For The Love Of Smoke
Whatever you call it, however you spell it — barbecue, barbeque, BBQ, Bar-B-Q, Bar-B-Que, barbie or braai — there’s one constant: “Barbecue is probably the world’s oldest cooking method, and that is the only thing about it that is beyond dispute,” writes “barbecue whisperer” Meathead Goldwyn.
In honor of National Barbecue Month, we started out on a quest to bring you secrets of the local masters.
Unstintingly generous with their time and information, Columbia’s pitmasters are cagey at best when pressed about what makes their wood blends, sauces or rubs special — unless you’re part of the tribe, cooking and competing alongside them.
Whatever their style or degree of devotion — backyard, competitive, pit-building, feeds or a seasonal stand on the side — they share a love of barbecue and a bond of smoke. Just knowing a little more about them may inspire all us to elevate our own backyard barbecue game this summer.
Methods To The Madness
Low and slow or hot and fast? Two distinct philosophies of cooking barbecue vie for standing at hometown festivals and Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned competitions alike.
Low & Slow: (225 to 230 degrees) This method involves preparing the meats and fire in the evening — usually the Friday night before Saturday’s competition — and tending them all night. You sleep at your own peril.
(275 to 300 degrees) Preparation starts Saturday morning around 6 with the meat going in the smoker around 7 or 7:30 a.m. in time for the first presentation to judges in early afternoon.
“I think low and slow is more of the history of how good barbecue was born. Hot and fast is fine if you’re in a hurry, but just like a relationship, you have to take some time to give it the love, and it will pay you back in spades.” — Jay Curry, competitive BBQ chef
WHO: Jay Curry, competitive barbecue chef and co-owner (with his brother, Steve Curry, and Randy Ham) of Columbia Welding & Machine and Spicewine Ironworks; past president, Beta Beta Que
Society GO-TO EQUIPMENT: His invention, the Spicewine Ironworks smoker HISTORY: Born in Texas; lived briefly in New Orleans, but has been in Columbia most of his life. His mother and grandmother were really good cooks, he says, and he started cooking seriously his first year of college because, “It was either cook or starve.”
Curry is a three-time American Royal World Series of Barbecue World Champion.
Best Rub (2007)
Best Cause (2009)
Best Pork (2012)
“A friend and I started at a contest at the Boone County Fair some years ago, and we thought we’ll just go out there and have a little fun, and we won that one. After you win one, then you kinda get caught up in wanting more, and then you get this,” Curry says, with a sweeping gesture encompassing an office bursting with ribbons, trophies, certificates, framed articles and fancy swag, much of it courtesy of The American Royal.
His first smoker was temperamental in less-than-ideal weather. A welder by trade, Curry started tinkering. “I wanted something insulated that wouldn’t have weather effect, and before I even had my own done, I had two or three customers of Columbia Welding come in who had to have one,” he says. It snowballed from there — with hundreds of Spicewine Ironworks smokers now in use all over the country, and making their first inroads in England and Australia, too.
The Spicewine website “looked kind of empty with just the smokers on it,” Curry says. “So we thought maybe we’ll try our hand at some sauces and some rubs to fill it up a little bit.” The rub took top honors at the 2007 American Royal; a sauce won in 2009.
Since then, Spicewine Ironworks has expanded to six sauces, two rubs, one all-purpose seasoning and a hot sauce available online and in some Columbia stores, including the welding shop on Business Loop 70.
“As close to perfect as possible” is what Curry and his team strive for in every competition they enter. “We learned over the years a lot of technique about trimming the meats,” he says. “You get into learning how to butcher a little. Then, it’s the right combination of seasonings with the right complement of sauce, and once you get that figured out … well, a lot of the barbecue sauce hit the trash before I found what I wanted. I just couldn’t find that right combination of flavors.”
