I am not southern, but my family is, which is to say I was brought up to know the difference between grilling and barbecue, and therefore I have tried very hard to stop being that annoying guy who feels compelled to point out that, no, in fact, we are not barbecuing out in your backyard with the Weber. We are grilling. And then a few weeks ago, there I was in my buddy’s tiny backyard in the rain, working the Weber, but we were doing actual barbecue, with the smoke and the low heat for hours and hours. The recipes were from a restaurant cookbook. And the restaurant, Pitt Cue Co., is in London.
When I first came across the book—and it is hard to miss with its international orange cover—I considered sending it down to some family in Texas to see what they thought of it, but then I realized that would be the last I’d see of this collection of imported barbecue know-how, which surely would have been confiscated somewhere along the way and denounced as sacrilege. This would be a shame, because it’s fantastic: the list of ingredients for some recipes (and their sub-recipes) can be intimidating, but the food is killer. And most importantly for those of us in urban areas who do not have huge yards and outdoor kitchens and dedicated smokers, it lays out how you can reasonably achieve excellent, smoky barbecue flavor using your cruddy ol’ grill. (Makes sense: about the only place on the planet less hospitable than New York for proper barbecue is London.)
Also, London. London! What on Earth could the Brits know about barbecue? My friend Mike and I set out to find out. The menu:
-Deviled Eggs with Roast Chicken Skin
-Burnt Tomatoes & Shallots on Toast
-Jalapeño & Sour Cream Corn Bread
-Three sauces: Mother Sauce, Pitt Cue Barbecue Sauce, Chipotle Ketchup
-Pitt Cue Smoked Brisket
I would recommend going shopping at least a day ahead, because you’ll need a bit more of things that you probably have just not quite enough of scratching around in the back of the pantry, and also you’ll want to start cooking early the day of. Set-your-alarm-clock early. Mike fell on that sword, waking up on a very London-esque drizzly spring morning to pound one of Pitt’s several spice rubs into the brisket and get the grill set up. The latter was a bit of chewing gum and duct-tape engineering, but after riffing on the instructions in the book, he set up a couple zones on the grill (direct and indirect heat), got some smoke going with a handful of soaked wood chips, and managed to keep a steady temp around 240. Brisket got tossed on before the kids were done with Saturday morning cartoons, and then the work began. Well, something work-like. The nice thing about barbecue is you get the meat prepared, you throw it on the smoke, and then you just kind of sit around, talk a bit, drink some warm beer, get the sauces going—and they are pretty low maintenance, because you’re basically reducing a ton of ingredients down to concentrated flavor magma. While the sauces were doing their things, we chopped up some vegetables, made the cornbread and the slaw, and worried over the grill temp.
We screwed up a couple dishes. Actually, we didn’t. I did. I went off script with the chicken skin for the deviled eggs and ended up burning them to a second terrible death. Also, the Pimm’s Sorbet never set (again my fault: ice cream bucket thing wasn’t cold enough), though that wasn’t much of a tragedy because we just mixed the base with some ginger beer and had some impromptu Pimm’s Cups. Everything else, though, was magnificent. The brisket was on the grill for seven or so hours, the ribs about five. They would have gotten us run out of town in Cibolo, Texas, but they killed it in Brooklyn. Flavor for miles, a dainty little smoke ring, just enough chew, and the brisket just sang when you dunked it in some sauce. The meat on the ribs, meanwhile, came clean off the bone. You wanted to take a bite and high-five someone. The cornbread was rich and creamy, almost puddinglike in consistency (and yet still bready: magic!). A surprise hit was the tomatoes and shallots on toast. Surprise mostly because this was barbecue day, and tomatoes and shallots on toast has no pork or beef on it. Or barbecue sauce.
Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook is a winner. Plan your menu ahead of time and you’ll be fine. The recipes in here beg for a crowd, so invite a bunch of people over and enjoy that moment of glory when you start slicing up the brisket and everyone watches on, hushed in silent reverence. Soak it up, and maybe don’t tell your guests that the recipes were written by some guys in London. Not till they’ve polished off a plate or two, at least.
Pitt Cue Co. The Cookbook. Tom Adams, Simon Anderson, Jamie Berger, and Richard H. Turner. Octopus/Mitchell Beazley (Hachette, dist.), $34.99 (June) ISBN 978-1-84533-907-4