Monday, April 7, 2014

Virginia Smoked Ham - "A la Old Dominion"

P.D. Gwaltney Jr. in 1902 with the world's oldest country ham.
Photo courtesy of the Isle of Wight County Museum.
In a 1688 letter to the Royal Society of London, John Cayton declared that Virginia pork is "as good as any Westphalia (considered the finest hams in Europe at the time), certainly far exceeding our English [pork]." Clayton went on to explain that the secret of this superlative flavor was not due to just the pigs' unique diet but also the unique Virginia curing and smoking process of salting, smoking, and aging the meat.

Virginia smoked ham is a delicacy famous the world over. It has been rightly observed that “No self-respecting Southern pig can imagine a higher distinction than becoming, in due course, a Virginia ham – spicy as a woman’s tongue, sweet as her kiss, as tender as her love.” Even in early colonial times tons of Virginia hams were exported all over the world in order to meet demand. First in Virginia, then spreading throughout the world and other colonies, pork preserved by smoking it in the Virginia manner was uniquely Virginian as well as uniquely American.

An 1841 Pennsylvania newspaper writer wrote "smack their lips as heartily as I do over a good old Virginia ham, that fairly melts in your mouth". A writer for the Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia wrote in 1858 "A delicious Virginia ham on its bed of greens, engirdled by its rim of eggs (a la Old Dominion), and a slice of chicken or turkey, might do very well for a plain country gentleman's dinner for two or three times a week, and these could be had for the asking on every Virginia farm."

No wonder George W. Bagby, with his tongue in his cheek, wrote in his famous 1877 essay The Old Virginia Gentleman “a Virginian could not be a Virginian without bacon and greens” which struck an amusing note of truth in me the first time I read it and thought of the many meals of smoked pork, greens and deviled eggs prepared for my family by my Mother when I was growing up in central Virginia.

An eyewitness account of how colonial Virginians preserved pork was recorded by Nicholas Cresswell in The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell. Nicholas Cresswell (1751-1804), of Derbyshire, England, came to America hoping to acquire land and settle permanently, but personal difficulties, the uncertain state of affairs, and the Revolutionary War, caused him to return to England. His journal was written from rough notes taken during his trip to America between the years 1774-1777. While traveling, he visited or lived in Barbados, Maryland, Virginia, western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Philadelphia, and New York. He often includes lengthy observations on the towns he visited, frontier techniques and customs, and the social customs of both Indians and Europeans. His entry about Virginia for Tuesday July 26, 1774 is as follows:

"The bacon cured here is not to be equaled in any part of the world, their hams in particular. They first rub them over with brown sugar and let them lie all night. This extracts the watery particles. They let them lie in salt for 10 days or a fortnight. Some rub them with hickory ashes instead of saltpeter, it makes them red as saltpeter and gives them a pleasant taste.
Then they are hung up in the smoke-house and a slow smoky fire kept under them for three or four weeks, nothing but hickory wood is burnt in these smoke-houses. This gives them an agreeable flavor, far preferable to the Westphalia hams, not only that, but it prevents them from going rancid and will preserve them for several years by giving them a fresh smoking now and then."

In 1902, a smoked ham was overlooked and hung in one of P. D. Gwaltney Jr.'s packing houses for 20 years. Advertised as the world’s oldest Smithfield ham, Gwaltney fashioned a brass collar for the ham and took it to shows and expos to exhibit the preservative powers of his smoking method. The ham has also been featured in Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” in 1929, 1932 and 2003. Today, the ham resides in the Isle of Wight Museum and, we are told, it is still edible.

 During your summer travels, take the image of P.D. Gwaltney Jr. and his ham with you and document a great vacation moment with a photo of the image! Post your photo on the Isle of Wight County Museum and Historic Sites Facebook site or email it to them at The contest runs through Sept. 4, and we’ll announce the winner on Sept. 10. All entrants will be entered into a random drawing for a prize. Whatever your plans are – the beach, the mountains, the south of France or a staycation in your own backyard – be sure to pack the world’s oldest ham. He is ready for an adventure! The link to the "Pan Ham" site is

So, after all that you still want to know how to prepare a smoked Virginia ham? My Dad used to raise his own hogs, slaughter them, butcher them, and cure and smoke the meat. Here is how my parents have prepared smoked ham for as long as I can remember.

