) Anderson’s story on his sauce development as well as his children’s suffering from it. “I have endured the wrath of my children when they were younger, still in school, and they would get up early in the morning only to discover a kitchen basically ransacked with my fruit peelings, mashed herbs, seasoning grindings, dirty bowls, sauce splattered kitchen stove…and they had to push everything aside on the kitchen table just to find a place to eat their cereal. They were also mad at me sometimes because they hated going to school smelling like onions, garlic, or smoke!”

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.