Monday, May 25, 2009

The ’cue masters: Barbecue experts share some tasty bits of advice

The Kansas City Star
Posted on Tue, May. 19, 2009 10:15 PM

Barbecue goes by many names in Kansas City: Arthur Bryant. Gates. Oklahoma Joe. You’ve no doubt made their acquaintances.

But to deepen one’s relationship with this food, there are a few more names you should know.

Kansas City is famous for its barbecue, sure, but also for its barbecue writers and teachers.

And this outdoor cooking season is marked by something unheard of, the arrival of five new books by five local grilling and smoking experts: Karen Adler, Ardie A. Davis, Judith Fertig, Paul Kirk and Richard W. McPeake.

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, it’s enough to hail this the Summer of Barbecue Love.

The books are instruction manuals on the art and science of outdoor cooking, as well as recipe books. One also serves as a guide to barbecue fare around the country.

The authors are indeed experts, respected nationally and internationally. But don’t let the word “expert” intimidate you. After all, if you have to get as twitchy about barbecue as you do about fine dining, something is very, very wrong.

These Kansas Citians are opinionated, even philosophical, about barbecue. But they are also hometown and laissez-faire. They love to share everything they know about barbecue while allowing you to find your own barbecue self.


Remember Ardie Davis’ story about the backyard brick pit? Paul Kirk has just such a memory of his backyard, only it was in Merriam, and his dad favored concrete blocks.

Branch trimmings from apple, pear and walnut trees were the fuel for the fire. Gatherings of Kirk’s extensive family meant cases of ribs and plenty of half-chickens.

But Kirk’s training actually started in the kitchen, where his mom kept her eye on him by enlisting his help baking cookies and cakes.

No doubt his success as a chef is owing to a God-given talent: “I’m fortunate my mom and dad were both good cooks.”

In high school, he carried hods for a brick mason and quickly learned why he got the job. “The only reason I hired you,” the mason said, “was to get your dad’s barbecue sauce recipe.”

What developed in Kirk was a kind of perfect pitch when it comes to recipes, the ability to re-create a dish after simply tasting it. Kirk, who lives in Roeland Park, has hundreds of cooking and barbecue awards, including seven world championships.

Chef Kirk trains barbecue restaurant staffs and, as the operator of Baron’s School of Pit Masters, has taught classes all over the world. He’s a partner in Righteous Urban Barbecue (RUB) restaurants in New York and Las Vegas.

On breaking it down for cooking newbies: Ever make sausage, Kirk asks students. Everybody says no, intimidated by the whole idea. “You’re lying, and you shouldn’t do that.” In fact, sausage is just chopped, seasoned meat, so anybody who has made a hamburger or a meatloaf is well on his way.

On smoking meat faster in aluminum foil: Kirk lampoons the method as the “Texas crutch,” a shortcut with a bad outcome. “I won’t compromise with what I do.”

On barbecue restaurants that ride their reputations: Some of the “big boys” — famous barbecue restaurateurs — aren’t in Kirk and Davis’ new book, which names their 100 favorite joints. “They ask why and I say, ‘Because we shopped you four times and you weren’t consistent.’ ”


Every Saturday before picking his dad up from work, Ardie Davis and his mom would stop at the brickyard and load a few more bricks into the trunk.

Eventually, they collected enough for his dad to build a backyard brick pit for grilling. His dad rigged a car jack to raise and lower the fire bed.

It was the 1950s in Oklahoma City, and just a block’s walk from his house, Davis and his friends could each score a barbecue sandwich, a bag of chips and a Dr Pepper or RC Cola for a quarter.

“It’s been in my blood a long time,” Davis says.

The modern age, you might say, of Davis and barbecue started in 1984 with an unusual barbecue sauce fixation.

First, he collected sauces. Then he organized a competition (the Diddy-Wa-Diddy National Barbecue Sauce Contest), which took place on his backyard patio. That evolved into the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste Contest and the sauce, baste and rub contest at the Great American Barbecue Festival.

Davis is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, which began in 1985 and now has more than 10,000 members. He helps confer Doctor of Barbecue Philosophy degrees.

“It’s a coveted degree” involving actual tests and requirements, says Davis, who lives in Roeland Park, “You have to work for it.”

On meat seasonings: Focus on basic cooking techniques rather than obsess about seasoning. “Once you’ve tasted things in what I call a more primal way, you’re going to be fussy about what you should add to that.”

On flare-ups when grilling: Don’t battle them. Have a hot zone and a cool zone when grilling. Move food to the cool zone during a flare-up.

On the biggest mistake when smoking meat: Lack of patience. A bone-in, untrimmed pork butt can cook for eight hours, a brisket for 10 or 12. “You have to save that for Saturday or Sunday.”

Five local barbecue aficionados have written new books. They are (clockwise from left) Ardie A. Davis of Roeland Park, Paul Kirk of Roeland Park, Richard W. McPeake of Shawnee, Judith Fertig of Overland Park and Karen Adler of Kansas City.

1 comment:

  1. Your's was the first bbq book for me and I am sure glad you started your blog. I'll be checking it often.