Step 1 - Soak the ham in cool water for about 36 hours changing the water about every 4 hours. This is to remove excess salt. You will need a large food safe bucket in a cool area below 40 degrees.

Step 2 - Remove the ham from the water and rinse it. Brush or trim off any parts that you don't want to eat. Sometimes there is discoloration or mold on the outside that doesn't look appetizing. Mold is a common and natural occurrence on aged hams much like aged cheeses. It signifies proper curing and does not affect the taste or quality.

Step 3 - Slowly simmer the ham in enough water to cover it until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. My Dad used to boil his in a pot sitting on the wood stove he keeps in the basement. You will have to add water throughout the cook to keep the ham submerged.

Step 4 - Remove the skin and excess fat from the outside of the ham. Rub the ham liberally with brown sugar and black pepper.

Step 5 - Bake the ham in a 400 degree oven until the brown sugar melts and forms a glaze. It will take no longer than about 15 minutes.

Step 6 - Remove the ham from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes and then enjoy. My parents used to let the ham cool and they served it chilled with hot biscuits. So tasty!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How Barbecue Helped Save Apollo Thirteen

Damaged Apollo 13 Module. Photo courtesy of

So, the movie "Gravity" failed to win best picture at the 86th Academy Awards. The winner of best picture this year, "Twelve Years a Slave," was a very good movie and deserved it more anyway, in my opinon. But, if you are disappointed, here is some barbecue related space age information that may make you feel a little better.

Apollo thirteen was supposed to be the third landing on the moon by American astronauts. Two days into the journey to the moon, an oxygen tank exploded crippling the spacecraft and seriously endangering the lives of the astronauts James Lovell, Mission Commander, Jack Swigert, Command Module pilot and Fred Haise, the Lunar Module Pilot. There is no doubt that the tireless and heroic efforts of the astronauts and the ground support crew saved Apollo thirteen and safely returned it to earth six days after embarking on their ill-fated mission. But, there is one other "hero" in all this that you probably never heard about: American barbecue.

The proper courses of action to resolve the many crises that arose during the Apollo thirteen mission were not always clear or without dispute. For example, one discussion among mission control personnel became particularly heated after Max Faget suggested that the crew perform a maneuver required to manage the temperature of the spacecraft by pointing out "That ship's had one side pointing to the sun and one pointing out to space for hours." The reply was "Do you have any idea what kind of pressure it's going to put on the crew to ask them to execute a PTC (passive thermal control) roll now?" Another chimed in "Or what kind of pressure it's going to put on the available power? I'm not sure we can afford to try something like that at the moment."

For several minutes there was a lively argument at the flight director's station as each person fiercely argued their position. Finally, Flight Director Gene Kranz stepped in saying, "Gentlemen, I thank you for your input. The next job for this crew will be to execute a passive thermal roll. After that, they will power down their spacecraft. And finally, they will get some sleep. A tired crew can get over fatigue, but if we damage this ship any further, we're not going to get over that."

Max Faget's original suggestion that caused all of that lively debate was

"That ship's had one side pointing to the sun and one pointing out to space for hours. If we don't get some kind of barbecue roll going soon, we're going to freeze half our systems and cook the other half."

Apollo spacecraft were protected first by a mylar foil coating that was applied to most surfaces. The second level of protection was the barbecue roll. This was a maneuver the spacecraft made as it coasted to and from the moon. It rotated slowly along its roll axis in order to disperse the heat from the sun so that it evenly and gently heated the spacecraft. The idea for this maneuver was inspired by watching barbecue cooks turning meat to prevent it from scorching.

When cooking barbecue over hot coals, it is important to flip the meat or spin it on a spit as it cooks. This does the same for barbecue that it did for the Apollo spacecraft. It evenly disperses heat so that there is no overheating or under heating. The temperature is even on all sides. The thought for Apollo spacecraft was, if it worked for barbecue, it will work for the Apollo spacecraft too. And, it did.