TIP: Whether you’re a competitive barbecue chef or a backyard ’cue connoisseur, it’s all about the quality of meat and the right layering of flavors, Curry says, including the amount and kind of wood used and the blend of ingredients in sauces and rubs. Experiment with various commercial products until you find a base that you like, then tinker, adding ingredients such as molasses, cinnamon, good bourbon, Jamaican spice blends, Worcestershire, oregano, garlic, onion power, brown sugar and more. Find the right interplay of elements — matching the right sauce and rub to the right meat — and that perfect balance of temperature and time. For home barbecue that doesn’t have to meet strict KCBS standards, try injecting apple or pineapple juice to flavor and tenderize some meats.
The Royal Business
Since 1980, the Kansas City Barbeque Society has put on the largest barbecue contest in the world, known as the American Royal World Series of Barbecue. To qualify for the invitational, which takes place the Saturday of the first full weekend in October, teams have to have been a Grand Champion in at least one KCBS-sanctioned state contest during the competition season that runs roughly from March until the Royal. There were about 60 such competitions in Missouri alone last season. About 170 teams worldwide qualified for last year’s invitational.
Anyone is eligible to compete in the Sunday Open. Last year, the event had to be moved from its traditional Stockyards District venue to Arrowhead Stadium to accommodate a record 617 teams from seven countries.
Competition rules are strict. Teams must cook to exacting KCBS standards all four categories of meat — chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder and brisket. There must be enough for six judges who blind taste each team’s meat from each category and rate on appearance, taste and texture/tenderness.
Backyard barbecuing often bears little resemblance to competition fare where a chef has just a single bite to wow the judges. A winning rib, for instance, must stay on the bone, its meat firm enough to show a single, clean bite mark; whereas the hallmark of great backyard barbecue is meat so tender it falls off the bone.
When time’s up, teams must present their meat on beds of parsley or lettuce in Styrofoam boxes for the final tasting and judging.
There’s a lot at stake: Last year’s grand prize was $23,000 — “plus bragging rights, which is more important to most of us who are there,” Curry says. Even local competitions may offer purses of up to $10,000 paid out to three to five competitors in each category and the top three overall.
“There’s a lot of time and money invested,” Curry says. “Friday night is the night for drinking a few beers together and telling some jokes, but come midnight, the competition is on.”
The Beta Beta Que Society (www.betabetaque.org) has been around for at least a decade, serving as a fundraising arm of Columbia’s barbecuers. The group offers a centralized source of information about classes and contests, as well as informal networking, socializing and learning opportunities. Members also host small fundraising events benefiting local charities; they currently are building up a disaster relief fund that would deploy teams and their kitchen trailers to serve stricken areas.
Big Suze & The Brit BBQ Scene
One of Jay Curry’s Spicewine smokers dubbed “Big Suze” (named after a favorite comedy TV character) now enjoys something of star-status in England. It all started when Stephen Heyes, a computer program and barbecue aficionado from Reeding, England, attended his first American Royal in 2009, met Jay Curry and fell in love with the boxy smoker. Eventually, Big Suze made the 4,000-plus-mile trip across the ocean.
His first taste of barbecue, prepared by an American friend in England, proved “a total shock,” Heyes writes. “Suddenly, I was tasting something with a deep complex flavour, from the tang of the sauce, the bite of the rub and the undertone of gentle smoke. I was instantly in love and I had to learn more.”
In 2009, Heyes dove into the newly established British BBQ Society’s first competition circuit and set out that fall for The American Royal. Under the “nom de Q” Priscilla Queen of the Firepit, Heyes also holds popular fundraisers to benefit a mental health charity.
With a master’s degree in engineering and a day job in computer programming, Heyes relishes turning his analytical skills to his barbecuing inventions. Last year, he launched the One Man BBQ Army, selling 3,000 tubs of his signature rub that’s used in England’s emerging barbecue restaurant scene.
Later this year, “Priscilla” will get her own “Taste the Glitter” brand of rubs, with proceeds going to charity, too.
“We’re starting to see skilled cooks begin to put their own, British stamp on barbecue classics, too,” Heyes shares. “I believe the future is certainly bright for British BBQ.”
