BBQ ROADTRIP!!! : Bum Restaurant – Ayden, NC

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Quick! Name one of the top 3 greatest Heavy-weight boxers in history. You might mention Mike Tyson, or Evander Holyfield, and you’ll definitely mention Muhammad Ali. Especially the latter as he spent most of his career calling himself the greatest. Poor Joe Louis. 12 years reigning as world champion. 25 successful title defenses (Ali had a mere 19). To this day there has not been a similar dominance in any weight division.

Unfortunately for Joe he was neither as well spoken or good looking as Ali.  Hence why none of us know about him. I feel the same way about Bum’s Restaurant in Ayden, NC.

Ayden is a mecca for whole hog lovers. For decades the Skylight Inn has held the platonic ideal of swine cookery. Their familial cousin Lathan “Bum” Dennis cooks hogs in the exact same fashion and fails to get the same cred for no other reason than Skylight Inn exists in the same town. For God’s sake they’re not even on the North Carolina BBQ Society Trail!!! This last part is particularly irksome to me because Bum’s barbecue is really really good and there’s plenty of other joints on the Trail list that taste like ass and are coasting on their reputations.

Aside from my urge to root for the underdog, Bum’s really is very good. The pork is not hacked to a tuna fish consistency, juicy, and lightly smokey with lots of little nuggets of crispy skin. Their side dishes are easily the best in the state. No exaggeration there. This is real country eating here filled with soul feeding vegetables. Eastern Carolina corn sticks and pork rinds are available to add just enough crunch.

And the fried chicken. Oh the FRIED CHICKEN! Eastern Carolina whole hog BBQ is usually paired with fried chicken. Traditional giants like Wilbur’s, Parker’s both serve fried chicken with their hogs. Bum’s chicken beats them both. I’m all down for great whole hog, but when you got great whole hog and finger licking fried chicken – oh my….

A proper banana pudding topped with warm southern meringue finishes off the meal.

As you can see I have a particular affection for Bum’s. As practitioner of the art and as a traveled eater, I find it an utter travesty that Bum’s is never mentioned when talking about top BBQ joints in North Carolina. The NC BBQ Society Trail list is a wonderful tool and there’s other sources which basically name the same big name spots. But do yourself a favor, many of those big names are for tourists – Bum’s is for those in the know.

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Meet My New Smoker!!

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As you all remember, my long time smoker was stolen while prepping for a whole hog event. If you’re a Carolina whole hog stylist, your smoker is very specific. I’ve cooked on a whole variety of smokers but none of them will do a proper Carolina whole hog. To do Carolina BBQ you need a specialized Carolina PIT.

My new smoker is designed to take hardwood embers and slowly smoke the meats til tender. While it’s direct heat, the coals are very far away from the meat leaving the cooking temperature still very low.

We gave her a test run by getting my buddies to bring over a massive amount of meat as I burn down logs to fire the pit. We had 4 pork shoulders, 2 slabs of ribs, 6 slabs of beef short ribs and 2 chickens! Oh and a handful of rib tips to snack on.

She burned beautifully. Came to temperature with very little effort and held steady between refirings. I had mine specially customized with bar AND diamond grates to make the ultimate Carolina crackling on the pork. If your pit can’t make crackling, it might be a good smoker but it ain’t North Carolina BBQ.

I’m so happy to have my new member of the BBQ family. My wife and friends named her Fat Sally. Say hi Fat Sally!

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Whole Hog BBQ – Tools of the Trade II

Rammstein is a metal band based in Germany and one of my favorite forms of musical entertainment. I like them for their tongue-in-cheek lyrics, storyline rich music videos, heavy jams and their insane feats of pyrotechnics. It is further proof that adding a flamethrower to any situation makes it all that much cooler. I’m confident that if the US Federal government would mandate the use of flame throwers in our children’s math classes, we’re probably have the highest math scores in the world – we’d also need to hold math classes outdoors which wouldn’t be too bad of an idea.

The very first time I ever smoked a pig, I had a secret weapon. I found a massive bottle of Zippo lighter fluid which, due to its utility, has very little in terms of scent. People don’t like smoking anything that tastes like gasoline. I was a GENIUS! I had all the power of lighter fluid with none of the smell!! Well turns out I was an absolute MORON as we hosed down over 80lbs of charcoal with Zippo fluid, had a big poofy fire which lasted as long as a jelly donut at fat kids camp.