Apollo astronauts had to perform many tasks in order to successfully complete their missions. There were times when they had to tend to fuel cells and eliminate water in some systems. One of the most important tasks was making sure the thermal operation of the spacecraft was being done well. In the Apollo program, that mode of operation was called barbecue mode. The technical name of the
maneuver is the Passive Thermal Control (PTC) maneuver. During an Apollo 7 test in 1968, NASA learned "During translunar and transearth flight on future missions, it would be necessary to put the spacecraft into a slow “barbecue” roll to maintain an even external temperature." This maneuver, called "the barbecue roll," was first successfully tested twice on Apollo 7.

After Apollo, the barbecue roll was also employed by space shuttle crews too.

So, that's how barbecue helped save Apollo thirteen. The same principle that barbecue cooks use to barbecue a pig on a spit over coals to ensure that it doesn't scorch was also what was chosen by NASA to protect astronauts and the spacecraft in which they were traveling.

A Virginia barbecue c. 1900 doing the "barbecue roll."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Brother Lost and Found

This post isn't about food but, I did find it interesting. So, here you go.

On March 21, 1782 near Walker's Creek in what is now Bland County, Virginia, a band of Indians attacked settlers and their families in an attempt, apparently, to repel the foreigners that had invaded their land. Finding an entire family save one son at home in their cabin, they killed the father and took his wife and two of his children captive. Even though the band of Indians were immediately pursued by experienced woodsmen, they were never located.

A number of years later, General Rogers Clarke engaged in one of his several expeditions to quell the Indian threat in Kentucky was encamped on the banks of the Ohio river waiting for the return of a group of scouts led by a man named White. One account of the story claims that White was on an intelligence gathering mission looking to take an Indian prisoner for questioning. Another account claims that White was out looking for game. Most likely, he was out looking for game while on his mission for the General. Either way,  White discovered an Indian village after following "a faint trail." A short distance from where he and his group camped, he saw a solitary Indian sitting on a log mending his moccasins. White's first instinct was to shoot the Indian. But, after realizing that the sound of the discharging rifle might alert other Indians, he decided to stalk his prey instead.

Creeping softly up from behind, White "being remarkable for" his "size, strength, agility, courage and prudence" grasped the Indian by the throat and presented a pistol to his head. In a few hurried words in the language of the tribe, White explained that if he made any noise he would shoot him instantly through the head. This threat convinced the Indian to return to the General with White and his men. After returning to the General with their prize, upon beholding the Indian Clarke exclaimed, "This is no Indian!"

After interrogation, the "Indian" explained how he was kidnapped by Indians as a little boy near Walker's Creek. After attempts to confirm the truth of the many details of his story, White and the "Indian" realized that they were brothers. That "Indian" was his little brother that was kidnapped so many years earlier. White's brother would later serve in the Kentucky Legislature but was known to still spend months at a time in the woods.

Sources - A New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia, Joseph Martin, 1835 & History of Southwest Virginia, 1746-1786, Washington County, 1777-1870, Lewis Preston Summers, 1903

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Mystery of Virginia's Hot Potato

17th century Virginia Indian vegetables, no potatoes

In 1621, two years after being selected to be the first speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, John Pory was invited to a feast as the guest of king Ekeeks chief of the Onancock Indian tribe that lived in what is now Accomack, Virginia. He was fed, among other things, roasted oysters and "batata" (Spanish word for sweet potatoes). John didn't like the sweet potatoes because one burned his mouth as he bit into it without letting it first cool down to a safe temperature.

After that experience Pory reportedly said, "I would not give a farthing for a shipload." While sweet potatoes and potatoes are both "new world" foods, potatoes were first introduced in the colonies from a shipment to Virginia via Bermuda in 1621 rather than through trade with Indians, or so it has been thought. This is because no other Englishman mentions Virginia Indians eating potatoes or sweet potatoes in the early 17th century.