WHO: Steve Stone, competitive barbecue chef, shop foreman at Reed Heating & Cooling; Hot & Fast School convert; current president of Beta Beta Que Society
GO-TO EQUIPMENT: Hunsaker Vortex smoker
HISTORY: Has lived and been barbecuing in Columbia almost all of his life. “Back then, it was pour the charcoal on a grill and pour probably a pint of lighter fluid on it,” he recalls. “I have long since stopped that.”
Stone competes as the Shootin’ Smoke team (with partner Brad Sites).
8th place in pork in the American Royal Invitational (2015)
8th place in chicken in the American Royal open competition (2015)
“It started with a mission,” says Stone, who got the competition bug in 2006. “There was a certain barbecue sauce I liked that you could only get in summer.” A true believer in barbecuing every day no matter the weather, Stone was determined to replicate the taste of that sauce even with snow on the ground.
After creating his Trail Boss BBQ sauce that he liked even better, “I wanted to be able to put a blue ribbon on it for people to see that my sauce is a champion.” That desire led to competition.
“The competitions are fun, but I like the flavor, to play with the food. It’s a passion. It’s what I love to do.” Sites, whom he met at a Harley motorcycle owners group, was interested in barbecue and the two started competing more seriously about five years ago. His wife, Becky, often helps out, too.
Stone started in the low and slow camp — “and I’ve gotten great results with both methods” — but has since changed to a hot and fast style smoker “because I like to get some sleep Friday nights of the competition.”
He now uses a Hunsaker drum smoker that, like Spicewine smokers, is built right here in town. Stone helps owner and inventor Mark Hunsaker paint the barrels.
He preps his meats on Thursday so Fridays are free for hanging out and catching up with friends after they’ve set up the 18-foot mobile kitchen and tent, leveled their tables and set their flags flying.
Friday evening, the contest organizer will come by and examine all the meats to ensure they are USDA-approved and properly stored. After they get the go-ahead, Stone starts the final prep that includes injecting meats to enhance flavors and tenderness.
“It’s one big family out there — at least the day before the competition,” he says. “Once the competition starts, we don’t talk to each other. We do our jobs; then afterward we’ll root for each other again.”
“I was a low and slow guy for years. That’s all we ever knew. After we realized you could cook hot and fast in about a fourth of the time and still get championship results, why not? That’s one thing it seems most of us don’t have so much of — time.” — Mark Hunsaker, Hunsaker
WHO: Mark Hunsaker, an insurance claims adjuster for the last 34 years, now works as a large-loss commercial property specialist to pay for his habit of building smokers on nights and weekends. He and his wife, Pam, moved to Columbia in 1994.
GO-TO EQUIPMENT: His invention, the Hunsaker Vortex smoker
HISTORY: Grew up on a farm near Quincy, Ill., where he got his taste for welding and working with metal, even putting himself through college working at a welding and machine shop on weekends, nights and holidays.
Hunsaker has two patent-pending designs and a third in the works.
Vortex Fire Basket
The Basket, a new way to cook vertically in drum smoker that resolves the inconsistencies of cooking flat
Where does he come up with all these ideas?
“It’s called redneck physics,” Hunsaker says. “People always ask, ‘Do you have an engineering degree?’ I say, no, I grew up on a farm. We just did stuff.”
And while part of that “stuff” included learning to weld and repair and make equipment, it also involved cooking for families and friends.
“Life’s pretty rough sometimes,” he says. “I’ve yet to see a group of people together at a barbecue who were frowning. They’re all smiling, having a good time, enjoying each other’s company. The smells are fantastic. And they’re looking forward to great food.”
Hunsaker first started designing and building large insulated smokers in his garage. At a Polar Bear BBQ Challenge about four Februaries ago, he noticed that the competitors cooking on lower-tech drums were winning. They cost less to manufacture and less to buy, and were lighter to move; yet they produced great results. He never looked back and is now getting ready to move out of his small shop into a space three times the size. Hunsaker Vortex drum smokers dramatically streamline the cooking time. “With the traditional way, it can 12 to 14 hours for a brisket, and we’re getting them done in 3½ hours with the same high-quality results,” Hunsaker says.
