Your Guide to Bang-Up Backyard Artistry
“The barbecue is an American icon,” says chef Jimmy Nadell. “So many regions of the country take such pride in their barbecuing traditions: Texas, Kansas City, St, Louis, New York City. Everyone swears that their barbecue is best! It’s a rich tradition, handed down from generation to generation and augmented by new ideas. And it’s not just the recipe, it’s also about the techniques, equipment and fuel.”
A backyard beginner couldn’t do better than to ask Nadell for pointers, so Roaring Fork Lifestyle recently did just that. A celebrity chef who has worked for the rich and famous in and around Aspen since 1986, Nadell is the owner of Bravo Catering in Carbondale. He recently published “The Artistry of Culinary Arts.” The barbecue sauce recipe printed here is from that cookbook.
Q: What’s your opinion of gas-fired versus wood or charcoal-fired barbecues?
A: One is for convenience and one is for flavor—obviously, you know which is which! What I love about the propane grill is that in five minutes, you’re ready to go. To cook over wood or charcoal, you need coals, so the heat needs time to settle down. There’s also a difference between grilling and barbecue: Grilling is hot and fast. Barbequing is slow; it takes hours.
Q: What’s the difference between St. Louis ribs and country ribs?
A: St. Louis is a spare rib cut in half and country-style is bone-in pork butt that is sliced sideways. Both are fantastic for braising, grilling, barbecue and smoking. They’re second only to the king of barbecue cuts, which is baby back rib.
Q: Barbeque seems to be mostly about red meat. What else can be barbecued?
A: Barbeque works best with meat, and it’s mostly pork. But there are other things we like to barbecue: chicken, salmon, shrimp. Octopus is very big in Miami. You just simmer for six or seven hours and then grill so it gets crispy. I was just down there, and it’s offered in every gourmet restaurant. Barbecue is also great for shrimp kebabs and oysters.
You can grill tofu or vegetable kebabs. But with the exception of corn on the cob, vegetable grilling often meets with little success. Mexican-style elote corn—grilled with chili, mayo and parmesan—is very good. You soak the corn in water and then cook it in the husk.
Q: What’s the difference between smoked and barbecued meats?
A: You can barbecue without smoking. Typically, smoking is the addition of wood to grilling so that it produces smoke. We smoke pork for one to two hours—depending on the meat math for the size of the dish—then we slowly barbecue after that. If you’re barbecuing chicken wings, that takes 45 minutes to an hour. A whole pig takes a good two hours. FYI, you can buy whole pigs from local farms and at the meat locker in Silt.
For smoke, I soak wood chips in water for an hour and then place them over hot charcoal. Above that, I add a pan of ice. The smoke goes through the ice, which chills the smoke. Then the smoke rises to flavor the meat. This is wonderful for salmon, and I usually smoke it like that for one hour.
Q: What’s a barbecue station?
A: It’s an alternative to a buffet. There can be stations for sushi, pasta, salad, barbecue. With stations, it means that chefs are standing right there sautéing and cooking in front of the guests.
For a barbecue, we would wheel in our King Kong station out and pull hot ribs out right in front of the guests. It was built in Texas; you know everything’s really big in Texas and they think that they are the barbecue capitol of the U.S! The King Kong has 10 doors on each side, so a chef can put meat in one side while a second chef pulls ribs out the other side. The King Kong was built for a Sturgis motorcycle event that we catered for 40,000 people.
Q: What’s your opinion of bottled “liquid smoke”? Can that substitute for open-flame cooking?
A: My opinion is that liquid smoke is the shortcut when there’s no other alternative. It will add smoke flavor, but there’s no substitute for the real thing. Most Texans would cringe just thinking about it!
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring home chefs?
A: Look at YouTube; you need to see what you’re cooking. You can find quick videos that will show you how to smoke, barbecue and grill. You can also look in my cookbook for tips and great dishes to accompany your barbecue. Email me, email@example.com, if you want to get a copy or to ask a cooking question.