And, while we are discussing potatoes, let's discuss what we know first before we get into what we don't know. First, sweet potatoes are a completely different plant species than white potatoes. Sweet potatoes belong to the Convolvulaceae family which is known by its scientific name of Ipomoea batatas and also includes several varieties of morning glories that you may have growing in your flower garden. White potatoes, like Russets for example, are part of the Solanaceae family of plants belonging to the nightshade group. Yams are also another completely different species as well. Yams are monocots and are related to lilies and grasses and are native to Africa and Asia.

Potatoes and sweet potatoes were originally domesticated in the area of southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia around 7,000–10,000 years ago. Seventeenth century Spaniards would have referred to potatoes as "patata" and sweet potatoes as "batata". In fact, the English word "potato" is derived from "patata." You say patata I say batata, that's what it was all about in the 17th century. The Spanish probably got both first from the natives that lived in South and Central America and took them back to Europe with them in the 16th century.

So, how did sweet potatoes show up in 1621 on the table (figuratively speaking) of a Virginia Indian king and why were the Algonquin speaking Indians of Virginia using a non-Algonquin word? It's the mystery of Virginia's hot potato that needs to be solved!

On a side note, how potatoes arrived in Europe has never really been well understood. For over 200 years the "official" story was that potatoes were brought into Ireland by Sir Walter Raleigh who got them from Virginia. In fact, the Irish used to call them "Virginia potatoes." Again, this is doubtful as potatoes were not grown in Virginia in the 16th century as far as anyone can tell. Some now believe that Sir Frances Drake picked up potatoes while sailing around the coast of South America before picking up colonists from Roanoke Island around 1585 and brought them back to Ireland.

Muddying the waters more is the fact that in 1600, John Pory translated, edited, and published A Geographical Historie of Afirca, written in Arabicke and Italian by John Leo, a More, borne in Granada and brought up in Barbarie. In that work, Pory translated a passage and used the word "batata" saying it was from the West Indies. "They have good sustenance also by meanes of a root, called there Igname, but in the west Indies Batata." While the original author (or even Pory) could have been confusing yams with sweet potatoes just like we do today, the fact remains that the word "batata" was not unknown to Pory in 1621. Yet, he, supposedly, speaks of it in 1621 as though it was the first encounter he had with it. So, the questions around this event include:

1.) Is King Ekeeks' "batata" really sweet potato?

2.) Is John Pory relating a truthful account of the feast or did he embellish it?

3.) If "batata" is sweet potato, why didn't the other Englishmen like Smith, Clayton, Spelman, and Strachey mention them as they actually lived with Virginia Indians in the 17th century?

4.) Did king Ekeeks serve some other root or tuber that is native to Virginia and called it "batata" because he had learned the word from other European explorers and wanted to impress Pory?

5.) Did Pory misunderstand an Algonquin word that sounds like "batata"?

If Pory's account is accurate, and the "batata" he mentioned is in fact sweet potatoes, in all likelihood the Onancock Indians traded for them from the Spanish when they visited Virginia in the late 16th century and, for some reason, they didn't share them with other Indians in Virginia.

That is the story of Virginia's hot potato mystery. For some reason, it makes me hungry for sweet potato casserole.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Colonial Virginia Law Against Discharging Firearms at Barbecues: A Myth

There is an often repeated claim made in several books about barbecue that in the 17th century the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a law outlawing the discharging of firearms at barbecues. The accounts mentioned in the various books vary only on the date of the establishment of the law. Some authors say the law was established in 1610, another says it was 1650, another says "the 1600s," another 1690, others say "the 17th century." While it's true that Virginians did cook barbecue in the 17th century and they did own firearms, a look through the laws established in Virginia in the 17th century does not validate the claim that there was a law that specifically outlawed firing guns at barbecue events.

The first law against discharging firearms established by the House of Burgesses was made in 1623. The purpose of the law was to conserve gun powder; "The commander of any plantation do either himselfe or suffer others to spend powder unnecessarily in drinking or entertainments, &c." In 1624 the law was expanded to prevent the discharge of firearms on Sundays or at parties except for weddings and funerals. The reason given was that a gun shot was chosen as the alarm that Indians were attacking and they didn't want false alarms. It's easy to see why the colonists were so nervous in 1624 when you think about the Indian attack in 1622 that killed 347, more than one fourth, of the colonists.