His unique design mixes the air and gives a consistent, even cook throughout the smoker. The new vertical basket inset ensures a full infusion of flavors and moisture that cannot be duplicated when meat lies flat.
The smokers are great for tailgating (custom school colors are available) and for Thanksgiving spreads, too, He can fit as many as 10 turkeys at 15 pounds apiece in the smoker, where he also enjoys cooking nontraditional “barbecue” items such as pizzas and casseroles.
Ultimately, Hunsaker says, whatever the equipment, “It’s the cook who knows how to prepare it, cook it and serve it that really sets their end product apart from your average offering.”
The Family Business
WHO: Lloyd Henry, from Waterloo, Iowa; former professional football player who returned to college to complete his degree and was hired as a salesman for IBM before becoming a 26-year State Farm Insurance agent in Columbia
GO-TO EQUIPMENT: “Old school” smoker hand-built by a gentleman outside of Boonville
HISTORY: Barbecue was just the family way of cooking even before Henry married into a St. Louis barbecue family. He and his wife, Fontella, ran Lloyd’s Ribhouse on Ninth Street in the 1980s before Henry went to work for State Farm. A few years ago, the couple realized how much they missed barbecuing, started a side catering business out of a food truck, and last year opened Big Daddy’s BBQ stand, open for its second season at Garth Avenue and Business Loop 70. Big Daddy’s offers takeout or street-side patio seating.
BRAGGING RIGHTS: “We do everything the old-school way, says Henry. “You can’t get any more primitive than cooking with fire by wood, trees and sticks and limbs inside of a chamber, and the heat from that chamber goes into a second chamber where the meat is sitting waiting for that heat to smoke it. That’s old school.”
Seasoning defines barbecue, too, and for Henry it’s all about soul food and Southern cooking. “Seasoning is part of how you grew up, how you were taught to cook, the foods you ate growing up, what you saw other cooks use,” he says. “You learn those things from your culture and your environment.”
Henry may use regular seasoning salt as a base, but adds special touches — maybe some ground cumin or Jamaican spice blend his family has used forever that’s like a “turbo charger” for other flavors in the rubs and meats.
When Henry says “soul food,” he means “soul like what comes from deep within you — what brings together memories and experiences of your family and the people you knew and the culture you grew up in” — like serving up an old family cornbread recipe from Mississippi with a grainy texture that goes perfectly with a mixture of seasoned collard and turnip greens.
Many people come just for the potato salad that involves “one something we do that no one else does.” But it’s that one simple — and secret — thing passed down through the generations that makes all the difference in the world, Henry says.
And when it comes to the star players — the ribs and brisket — “you’ve got to be very, very patient,” Henry says. “You’ve really got to be a tremendous babysitter. You’ve got to use your instincts, your smell, your experience. You put the meat in there, and you watch, and you tend it, and you wait … There is no substitute for it and nothing else like it.”
WHO: Darryl Smith, Baltimore native, former university professor, Public Radio International guy and University of Missouri law school graduate who has shuttled back-and-forth between other cities and Columbia since the late 1980s
GO-TO EQUIPMENT: Spicewine Ironworks smoker; two Webers; a cast-iron hibachi; always on the lookout for more
Kansas City Barbeque Society Certified Judge
HISTORY: In college, barbecuing was all about getting together with friends but Smith, a foodie at heart, was always looking to elevate the taste and presentation. “I started with a little R2-D2 looking thing and turned out some decent stuff, but it wasn’t great,” he says. When he came back to Columbia, he bought a decent smoker and turned out even better barbecue, “and then I went to Lonnie Ray’s (in Harrisburg, now closed) and tasted the brisket, and I wanted to come home and weld my smoker shut and never cook a piece again.”
The sight of Jay Curry’s smokers on his competition trailer outside the shop and eventual purchase of one helped Smith overcome his despair.
“Then, I wanted to see if I could produce as good a quality barbecue as those who do it on the competition circuit,” he says, “and the best way for me to do that was to become a [KCBS] judge, which requires cooking with the best teams to see how it’s done.”
