The art of a true Pitmaster is steeped in tradition. Unfortunately what I know as tradition now falls under the heading of old fashion. The art form of a Pitmaster is an unappreciated skill in urban settings unless it’s infused with vanilla notes and reduction sauces. But go to the backwoods of some hick town and folks like to see the fire and keep it simple. They don’t want the bougie stuff. What about the city settings makes the expectation different?
Although Bigmista was raised in Texas, he was not raised on Texas barbecue. His love and passion for the art came much later in life and was helped along by his Brethren. While Bigmista is a phenomenal cook in his own right, he knew jack all about bbq except how to eat it. He started out on the bbq competitor circuit way back when and it blossomed into a business. That is the very short version because right now it’s really not about him but about the tradition of barbecue that we try to hold on to.
When I got on this barbecue rollercoaster with this man I was hell-bent on staying true to the Texas barbecue I grew up with. Now I was raised in and around Los Angeles but my momma and ‘nem are from Texas. Not only that, they were church going folks so I grew up on barbecue sales at the CHUCH (not church) where all you got was beans, potato salad, and cheap white bread. My uncle still does it like this for his church. This kind of church barbecue was what they learned from their daddy on the farm. You know where Bigmista learned to barbecue? THE INTERNET!
That’s right, the world wide web was his introduction to the world of cooking cue. His first few attempts were laughable but because he is a natural cook, he soon got the hang of it. When he perfected the fat end of the brisket a sista was in cow heaven. My family only ever cued the lean end. I would watch them open that barrel pit and mop that brisket with whatever country concoction they made in the kitchen and think, good lawd this is gonna be good. Much to my own surprise it never lived up to my expectations. I never knew there was a whole ‘nother part that could be so damn unctuous (Bigmista’s favorite word). Bigmista made it so flavorful and moist I actually wanted the juice to roll down my chin and onto your shirt so I could relive the joy of that moment every time I saw that greasy stain. But alas, because of technology and friends far and wide calling at all hours of the night with advice and encouragement, did it lessen the tradition of barbecue or just the traditional eduction of barbecue, like all the things he learned to cook in his momma and daddy’s kitchen?
Just like me, Neil was raised by parents that didn’t really follow recipes and if they did they had to tweak it to make it their own. If there was a recipe in the family that was actually written down you better guard it with your life because the family would cut you to the white meat for letting it fall into the wrong hands. That’s because it was the value of the tradition of your granny pulling out her well-seasoned cast iron skillet. It was the tradition of mixing by hand over and over til your muscle ached that you knew how much love went into it. It was the tradition of family time that made a strong bond that lasted generations in good times and bad.
To me the tradition of barbecue and the skill of a Pitmaster encompasses all those things but as I said before It goes unappreciated. The sucky part is people come looking for all that love, time and effort but want it at happy meal prices. The love of a Pitmaster can be felt in one small bite. The skill it took for him to learn to trim a brisket in 5 minutes for a piece of meat that will smoke for hours does not compare to flipping burgers on a grill. Knowing that the ribs are done when picking them up and they bend but don’t break does not compare to a timer telling you the fries are done. The bone of a pork butt sliding out clean from the meat does not translate to an assembly line process. Are we so jaded that we can’t appreciate tradition but “ooh I saw you on the Food Network” is what gives it value?
And let's not ignore the rules, regulations, and air quality control issues that trim away at the tradition of cooking barbecue. I’m not complaining about, but it funny that in the middle of a suburban neighborhood people want to see flames licking the sky and hear the constant bubble and pop of meat juices racing to hit the coals below that starts them salivating. The whole aromatic experience is worth the price of admission I know but we’re in the city and they’re not having it. Heck, you’re not having it because as much as you want to see that show, someone, somewhere is going to do something unsafe and blame the cook for not telling them “the fire is hot.” I know Bigmista would love the experience of sitting by the fire with a beer but until we move to the backwoods of a hick town he’ll continue to churn out some damn good brisket, ribs, and pork on whatever he can get his hands on.