As to the claim that the law against the discharge of firearms was established in 1610 by Virginia's House of Burgesses, that is impossible. The first meeting of Virginia's House of Burgesses was held at Jamestown, then called James City, on July 30, 1619. A record of the proceedings comes down to us in an account written by speaker John Pory. Twenty two members comprised the first Assembly. John Pory was selected to be the speaker and John Twin chosen to be the clerk.

To sum things up, while it was impossible for the law against discharging firearms at barbecues to be established by the House of Burgesses before 1619 and while no law specifically referred to barbecues, you could make the claim that it was illegal to discharge firearms at barbecues because only weddings and funerals were excluded from the law and both of those were excuses to throw a barbecue. The impact of the law actually made allowances for discharging firearms at barbecues as long as the occasion was a wedding or funeral rather than outlawing the act on such occasions.

Virginia colonists were the first to establish a representative legislature in colonial America. As a result, Virginia was also the first to develop a system of standing committees for the transaction of business. The standing committee system that developed in Virginia was carried over to the federal government Congress and is still in use today.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sage Wisdom From Pitmaster Ed Mitchell

Ed Mitchell, "the Pope of Barbecue" from Wilson, North Carolina, sums it up best:

"Cooking barbecue is a craft handed down from generations to generations. I like cooking barbecue this way because it’s something to hold on to that hasn't been tarnished yet. It allows all of us to interact. Barbecue was one of the things that held the tension down during the race movement in the 1960s. When there was... a barbecue, it did not matter who you were, the only thing that could settle any issue would be having a pig picking. It’s a feasting time, a festive time. Nobody's upset or mad and there's no other dish that powerful. And don't ask me why because I don't know. Maybe there's a connection with the Bible -- prodigal son went away, and when he came back they said, 'Surely kill us a calf' and roasted it barbecue-style." (Holy Smoke – The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Origin of Brunswick Stew - An Authentic 19th Century Recipe

Old Virginia Brunswick Stew

“We crossed the stream upon a shaking plank laid from bank to bank, and strolled down the slope to the scene of operations. An immense kettle was swung over a fire of logs that were so many living coals. The smell of Brunswick stew had been wafted to us while we leaned on the fence. A young man, who had the reputation of being an epicure, to the best of his knowledge and ability, superintended the manufacture of the famous delicacy. “Two dozen chickens went into it!” he assured us. “They wanted to make me think it couldn’t be made without green corn and fresh tomatoes. I knew a trick worth two of that. I have worked it before with dried tomatoes and dried sweet corn soaked overnight.” He smacked his lips and winked fatuously.”

This brief account of an 1844 barbecue held in Richmond, Virginia describes a scene that was typical of such events in the nineteenth century. Smoke lingering in the tops of trees, the enticing aroma of roasting meat in the air and the large kettle of simmering “barbecue stew” was a scene repeated over and over again all across the American South. The phrase “barbecue stew” refers not to a stew made of barbecued meats. Rather, it is a stew that was (and still is) traditionally cooked and served along with barbecue and it differs from region to region.

For the rest of the article and the recipe, navigate over to the Smoke Signals Barbecue Magazine site and check out the latest issue 13. In it I discuss the origins of Brunswick Stew, the modern Brunswick Stew rivalry between Virginia and Georgia, and the recipe for an authentic, 19th century Virginia Brunswick stew.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Three Sisters that Saved Jamestown

