The Art of Barbecue over Hardwood Heat
Who can resist the sweet smells of wood-fired barbecue?
Not me. For the past 15 years or so I have been working to perfect the art of smoking and grilling foods exclusively over hardwood heat. There is no substitute for the flavour profile you get when you cook over a real wood fire or using real hardwood lump coal. The cooking process may take a little longer than a gas grill or electric smoker, but most great things require a little extra time and effort.
Some of my favourite recipes and information are in my blog under the BBQ category.
Low and Slow: Catching Fire
Before I made the leap into BBQ, cooking had been something I dabbled in now and then. I didn’t spend a ton of time on it and I definitely didn’t have a kitchen that resembled anything like a well-stocked chef’s kitchen, but there were a few dishes that I really liked to prepare. When I was living in France I picked up a few recipes that became my go-to dishes whenever I felt like putting a little extra effort into my food. But that was about it for me and cooking.
Then I started to spend a fair bit of time in Texas and the Carolinas (for business and pleasure) and I got exposed to true southern barbecue. It was unlike anything that I had seen here in Ontario. Tasting low and slow smoked meats prepared over wood fires and hot coals for long stretches of time was really eye opening. Suddenly I had the epiphany that those “ribfest” ribs were not necessarily the best thing going when it came to ribs. In fact, they are a far cry from true southern bbq in my opinion. Even worse, boiled ribs or slow cooker pulled pork tasted nothing like true southern barbecue. I started to see my mission in life unfolding before me.
I was hooked.
Back in 2000, finding a smoker in Southern Ontario wasn’t very easy. Smokers of all shapes and sizes are far more readily available now, but back then you had to hunt a lot more to find the right equipment. To hone my craft I got some early learning from pitmasters in Texas and North Carolina and that was enough to send me on my way learning the ins and out of how to create low and slow mouth watering dishes at home in my own backyard.
Quest for Fire: Going Beyond Southern BBQ
Over time, my passion for wood-fired bbq grew — and so did my collection of smokers. I am a purist, so I try to stay away from electric smokers and definitely any of those smokers that use proprietary woodchip “pucks” or that use wood pellets made from sawdust. If I can’t put real wood and hardwood lump charcoal in there, then that is not an authentic barbecue pit as far as I am concerned.
Nowadays I have a formal outdoor kitchen that I designed to meet my needs and cooking style. I have expended beyond only low-and-slow cooking and have ventured into Brazilian BBQ, Hawaiian BBQ and I even added a large wood-fired brick oven as part of my outdoor kitchen area. If it can be fired by real wood, it is okay by me. One of my personal favorite cookers is my wood-fired built-in grill. That is the one I use for Brazilian BBQ (I had to import the authentic Brazilian BBQ swords/skewers). It’s a lot of fun cooking five to seven courses of meat over a wood fire and my guests love the spectacle of the whole thing. A definite showstopper.
In total I currently have four smokers, one charcoal-fired grill (hardwood lump charcoal only — no briquettes), one wood-fired grill, a wood-fired brick oven and one gas grill. The gas grill doesn’t get as much use as the rest of the grill family, but it is handy to have for times when speed is of the essence or for cooking sides and other items.
Everyone Has a Story to Tell.
BBQ Chef and KCBS Barbecue Judge