You’d never know Texas was the largest state in America based on its tight-knit cooking community. That camaraderie will be on full display in Houston this October 11th at Southern Smoke, a project spearheaded by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd to help raise money for former employee Antonio Gianola, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis last year.
“Barbecue is such a time-consuming technique. There is a passion involved that only others that possess it will understand,” says Seth Siegel-Gardner, chef/co-owner of The Pass and Provisions and co-founder of the HOUBBQ Collective, a group of Houston chefs that smoke meat and drink bourbon. Siegel-Gardner will join a star-studded line-up recruited by Shepherd that includes Aaron Franklin, Sean Brock, Rodney Scott, Justin Yu, and a host of other local chefs.
With this mixed bag of kitchen professionals and smoked-meat connoisseurs, we asked them to weigh in on how the most recent barbecue boom affects the time-honored tradition, and what type of crossover we might expect to see to the restaurant world at large.
Our panel includes:
- Chris Shepherd, chef/owner of Underbelly
- Rodney Scott, pitmaster at Scott’s BBQ
- Seth Siegel-Gardner, chef/co-Owner of The Pass and Provisions, co-founder of the HOUBBQ Collective
- Terrence Gallivan, chef/co-owner The Pass and Provisions
- Justin Yu, chef at Oxheart
- Sean Brock, chef at Husk Restaurant
1. Who right now is pushing the envelope when it comes to unorthodox and innovative BBQ?
Shepherd says: “There are some local guys in Houston, Blood Bros. BBQ, that are bringing Houston cultures into their barbecue. They’re using Korean and Chinese flavors and atypical cuts like beef bellies, chuck ribs, and beef cheeks.”
Scott says: “The competitive pitmaster is pushing the envelope with all of the latest technology on temperature control. The competitive circuit has given the backyard pitmaster confidence to take a shot in competition, inspiring them that they can introduce their BBQ to more than just family and friends.”
2. Do you think the BBQ has influenced the restaurant scene?
Siegel-Gardner says: “I think it’s a two-way street. Speaking for ourselves, we basically try smoking everything and also figure out ways to manipulate the cooking environment created by the pit.”
Gallivan says: “BBQ has for a long time been a part of great kitchens, loosely in the form of curing and smoking. I think, like many other cultural cooking techniques, there is a symbiotic relationship between the professional kitchen and the specific styles of cooking, where one in constantly influencing the other.”
Yu says: “I think the BBQ scene is really helping push the restaurant scene. It forces chefs to continue to learn and rethink ways to use ingredients rather than just setting a fire and letting the smoke smother it. There’s a lot of care in tending to a fire that I never learned in basic French cooking. It really connects a Southerner to his or her roots, even if my family isn’t from the South. It also gives us a new technique to use on our ingredients.”
Brock says: “The idea of slow cooking with wood seems to be all the rage these days, and rightfully so. My cooking changed completely when I started spending time with Rodney Scott. The flavor and subtleness of using embers has become the backbone of my cuisine. I can certainly thank him for that.”
Shepherd says: “Restaurants are using barbecue techniques on their menus more and more. We’re smoking a lot of meats at Underbelly. We do a city-style brine on our pork ribs and them smoke them. These ‘ham ribs’ sell out every time they’re on the menu. Seth and Terrence recently bought a smoker, and they’re serving smoked kielbasa at Provisions that’s incredible, and they’re smoking corn for their composed dishes at The Pass. And it’s happening all over the country—Sean’s doing it at Husk, Hog & Hominy in Memphis, Farmstead in Napa. The barbecue scene is influencing us in restaurants to push our boundaries and use smoke as a technique in our menus.”
Scott says: “Yes, the BBQ scene has influenced the restaurant scene in my opinion because of all the wood-fire grills you see in restaurants now.”
3. There’s been an explosion of urban BBQ in non-traditional regions (including the U.K. and France). Is this a positive development for the scene, and is what’s being served legit?
Scott says: “The urban BBQ scene seems to make BBQ more versatile. With that being said, I think it’s positive.”
Siegel-Gardner says: “We’ve had a lot of friends from our time working at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant come visit us here and stage around Texas. They’ve got BBQ restaurants in the U.K. and South Africa. They’re approaching it with a cook’s mentality by trying to understand the nuances and learn as much as possible. I think people that take it seriously and know what they’re doing with the smoke will make legit BBQ.”
Brock says: “Good BBQ is good BBQ, doesn’t matter where it’s served. There is a lot of really bad BBQ out there, so we need all the good BBQ we can get, whether that’s in Sweden or South Carolina.”
Gallivan says: “I would argue that the Europeans (and many other cultures worldwide) have been cooking BBQ long before us here in the U.S. It is interesting to see how many of those same countries are being influences by American-style BBQ and replicating it in their countries. It as though smoked meat is coming full circle. As long as it tastes good, who cares if it’s legit?”
Yu says: “I’m excited to see how smoking and BBQ develops in new regions. I don’t think there’s anything that could ever be considered ‘legit.’ Even in America, there’s so many regional differences in BBQ. It’ll be interesting to see new heritages being formed and new traditions being made as BBQ is integrated with other cultures that usually don’t have a BBQ culture.”