Potomac Salad

When the English arrived at Virginia in 1607, they found a vast wilderness inhabited by Native Americans who had lived in the land of Tsenacomoco (the Native American name for the tidewater region of Virginia; a.k.a. the coastal plain that is east of the fall line) for centuries. The English arrived thinking that they could thrive in the "new world" by replicating English towns and English farms growing English foods. After the Starving Time of 1609 - 1610 where most of them died of starvation and disease, they realized just how wrong they were. Under the leadership of John Smith, the English began to learn that the key to survival in the "new world" was to adopt the ways of the native people that were thriving. That meant that the English would have to learn the ways of the "salvages."
A Patawomeck Pot traded to an English
Colonist. Analysis shows that a maize and
venison stew was the last food cooked in
it before it was discarded by the
colonist after his "Indian" meal.
Over the first three decades of English settlement in Virginia, the efforts of the Powhatan Indians saved the English colonists from death and starvation. The Patawomeck Tribe that established villages along the Potomac river in Virginia were particularly key to English survival. Many accounts of the early English colonists tell of the corn (maize), beans, and squash the Patawomecks supplied to the English saving them from starvation.
The 2009 United States Native American
$1 Coin Depicting a Native American
Woman Tending to a Milpa.
Today, the three crops of maize, beans, and squash are known as the three sisters. The Native Americans of the Southwest called their fields of maize, beans, and squash "milpas." Scientists have since learned that those three important foods grown together in the same garden complement each other; each providing benefits helpful to the other two. In the estimation of H. Garrison Wilkes, a maize researcher at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, the milpa “is one of the most successful human inventions ever created.” Corn provided a natural pole for the bean vines to climb. Beans trapped nitrogen on their roots thus improving the overall fertility of the soil by providing nitrogen for next year's corn. The bean vines also helped stabilize the corn plants making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines served the same purpose as mulch shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating which improved the overall crop's chances of survival. The Patawomeck method of inter-planting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds is still a sophisticated and sustainable system for small gardens that provides long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet. And, today, corn (maize) is the most important crop in the world.

This Thanksgiving, take a look at your table. There is still much Patawomeck and Powhatan Indian influence at work even today. The turkey, corn (maize), beans, squash and pumpkin and North American varieties of nuts were all foods that the Natives of Tsenacomoco taught the English to hunt, grow, cook, and enjoy. There is no question that the three sisters saved Jamestown from disaster. And, the importance of those three foods are seen today more than ever.

To celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I decided to create a dish that, I think, captures the food preferences of both the English and the Natives of the 17th century. I call it "Potomac Salad." It is a dish with Patawomeck Native American ingredients seasoned with ingredients like the English would have used.

Potomac Salad

1 medium sized butternut squash
1 15.5 ounce can of kidney beans, rinsed
1 15.5 ounce can corn, drained
Bacon Fat, warmed until liquefied
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
1 Tsp Dijon Mustard
1/2 medium sized red onion cut into thin strips
Salt & Pepper to taste
Pinch of ground cayenne pepper (optional; but I have strong reason to believe the English colonists in 17th century Virginia would have used it often instead of black pepper)

Peel and cut the squash into about 1" cubes. Reserve the seeds. Toss the squash with salt and pepper and a little bacon fat (Virginia smoked pork). Toss the seeds with a little bacon fat too. Roast the squash and seeds in a 350 F degree oven turning them once or twice until done. The seeds should be done in about 15 - 20 minutes. The squash should be done in about 30 minutes.

Make a vinaigrette using 4 TBS of bacon fat, 4 TBS of ACV, the mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the corn, beans, roasted squash, onion, and vinaigrette to a skillet and heat over medium heat until hot. Use the seeds as garnish and serve as a side or by itself over mixed greens.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Carolina's First Female Pitmaster

Tuffy Stone, Mellisa Cookston, & Myron Mixon at the 2013 Barbecue Jamboree
in Fredericksburg, VA. Move Over Boys, the Ladies of Barbecue are Rising Fast!

Today, women are excelling in the barbecue world. No longer can it truly be said that the grill and the barbecue pit are the sole domains of the male gender. Women like Mellisa Cookston, Lee Ann Whippen, and Danielle Dimovski, and so many others have made a respectable mark on the modern and formerly male dominated activity of cooking barbecue. So, in honor of that, here is the earliest known account of a Carolina pitmaster who also happens to be a woman.