So we gave in and rushed to the deli for a jug of regular charcoal lighter fluid. Lighter fluid isn’t necessary a bad thing. I know it’s BBQ orthodoxy to hate on it, but plenty of the top cookers in the world use it to start their coal. I guarantee if I had you taste their food you wouldn’t taste the fluid. Plus I like the smell of burning lighter fluid on a small scale – reminds me of childhood summers (along with burnt chicken).

But burning that much coal with that much lighter fluid is not pleasant at all. Someone suggested one time I use chimney starters. Have you ever had to start 80lbs of charcoal with chimney starters? We’d probably spend the next 3 hours just lighting coal!

So in comes the solution – a baby FLAMETHROWER!!

More specifically it’s a Lincoln Electric Inferno Propane Torch.

Like everything with whole hog BBQ it’s a great crowd pleaser. The most popular photos people take are

#1 Them standing in front of my smoker

#2 Them holding a pig’s head

#3 Them shooting flames out of my baby flamethrower.

In the annuals of badassness, this tool ranks pretty high up there. When fired up it shoots out a jet stream of fire and will get your coal lit in almost no time. It’s actually kinda disappointing sometimes how effective it is as I’d love to just burn some more stuff. It even sounds like a jet! Make no mistake, it’s loud. The first time I had my buddy work it, he darn near wet himself. And my buddy’s a tough guy! Tatted up, big muscles, bald head – scary. I swear when that fire busted out he was ready run home to his mommy. You’ve been warned.

Whole Hog BBQ – Tools of the Trade I

I guess if there was one definite difference between North Carolina BBQ and our cousins in Texas and Kansas city, it’s our tools.

When I used to cook fancier cuisine, your tools would come from pricey culinary outfitters or restaurant supply shops. My straight carbon steel knives were forged in France and German. We used a mess of different tools from Japan to make plants look like little footballs, chocolate look like snowmen, etc. I even have a pair of scissors whose sole job is to snip the top off a quail egg – to garnish a jewel-like plate of tuna tartar of course.

The funniest part of the Carolina tool kit is that most of it comes from hardware stores! So I’ll be writing a series of various different tools you can pick up for whole hog cooking.

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The most intimidating thing about cooking a whole hog is getting it prepped for cooking. Even the smallest pig I have ever cooked is larger than most people’s ovens. Even highly  trained French chefs have difficulty handling the entire animal as my highly talented friends will attest

To prep a whole hog for smoking you need to get the back split, the collar bone removed, and the breast bone cut off. Now this will be a completely separate post where I’ll explain how to do that. You essentially want your pig looking like this

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As you can see the top half is cleanly split, the collar covering the shoulders are removed and there’s no breastbone. After this we split the lower half a little just flatten the hog out.

Now the tool of choice here is the reciprocating saw. I use a Sawzall which is made by Milwaukee Tools. If you never seen a bunch of grown men try and split the hog’s backbone without the saw, you’re in for all manner of funny. The use of the tool was taught to me by some good ole southern folks down in Georgia and it has made my life INFINITY better.

A pig is a powerful animal. It has lots of predators out there looking to eat it and it’s hell bent on not becoming chow. Hence the tusks and tightly compact body. So if you’re looking to butcher a hog for BBQ, it would be worth your while to stop by the local Lowes or Home Depot. Trust me, nothing will get your more frustrated than trying to split bone.

It’s also great in removing the forearms and feet as well. Again if you’re really into seeing a hilariously macabre show, give a 240lb strong dude a cleaver and ask him to chop off the feet. You’d be surprise how little strength will help you here. Those tendons and sinew do their job really well. There is indeed a trick to cutting all 4 of them off in less than 3 mins but it requires a lot of practice. Unless you’re looking to cook as many pigs as I do, it’s not likely you’ll get too much practice – stick with the saw.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about shovels.

aPORKalypse NOW 2013 – Whole Hog BBQ!!

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See ALL the Photos and food porn of aPORKalyspe HERE.

