All- Amer­i­can BBQ

New twists on an old tra­di­tion

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - Front Page - By Dan Gen­tile cover pho­tog­ra­phy by JODY HOR­TON

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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