In 1709, John Lawson's A New Voyage to Carolina was published in London. In it, Lawson provides accounts of his exploration of the interior of Carolina in 1700 and 1701. The book contains accounts of native Americans, the natural history of the Carolina region, and a long list of words in various Carolina Indian dialects. The first part of the book contains Lawson's journal, followed by separate sections devoted to a description of North Carolina geography, produce, insects, animals, and fish, and of the Indians. Lawson's book has since come to be regarded as a classic of early American literature.

Lawson's account of arriving at the Waxsaw Landlord's cabin is of particular interest to barbecue buffs. At the time of his arrival, preparations were being made for a great feast among the Indians in commemoration of their abundant harvest of corn they had reaped the summer before. He describes the visiting ambassadors from another tribe, the painted faces, and, the result of English influence on the Indians, at least one of them was armed with a cutlass and a flintlock rifle (fusee).

Besides the Indian men, Lawson also described a woman he observed who was busy cooking. Describing her as a "She-cook" he marveled at how often she cleaned her hands while preparing the feast. This very well could be the first account of a female pitmaster cooking what is now considered American style barbecue in existence. In Lawson's account he describes a "cabin" near an outdoor English style kitchen managed by an Indian woman who cooked "barbakue" and "White-Bread." Couple that with the cutlass and flintlock and it's easy to see the strong influence the English had imparted to those Natives. While Lawson's "She-cook" may not be the first Carolina pitmaster, his account is certainly one of the oldest, if not the oldest, of anyone cooking American style barbecue in history.

At our Waxsaw Landlord's Cabin, was a Woman employ'd in no other Business than Cookery; it being a House of great Resort.  The Fire was surrounded with Roast-meat, or Barbakues, and the Pots continually boiling full of Meat, from Morning till Night.  This She-Cook was the cleanliest I ever saw amongst the Heathens of America, washing her Hands before she undertook to do any Cookery; and repeated this unusual Decency very often in a day.  She made us as White-Bread as any English could have done, and was full as neat, and expeditious, in her Affairs.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Obsessive Compulsive Barbecue's Cook Team - Man vs. Pig Won 1st Place at Chili Fest 2013!

Obsessive Compulsive Barbecue's cook team Man vs. Pig won 1st place at the annual Fredericksburg, VA Chili Fest cooking competition this past Saturday! We won 2nd last year and worked hard to achieve 1st against very tough competition. Team members (from left to right in the pic) are Joe Haynes, Mark Haynes, John Rudy, and Sam Clayton.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Don't Wash Your Chicken!

Researchers at Drexel University and New Mexico State University have started a campaign called Don't Wash Your Chicken! "There's no reason, from a scientific point of view, to think you're making it any safer," explains Drexel food safety researcher Jennifer Quinlan, "and in fact, you're making it less safe." Studies back Quinlan up: The only way to kill the bacteria on chicken is to cook it properly.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Barbecue Secret Number 14 - How to Get a Low & Slow Bark on a Hot & Fast Brisket

Blackhawk Brisket

This brisket recipe was inspired by a renowned 19th century Virginia beef barbecue cook named "Blackhawk." Yes, people in Virginia have been barbecuing beef longer than people in any other state including Texas and the tradition goes back to the 17th century. This recipe is my tribute to Blackhawk and all the other great, old time Virginia barbecue cooks that don't get their due.

The biggest problem many have with hot and fast brisket is the bark. The bark on a typical hot and fast brisket just doesn't measure up to the bark of a brisket that has been cooked for 12 to 14 hours at a lower temperature. So, this recipe is my attempt to rectify that situation. I call it Blackhawk brisket.

First, the basics: A good bark is the result of several things going on during the cooking process but one of the most important things is the Maillard reaction. This is where the natural sugars and proteins in the meat begin to brown while cooking. There are several main things that influence this reaction: sugar, protein, heat, and the PH level of the surface of the meat are a few. If you want to read more - try here.  Now, let's get started on how to barbecue a Blackhawk brisket.

Start with a large full packer brisket. I don't usually cook full packer briskets smaller than 12 pounds. Trim it up and remove the excess fat from between the point and the flat. This is done to increase the amount of bark I would have on the burnt ends. Check this post for the details on trimming a brisket. Barbecue Secret Number 11 - How to Trim a Brisket.