I live in Queens. Now this for a long time marks the complete opposite of hip. Queens doesn’t have the same sex appeal as Williamsburg and definitely doesn’t have gentrified air of Park Slope in Brooklyn. What I have found lately is the massive booming food communities of Astoria and Long Island City (LIC). People are extremely passionate about their neighborhood  With Village Voice awarding #1 BBQ status to John Brown Smokehouse and the charcuterie savant Ian Kapitan cooking at Alobar, Queens might just give Brooklyn some competition for coolness.

This year’s aPORKalypse Now was featured at Alewife NYC – voted #1 craft beer bar in NYC by ratebeer.com. I’m no expert on cool but I gotta say, this had to have been one of the coolest bars I have ever been to. The place was MASSIVE! High ceilings would be an understatement. It was like a renaissance chapel built for the devotion to sacred suds. Two floors, thick sofas, AND a patio. Breath taking.

The mission was simple – three 100lb pigs were at my disposal to smoke and produce North Carolina BBQ. John Brown Smokehouse was given the call to provide BBQ and as the joint’s resident whole hog expert, my pit pulled up the night before the event ready go. In order to get 300lbs of meat into my smoker we sectioned 2 of the pigs into 6’s – loins, shoulders, hams. This allowed me to jigsaw puzzle them into my pit. The last one I left whole and simply cut in half for show.

4:00 AM me and my partner, Angel Mercado, loaded the hogs into my truck and arrived at Alewife to fire up my pit with charcoal and thick oak logs. This took longer than I liked but as it was really early in the morning I didn’t want to wake up the neighbors with my flamethrower. If you have never heard my flamethrower before, it sounds like a jet exhaust. A perfect recipe for cops being called on me at 5AM. By 5 the hogs were on and the first cigar of the day with a much needed cup of coffee was at hand.

Maintaining the heat was royal chore! First off it was really really cold. So cold I heard the polar bears at Central Park actually called in sick. So I was firing up the pit 3 times my usual rate. Thanks to my trusty burn pit and shovel this wasn’t a problem. The one interesting thing about cooking hog is that more of your equipment actually comes from Home Depot than restaurant supply stores.

By 2:30 we pulled our first half pig off in order to feed the people from Session I. A bit of a miscommunication as I didn’t realized we were cooking for 2 sessions. It would have also been a logistical nightmare as I literally had 2.5 hours worth of sleep just to try and finish this pig for the evening session.

In the meanwhile my massive black pit provided lots of photo foder for my fellow New Yorkers who are not used to seeing a smoker the size of a small car.

By 4 all the hogs were done and we keep the process exactly as my teacher, Ed Mitchell, taught me. Picked the meat off the bones, chopped them, dressed with my vinegar pepper sauce and topped off the with crispy skin. Unlike other BBQ styles, I can’t just slice something and serve it on a plate. Cooking hog requires that you taste a lot of it. Adjusting seasoning as I go. So often times you’ll see me not eat a plate because I’m so full from tasting all that hog. With 3 hogs smoked, that’s a lot of pig I had to taste.

Our line was nonstop! We chopped a half hog at a time to keep feeding the hungry crowd. Most of the people there had never had North Carolina BBQ before. How much the crowd loved it was voting with their wallets. As part of their tickets, guests got a few drink tasting and food tasting vouchers. More tickets to me meant less option to taste someone else’s food. People came back for 3rds and 4ths! One gentleman loved us so much he placed his entire voucher supply on our table saying he didn’t care to eat anything else for the evening but our hog!

As part of the gag I browned one of the pig heads in my firebox and placed it on the table as a center piece. I swear my pit and this pig’s head get more loving from the ladies than I could ever hope for. It was passed around, posed for photos, kissed etc. At the end of the evening a guy asked to take it home with I gladly gifted as it meant less cleanup for me. The missing pig head distressed a group of women though. Apparently they wanted to take the head home as well. I gave away the remaining two (raw) pig heads sitting at the back of truck. I never realized that women were so fond of raw pig heads. That’s some wife material right there.

aPORKalypse NOW 2013 was an amazing event. So happy to see so many people enjoy my BBQ and a great way to kick off a 2013 filled with BBQ events.

See all the Photos and food porn of aPORKalyspe HERE.

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