“I don’t think you ever really master barbecue because you have so many variables. You can do the exact same thing on another day, and it’s not exactly the same … the meat was a little different … a little less sauce or salt … That’s part of the challenge and fun of it,” Smith says.
“Barbecue is about America because every region has its own style of barbecue that it’s loyal to,” he says. “You can travel America, have this one thing called barbecue and have this completely different experience, a taste of the history of the place.”
By smoking meats that were traditionally too tough to be served to the well-to-do, everyday people not only made the food edible, “they made it the food of America,” Smith says.
“The one thing barbecue does in this world … forces you to slow down. You can’t rush the smoke. Barbecue makes you slow down and think what you’re doing. It’s this magical thing that you just don’t get from other foods.”
Be patient. Almost all big chunks of meat “stall” when the collagens are converting and evaporating, Smith says. “It’s the weirdest thing to look at your thermometer, and it’s been stuck for an hour at the same temperature. If you can wait through that, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Don’t skimp on thermometers. “Thermometers are the absolute good key to cooking barbecue. The only thing I don’t use them for is ribs. (see 3-2-1 tip).”
Wood choice is essential. “You need different wood blends for pork, brisket, chicken, everything. Woods will complement my seasoning, which will complement the sauce. You learn that just by playing around.”
Begin with the best. Start with a good commercial seasoning and sauce from local providers, Smith advises. Find what you like. Then blend in your own seasonings, trying lots of flavors to find what works and what you like.
Experiment. “Lots of things don’t turn out well,” Smith says. “You don’t have to serve them.”
Log everything. “Keep a journal — what flavor you use, what seasonings, cook times, what was the temperature. I’ve got a little weather station, so I know the humidity, the outside temperature, the wind — because it all makes a difference. Everybody that cooks barbecue has their own secrets. It’s part of the tradition.”
Create and observe rituals. Everybody who cooks barbecue has some. I take a small shot of bourbon when I light the fire in honor of pitmasters from the past, for those who aren’t here to enjoy. The times I haven’t done it, something’s always gone wrong …”
As Easy As 3-2-1
Put ribs in smoker for three hours on the smoke. Pull them out.
Put a little coarse raw sugar on some aluminum foil, and then place the ribs on the foil. Brush the ribs with your favorite, preferably homemade, sauce. Apply lightly. Add a little olive oil, too.
Wrap the ribs in foil completely.
Put them back in the smoker for two hours, meat side down, bone side up.
After two hours, pull them out, turn them over. Put them back on the smoke for one hour.
They will come out falling off the bone every time, perfectly cooked.
WHO: Sam Bennett, an insurance agent who travels the country teaching property and casualty loss, has been feeding Columbians from his tailgate tent at every Tiger home game since he moved here in 1989; known for legendary crawfish boils and barbecue “feeds” that serve hundreds.
GO-TO EQUIPMENT: 4-foot rotisserie grill and dozens of half trays for tasty sides that often vie for top billing.
HISTORY: Grew up in the Missouri Bootheel in Mississippi County, son of Teddy Bennett, aka The Pillar of Truth, funeral director and cook, co-founder of the James Bayou Cookers known throughout southeast Missouri for their fundraising “feeds” of catfish fries, turtle cooks and squirrel fries. Bennett’s granddad ran a roadhouse that was a front for bootlegging operations. Regular community fish fries provided great cover.
“That’s where I got my love of cooking and serving barbecue,” Bennett says. “When I moved to Columbia in 1989, I brought that with me.” BRAGGING RIGHTS: “I’m a backyard barbecuer, but I guess I tend to do it on a little bigger scale. I can put on a pretty good feed.”
Since he came to town in 1989, you’ll have seen Sam Bennett at every Tiger home game in his tailgating tent, now near the corner of Mick Deaver Memorial Drive and Champions Drive, where there’s no such thing as a stranger.
