Wicked Good Barbecue: Fearless Recipes from Two Damn Yankees Who Have Won the Biggest, Baddest BBQ Competition in the WorldBy: Richard Wachtel
Published: February 22, 2012
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For this Week’s Barbecue Product Review, I received an copy of one of the hottest barbecue books that was just released titled: “Wicked Good Barbecue: Fearless Recipes from Two Damn Yankees Who Have Won the Biggest, Baddest BBQ Competition in the World.” I was really excited to do a review of this book because, while I love southern barbecue culture and really enjoy the South, there are many who think that just because you live or come from the North, you don’t know what true barbecue is, and to see such a high level of barbecue being made correctly, really brought a smile to my face. For this review I am going to do something a bit different and break down the review of the book into different parts: Photos; Actual Recipes (quality and content) and lastly my overall thoughts and review. I would highly suggest reading towards the bottom as in addition to the review of the book, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Chris Hart and talk to him about the book.
Photos: If you are a big fan of great photos, and tons of amazing photos to along with all the recipes in the book, then this isn’t a book for you. BUT the photos that were in the book were amazing and also made me to really want to try out the recipes. I liked the “homey” feel of the book and also the pictures that were taken. I actually liked how there wasn’t a big focus on photos, but more of a focus on the actual recipes and stories to along with the recipes. It
Actual Recipes: This is the highlight of the book for any serious barbecue enthusiast like myself. I loved the diversity of the actual recipes which range from competition tips to some different types of food that you can smoke in your smoker. With recipes ranging from such as the “$100 Meatloaf; Fried Mac and Cheese Pops” to desserts such as “Popcorn Ice Cream Sandwiches” and amazing recipe for the early morning during Barbecue competitions: “Grandma Wolff’s Super Smoked Scrapple” and “Bacon Cheddar Biscuits” just to name a few recipes.
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Overall Impression and Final Review: I love to grill and even more barbecue. Even though I haven’t been doing this for all my life like some other barbecue pitmasters, outdoor cooking has become my favorite activity to do during the weekend and also being from the Northeast I have been looking forward to seeing high quality barbecue come out of that region so I was extremely excited to see a bunch of serious pitmasters who live in the Northeast. With all that being said, I have also reviewed some great barbecue recipe books over the past two years, but this book takes barbecue recipes to a new level. In a very crowed space of books, Wicked Good Barbecue: Fearless Recipes from Two Damm Yankeese Who Have Won the Biggest, Baddest BBQ Competition in the World, not only sets the bar extremely high for the next barbecue recipe book, but it might be impossible to top. From its variety of recipes with step-by-step instructions on how to put these recipes together make this book a must have for any serious barbecue pitmaster and also the amateur barbecue enthusiast who wants to either step up his or her game, or just have a lot of fun on the weekends.
Interview with Chris Hart
Grilling with Rich: First off, thank you so much for providing Grilling with Rich with a copy of the book. The obvious first question is what inspired you to collect and print these recipes? Many would say your nuts for giving away your secrets?
Chris Hart: Thanks Rich. Well if you look at any good cookbook the backbone of it has to be honesty. There needs to be that connection of trust between the author and the reader in order for the book to be successful. I think good barbecue cooks can quickly sniff out when they aren’t getting all the details about a competition recipe.
One of my favorite cookbooks is the Momofuku cookbook and Chef Chang gives up all of his recipes including his famous pork bun recipe. We took the same approach. Also publishing our recipes gives me the excuse to come up with a whole bunch of new ones. One of our goals with the book is we wanted to add something new to the world of barbecue cookbooks.
So many barbecue cookbooks are dumbed down or “made simple” for the home cook. Our publishers encouraged us to do the opposite and provide all of the gory details no matter how complicated and trust that our readers would embrace the challenge. The other was we simply wanted to encourage people to get out and cook with fire outdoors. If we can inspire a group of people to trade in their gas grill for a smoker we view this as a huge success.
The other gratifying part is if a few newer teams find ways to win some ribbons using the recipes in our book. Ultimately though we just wrote the book we had in us and kept our fingers crossed that people would enjoy it.
Grilling with Rich: Give us some background on yourself and how you got into barbecuing.