For this process to produce the best bark you need to remove all of the silver skin and as much of the fat possible from the top of the brisket flat. Then, using paper towels, dry the top surface of the brisket as much as possible.

Next, instead of keeping the surface of the meat flat and smooth, use a fork to cut some shallow "troughs" in the surface of the meat going in the same direction as the grain as shown in the pic. This is done in order to create more surface area for the bark to adhere to. And, as the great Adam Perry Lang taught us, more meat surface equals more Maillard reaction which means more flavor.

Brisket surface "roughed" up with a fork

The next important part of the process is to use something under the brisket while it cooks that will create a curved or slanted surface. This is important so that juices from the meat don't pool in one spot. The juices pooling will wash the rub off and eliminate any chance of a good bark developing.

Keep the surface of the meat curved to let juices flow off rather than pool.
You can inject the brisket at this point in the process if you choose. Just make sure you let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to let the injection work its magic. After an overnight rest, again use paper towels to dry the surface of the brisket. The overnight rest isn't needed if you don't inject the brisket.

Now, let's deal with the PH level of the meat. Sprinkle the top surface of the brisket with about 3 half pinches (just as much as can be picked up with thumb and forefinger) of baking soda. Yes! That's right! Baking soda! Just a light sprinkle all over the top surface of the brisket is needed. Don't use too much.

After the light sprinkle of baking soda, apply a light coat of peanut oil all over the surface of the meat. The last step in this stage is to apply a light coat of molasses. I use the molasses as the base of the bark. It won't make the meat taste sweet. It just sits in the background and turns to caramel as the meat barbecues.

Brisket with baking soda, oil, and molasses

Now, apply the rub. You can use any rub you like. One of my favorites is my Blackhawk rub and is made from the following:

4 TBS Sea Salt
6 TBS Coarse Ground Black Pepper (16 mesh)
3 TBS Fine Ground Black Pepper
1 TBS Fine Ground Cayenne Pepper
2 TBS Granulated Garlic

Apply the rub all over the surface of the meat. Touch it up, if needed, by sprinkling some fine ground black pepper over the brisket to cover any spots that need it.

While the prepped brisket rests, fire up your smoker to 325 degrees F. I use white oak chunks for smoke. Make sure your fire is burning very clean before adding the meat. The smoke coming from the chimney should almost be a clear vapor.

Put the brisket on the smoker and let it cook for 2 1/2 hours. After 2 1/2 hours, Wrap the brisket with foil but leave some space between the foil and the top of the brisket much like a foil tent.

Blackhawk brisket wrapped in a foil "tent"

Let the brisket continue to cook for about 2 more hours until it probes tender like "butta." I'd say the internal temp will be about 208ish F. But, please don't go by temperature alone. Make sure that if you peirce the meat with your thermometer that it feels like you are putting the thermometer through butter. Once tender, remove the foil and let the brisket rest for 1 hour.

Here are the results. The top pic was cooked using the Blackhawk rub. The 2nd pic was cooked using Smokin' Guns Hot. The burnt end was cooked using Blackhawk rub.

Blackhawk Brisket

Blackhawk Brisket
Blackhawk Brisket Burnt End
Now, there are two main things going on here. The molasses is caramelizing while the surface of the meat is also caramelizing because it is experiencing the Maillard reaction. The baking soda raises the PH level of the surface of the meat. This is important because the higher PH level causes the Maillard reaction to occur quicker which means it will now occur longer than without using the baking soda. This produces a bark that is much closer to a long cook brisket bark than a typical hot and fast cooked brisket.

If you doubt that baking soda speeds up the Maillard reaction, take a look at this video made by a friend of mine who also doubted it. He tried it while sautéing onions and peppers. One of my nicknames is Boshizzle, by the way. And, Pitmaster T used way more baking soda than he needed. :)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Great Tip For Removing the Membrane From Ribs

In this video, Greg Rempe of the BBQ Central Radio Show demonstrates how to easily remove the membrane from the back of baby back ribs. It's a great tip and I LOVE the background music!