“If I can’t feed 150 to 200 people, I really don’t even care to get the grill going,” Bennett says. You might be tempted to think he’s exaggerating until you pull up to the Knights of Columbus Hall north of town and find him feeding 350 people at one of his annual crawfish boils and barbecue parties that he’s been hosting every spring for about the last 20 years.
Some people golf, fish or hunt with a singular passion. Bennett — and an A-team list of about 12 to 15 friends he’s pulled together over the years — cooks and serves others.
“When you come out to a feed, it’s absolutely a casteless society whether you’re talking to a physician or you’re talking to a day laborer,” he says. “There are no elevations. It doesn’t matter if they were doing some kind of neurosurgery earlier in the day or if someone was doing drywall. It takes away all those barriers.”
“There are people who know one another and are beyond acquaintances solely because they knew me and came to these things. There’s no pretense … everybody’s just there to have a great time. You’re bringing people together to enjoy the food but mostly to enjoy each other.”
Crawfish get honorary barbecue status because these little crustaceans are a much-anticipated feature of Sam Bennett’s spring and summer feeds.
There’s about a five-month window when crawfish can be purchased live — roughly from the first part of February through about Fourth of July, depending on weather.
“And I will not cook a crawfish that is not alive,” Bennett says. For his March feed at the Knights of Columbus, for instance, he ordered about 200 pounds of live bayou crawfish from Natchitoches, La.
“Tuesday morning, they were in the pond; then chilled, bagged and shipped to Columbia. I picked up at FedEx Wednesday morning, purged ’em, cleaned ’em,” Bennet says. “I will not cook crawfish unless I can see them swimming around in the tub. And that night they were boiled and served” along with the usual barbecue fare.
ERIC BURKHART, aka Uncle Bubs BBQ, has outgrown his Eugene home and now comes to Columbia to teach his Competition BBQ Cooking Class that draws acolytes from both coasts and all points in-between. He’s as surprised as anyone. After seeing a program on TV, he thought competitive barbecuing looked like fun. He called his friend Jeff Sturgeon and on a whim, they started competing in April 2006. By October 2007, Bubba & Jeff’s BBQ had won the American Royal. He now competes as Uncle Bub’s BBQ with his wife, Robin, continuing the winning streak on hot-and-fast drum smokers.
“I do it for the love of it, but the competitive part of it really gets me going,” Burkhart says. His two-day weekend classes held two to three times a year walk students through a KCBS-sanctioned competition. Some students have their sights set on winning the American Royal. Others “just want to be king of barbecue back home on their block,” Burkhart says. “I can show people how to do it. But you still have to work it out your own way. That’s always the X factor.”
ALAN LYNCH owns and runs a small assisted-living facility in Columbia. A few years ago, he attended one of the Beta Beta Que seminars at Moser’s, just out of curiosity.
“I was a weekend warrior when it came to barbecue and I wanted to get better, mainly to be able to cook barbecue at greater volume for the residents of the facility we run,” he says.
At Moser’s, Lynch learned about Eric Burkhart’s class and took it, and to say he fell in love with barbecue is probably an understatement. Now, he cooks two to three times a week at home and about once a month for the group home’s residents, as well as for parties for the residents and their families on special occasions such as the Fourth of July and Christmas.
An 18-by-30-inch tub of different spices and rubs keeps him experimenting. “It’s just one of those things: always practice, practice, practice,” he says. “There is just nothing like ribs and corn on the cob to create a sense of community and bring back great memories.”
KEVIN WALSH says the first and best piece of barbecue advice he got was from a neighboring contestant at the 1990 Schnucks BBQ Competition at its old location on Broadway.
“I had decided I needed a hobby, and barbecue represented a bare-knuckles approach to cuisine that appealed,” Walsh says.
“So it was that I and my pitman (firebug and fussbudget David “Lee” Truesdell) found ourselves of a Saturday morning in June, sweating over a hibachi, since I was convinced that simpler was better as far as putting fire to meat went.
