All- American BBQ
New twists on an old tradition
Houston’s Young Gun
At age 30, when most people still struggle to throw a successful dinner party, Houston native Greg Gatlin was slow-smoking dozens of briskets a week. He opened Gatlin’s BBQ in 2010 in a 700-square-foot bungalow with just three employees, two of whom were his parents. Seven years later, his brisket is lauded as the best in the city, and he’s since moved to a much larger space.
“We’re paying homage to the original style of barbecue but making it our own,” says Gatlin, 37, who works with classically trained French chef collaborator Michelle Wallace. “Barbecue isn’t just a bunch of guys sitting around eating anymore. You want some lighter things.”
His menu features staples of Texas tradition, like a moist brisket with a thick three-pepper bark and monstrously fatty beef ribs, but Wallace helps Gatlin’s stand out with specials like Asian-style beef rib tacos marinated in sesame oil and grilled corn on the cob with jalapeño–brown sugar compound butter.
An Australian With Chops
Jess Pryles doesn’t look like your typical pitmaster, and her heavy Australian accent is far from a Southern drawl. A love of brisket led her to immigrate to Texas and become an honorary Texan in 2015.
Despite the challenges of an Australian woman navigating a very American, maledominated industry, Pryles has carved out a unique niche, thanks to her barbecue rubs, including Hardcore Carnivore rub, which features one of the trendiest ingredients around: activated charcoal. The stuff is wildly popular with everyone from hipster bartenders to New Age health fanatics, and Pryles recognized its midnight hue as a perfect match for barbecue. She calls it “cosmetics for meat.”
She’s savvy about self-promotion as well as seasoning. Her website (jesspryles.com) brims with creative recipes and practical cooking tips.
“The new generation of social media opened me up to an audience I wouldn’t reach otherwise,” says Pryles. And her impressive following has helped her develop partnerships with some of the biggest brands in barbecue, including her own line of cooking products and even a signature smoker. Her book, Hardcore Carnivore, comes out next month.
Georgia’s Second Generation
Myron Mixon and his 26-year-old son, Michael, are a study in old- and new-school barbecue. Myron, the lead pitmaster of Jack’s Old South Competition Bar-B-Que Team, speaks with a slow-asmolasses cadence you’d expect to hear in their tiny hometown of Unadilla, Ga. Michael talks in rapid-fire circles, with a grin as wide as a barn door.
His dad is a barbecue legend, but this isn’t a coattail ride for Michael. When he turned 19, he formed his own team and won the Georgia Barbecue Association circuit. Today he is one of the youngest pitmasters to lead a cook team and puts a millennial spin on his work.
“We’re playing with stuff that I would never affiliate with barbecue,” says Michael. That means tasting more than 40 different types of mango to develop a concentrate for a marinade, incorporating Asian flavors like ginger or applying Latin influences like habanero flakes. He plans to bring those fresh flavors to his brisket at the upcoming Kansas City American Royal World Series of Barbecue.
When Myron retires, Michael will take over the empire, but for now he’s building his own. He’s an ambassador for Cabo Wabo Tequila and has his own Food Network show, BBQ Rig Race, which follows four teams as they drive custom barbecue smokers across Texas.
The Melting Pot Brooklynite
Traditionally, barbecue restaurants cook food the owners were raised on. That often means brisket in Texas, whole hog in the Carolinas and pork in Memphis. But what if a pitmaster is from a melting pot like New York?
“In New York City, we don’t have rules. We’re not tied to the Texas Trinity of brisket, ribs and sausage, or cooking whole hog,” says Billy Durney. A former celebrity bodyguard, he left the security field to pursue his pitmaster dreams and open Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn’s Red Hook in 2013.
“At Hometown, we’re a canvas of the beautiful, multicultural, ethnic city that I grew up in,” says Durney, 45. “I spent time with Vietnamese grocers, owners of Korean restaurants and people from Oaxaca [Mexico] and the West Indies.” That translates to specialties like lamb belly Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, Jamaican jerk baby back ribs, Korean sticky ribs and wood-fired Oaxacan chicken.
Greg Gatlin of Gatlin’s BBQ in Houston
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