Chris Hart: I was raised with a lot of exposure to the restaurant business and after graduating from college worked at Whole Foods for 5 years. In that time my good friend and co-author Andy Husbands started working at the East Coast Grill in Cambridge Ma for Chris Schlesinger. Chris wrote one of the seminal grilldev/barbecuing cookbooks around this time frame in the 90’s “Thrill of the Grill”. Andy and I were exposed to amazing outdoor cooking adventures mostly at Chris’ house in Westport MA. Andy and I went on to open Tremont 647 on Boston which revolved around an open live fire grill in the middle of the dining room. After a few years I decided to move on to a more stable profession – a job developing software. Around the same time frame – 1999- I got the competition barbecue bug and practiced nonstop in my backyard on my WSM. In 2002 I won my first invitation the Jack Daniels and have been every year for 10 years straight. The highlight of course was winning the Jack in 2009.
Grilling with Rich: What is your favorite thing about barbecue and outdoor cooking?
Chris Hart: I think first and foremost it just something that started at a very young age, probably with making Maine style bean hole beans when in the cub scouts. There was something about building a fire and then waiting overnight for the results that really appealed to me. From there I seemed to always gravitate to cooking outdoors be it for tailgating or weekend music festivals.
The most primal social activity we have is a group gathering around a fire. I seemed to always be looking for an excuse to spend a weekend in a field somewhere tending a fire and drinking out of a red plastic cup. When I was introduced to Competition Barbecue I was hooked almost immediately. The social aspect is obviously a lot of fun. Cooking with fire outdoors is really a craft. There is the science of time and temperature and airflow. But there is also the need to rely on your instincts – smell, touch, etc. – to cook something great. Balancing those two elements of cooking outdoors with live fire really appeals to me.
Grilling with Rich: What is your favorite recipe in the book and why?
Chris Hart: Duck, Duck, Smoke. We like to serve this as a Po Boy and it was kind of inspired by some of the amazing food at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Ours includes Duck Pastrami, Duck Confit, Braised Red Cabbage, Spicy Mustard and Cracklins. I like the recipe utilizes the entire Duck. And one of the themes of the book is to marry barbecue methods with more traditional recipes – like the duck confit which we smoke. It is quite a project to pull all the elements together but this is a really mind blowing sandwich.
Grilling with Rich: There are TONS of barbecue recipe books and how to’s on the market, what in your mind makes it different from other books?
Chris Hart: No shortcuts. We felt very lucky that out publisher encouraged us to write extreme recipes. Many BBQ cookbooks out there seem to have all the standard “slots”, you have your potato salad, beans, ribs, pulled pork etc. Ours has our actual competition recipes plus a wild mashup of fine dining techniques and barbecue. It’s certainly different. My one concern is that parts may bit a bit intimidating for a brand new barbecue cook. We did include some “bridge” recipes like basic pulled pork and sliders.
Grilling with Rich: What was the biggest challenge in writing your book? and how did you overcome it?
Chris Hart: Time. Due to some procrastination getting started we had three months to produce the book. And that includes recipe testing and photography. Every single recipe in the book needed to be tested and then based on feedback potentially re-worked. I would of preferred about 6 months. The only way to overcome this was to worry about sleeping later.
Grilling with Rich: I am sure that you have tons of recipes that didn’t make the cut, give us some “insider baseball” and let us know one recipe that didn’t make the book that you wished it did.
Chris Hart: We wanted to do a class of recipes that were cooked in a hole – ideally on a beach. Whole hog, clam bake etc. We wrote the book in the middle of a New England winter which made testing these recipes nearly impossible so they got cut. Maybe we’ll do this for book #2 [WOW!! We can’t wait to see the second book!!]
Grilling with Rich: How many recipes do you actually have?
t’s more like we have a stable of techniques. And the fun is mixing and matching the techniques to create new recipes. We particularly like mixing a classic technique like sous vide or braising with barbecue to create unique recipes.
Grilling with Rich: What is your next big adventure?
This is my 12th season of competition barbecue and I am as excited as ever to get out and cook contests. We hope to start working on book #2 in the coming months. Later this year we have been invited to cook a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City.
Grilling with Rich: Some people would say, hey, Good Barbecue from the Northeast? I don’t think so, what in your mind represents good barbecue?
Good barbecue is not so much the style chosen or where you happen to be cooking it. While we respect and enjoy cooking in the style of particular regions (Texas and North Carolina especially) we also like to push the edges and mashup different barbecue ideas. To us really great (or Wicked) barbecue is any food that demonstrates the intense love and care of a talented Pitmaster.