“Our neighbor was busy flipping chicken around on a rusting Weber. He was, I would come to know, Cap’n Jim Froese, a brilliant artist and full-time eccentric, employed by MU Extension. As I recall, Cap’n Jim took third place chicken that day, while David and I went home empty-handed. As we were breaking down our gear, Froese wandered over and introduced himself. I asked for his secret to barbecue success, and he readily replied, ‘The problem is your grill.’ Not much of a rig if you want to bring home the gold, we thought. The opposite, it turns out. ‘You have to find your grill: pick it out of the trash like I did mine,’ he advised.
“I immediately took his counsel to heart. After rescuing and gutting a discarded gas grill from curbside, David and I used it to secure five barbecue trophies over the next decade before retiring in 2000.
“Lasting relationships aside, the only other two things I picked up during our ‘Championship Decade’ was that chopped pecans and blue cheese will put any version of coleslaw you like on its feet, and NEVER underestimate the power of cheap Italian dressing as a marinade.”
Good side dishes can’t make up for inferior barbecue, but like any talented sidekicks, creative dishes can make the stars of the meal shine brighter. Here are a few favorites.
Sam Bennett’s Mystic Beans take their name from the coming-of-age movie “Mystic Pizza” that pays tribute to a transcendental pizza experience the Connecticut town couldn’t do without.
“To call them baked beans does not do them justice,” Bennett says.
Here are the ingredients for a batch that serves about two dozen — recalibrate for your needs.. Complete instructions are at www.InsideColumbia.net.
3 16-ounce cans The Allen’s Original Baked Beans (or other high-quality baked beans) 2 16-ounce cans chili beans (mild or hot, based upon your preference) 16-ounce can Showboat pork and beans 16-ounce can dark red kidney beans, thoroughly rinsed and drained 16-ounce can sliced potatoes, thoroughly rinsed and drained 16-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, thoroughly rinsed and drained 1 pound bacon, cut into ½-inch strips 1 pound dark brown sugar Small red onion, chopped 2 green bell peppers, finely diced 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon lemon pepper 1 teaspoon garlic powder ½ cup lemon juice 2 cups KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce One tablespoon Liquid Smoke
Among the 20-plus sides he makes, Bennett’s favorites include:
Coleslaw: “If you did coleslaw every day for two weeks, you wouldn’t even begin to dent all the different ways there is to do it,” he says. “Vinegar base, sweet creamy base, or add cubed Granny Smith apples or lo mien noodles, and that’s just for starters.”
Cheesy polenta or grits: “People think grits are what are served on the side at Cracker Barrel that nobody’ll eat. Start with quality cornmeal and add garlic, onion, real melty cheese, then put on the rotisserie or grill where it will get smoked.”
Hot hominy: “Take white and yellow hominy, cook in a stockpot, drain it, and then add Velveeta or other melty cheese, milk, fresh or pickled jalapeños, along with favorite savory herbs or spices. Then turn into a half tray and onto the rotisserie.”
“Nothing beats Bootheel soul food like collard greens and ham hocks, finished on the smoker.”
Cornbread with jalapeños and cheese
Fruit cobblers of any kind
Lemon-grilled catfish fillets cooked on the rotisserie
Hasselback Potatoes à la Darryl
When smoking meats, Darryl Smith prefers his sides simple — grilled veggies with a hint of olive oil, salt, pepper and seasoning, tucked next to the ribs on the smoker. He saves fancier fare, like this Hasselback potato recipe, to accompany prime rib or steaks on the grill.
Since a whitewater kayaking accident ripped up his shoulder, Smith’s knife skills have suffered. Here is Smith’s neat little trick to make perfect Hasselbacks.
Push a chopstick all the way through the potato, parallel to the bottom. Cut 1/8-inch slices down to the chopstick, which stops you from cutting all the way through.
Slice garlic as thin as possible. Tuck into every other fold. Then take butter — “I prefer truffle butter,” Smith says, “just for that extra ‘What is that?!’ — and lightly smear on alternating folds. Rub the potato with duck fat and bake it like a regular potato on the grill off direct heat or in the oven.
Finish with crème fraîche. Sprinkle with good cheese liked an aged cheddar and/or add salmon roe or black caviar for an extravagant treat.