Up In Smoke
BBQ is a Northeast Florida mainstay throughout the year, but especially in the summer months. Ask any connoisseur what makes BBQ the best, and many will tell you it’s all about the long, slow smoke. Smoking food, however, isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a low-heat process of cooking that requires patience and stamina. Enduring long hours alongside a hot smoker to add flavor and tenderize meats is not for everyone. And as Chef McKinney at Orsay will tell you, it's culinary application extends well-beyond just BBQ. What’s the secret to becoming a successful smoke whisperer? We asked local masters for some tips and tricks.
Co-Owners Michael Schmidt and Chad Munsey, The Bearded Pig BBQ
Michael, the pitmaster and co-owner of the Bearded Pig has been smoking foods since he was a kid. What started as a past-time providing an opportunity to gather with friends has now turned into a career. After a stint in Boston working as an architect and caterer, Michael returned to Jacksonville and partnered with Chad, who also decided a change of pace was in order after years in fine dining at area favorites such as Bistro Aix, Ovinte and Biscotti’s. Together, they launched San Marco’s BBQ hot-spot. “This is the most fun I’ve ever had,” Chad said.
Type of Wood: The Bearded Pig uses white oak for most of the meats they smoke. “Sourcing local wood helps to impart the sense of place, the terroir, to the food. If we are cooking fish, camphor wood or cedar adds depth of flavor that’s delicious. Although the food is influenced by other factors, when you eat it, barbeque should give you a sense of place.”
Favorite Cuts of Meat: Shoulder cut or Boston butt for the pulled pork. “Our pork comes from a family farm that raises heritage Duroc pigs. This breed cooks more consistently, has more flavor and is always a good quality.”
Tip: Keep a consistent temperature the whole time, whether it is three hours or 12. You want to make sure you have clean, white smoke. “You can’t rush it. It takes time, and there’s no way to fast-track it. If you’re doing this at home, have fun — it’s not just for sustenance, it’s also for the sense of community.”
Pitmaster Chris Herrera, Captain’s BBQ
As a professional fishing guide, Chris has always enjoyed barbecuing in his backyard. He and his pals would have friendly competitions to see who could make the best smoked meats, and “I always won. I’m kind of a barbecue connoisseur. I decided to open Captain’s because there was no really good BBQ in the Palm Coast area, as far as I was concerned.” He teamed up with Mike Goodman, whose background was in a commercial bakery, and the resulting restaurant has placed them on Trip Advisor’s national list of Top 10 BBQ Spots.
Type of Wood: “We only use oak — since it is a local wood, and there is an abundant supply. I have the wood seasoned to my specifications. It’s kiln-dried so that it is 70 percent dry. You can’t use just-cut wood. Too green and too moist, you don’t get the right temperature and too much white smoke makes the meat taste bitter.”
Favorite Cuts of Meat: The ribs served at Captain’s are a St. Louis cut. “We start with the sparerib, remove the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips, then trim the fat off. It’s our standout dish. We are also doing a lot more smoked turkey and chicken based on changing customer requests.”
Tip: Use a Boston butt cut for pulled pork dishes. It’s part of the pork shoulder but without the bone, so it’s a better value. Also, for variety, try wood from pecan or orange trees when smoking pork.
Chef Michael McKinney, Restaurant Orsay
Although not exclusively a barbeque restaurant, several dishes on the menu allow Executive Chef Michael McKinney to indulge his love of barbeque. “We had some small pieces of leftover trout and decided to smoke that as an appetizer special. It became so popular, we have it on the menu all the time now. We also prepare scallops using a cold-smoke method, by placing a bowl of ice between the smoke source and the scallops, to lower the temperature. I’ve found that the lower the temperature, the more relaxed the protein is to absorb the smoke flavor.”
Type of Wood: “We like to use chunks of cherrywood for the scallops and hickory for the duck bacon at the restaurant.” At home, Michael uses applewood, especially for pork, because it brings out the sweetness of the meat. “I experiment on my days off to see which type of wood works best with different proteins to create the best flavor profile. If I am cooking chicken, I like to use oak.”
Favorite Cuts of Meat: “Generally I like to cook ribs. They can smoke in a couple of hours. I also like to smoke bone-in pork, Boston butt or shoulder, and cook it for about four to five hours.”
Tip: Use bones from the pork to prepare more flavorful homemade baked beans. “I also like to use a dry rub and then baste the meat during the smoking process to really enhance the flavor of the meat.”
Pitmaster Raymond Young, Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q
While working full-time, Raymond started a second job that would eventually lead to his career at Bono’s, where he has been pitmaster since 2000. “I really enjoyed cooking at home, and I would call people, tell them to come over and eat barbeque. When my other job ended, it seemed like a good opportunity to make my part-time job my career. I was at Woody’s BBQ for 18 years before I came to Bono’s. I’m really happy to find myself at a job getting paid for what I love to do.”
Type of Wood: “We use Blackjack oak, a tree that is native to Florida. It seems to give us a consistent temperature, and temperature is the more important thing. I check the smoker every hour and add wood to make sure there’s always smoke and heat happening. You gotta feed the pit, feed the fire, to keep it at the right temperature.”
Favorite Cuts of Meat: “We added beef brisket in the past few years, and that takes about 16 hours to cook.” Brisket is from the cow’s lower chest, and because of this location, it contains a great deal of connective tissue — hence the long cooking hours needed to tenderize the meat.
Tip: When cooking barbeque, “look for the smoke ring, the red pinkish ring around the edge of the meat, like the color of a small ham. That’s when you know you’ve got a perfectly cooked meat … I don’t even need to put barbeque sauce on meat like that!”