Sunday, November 4, 2007

BBQ Class for the Teacher

Mmmm... ribsIn 1995, I decided to combine my passion for food and cooking with my love of teaching, and began teaching cooking classes. I started by teaching through the local Continuting Educaton Program. After less than a year, I built up a bit of a following and decided to go into business for myself. However, despite my busy schedule running a small business and teaching classes at my house each week, I still make time to teach for the Continuing Education Program that took a chance on a passionate home cook and gave me my start in this field.

Last month, as I was checking my listings in the catalog of classes sent out by Continuing Ed., I noticed a new class being offered through the program. "BBQ Passion: The Basics of Barbeque Cooking" was a new, one-time class and would be taught by the owner of a popular local barbeque restaurant. Bobby Q's of Westport, Connecticut, was featured on the FoodNetwork at one point last year, and has become somewhat of a hotspot for good barbeque in Fairfield County. My husband and I have been talking about installing an outdoor kitchen-barbeque at our home, and I figured it couldn't hurt to go learn from the experts before taking the plunge.

Being on "the other side of the counter" was definitely a fun experience. Bob LaRose, owner of Bobby Q's brought the class to the restaurant's rooftop deck, where a demonstration table was set up. Each participant received a multi-paged "book" with everything one would ever want to know about authentic barbeque, which, we learned, is entirely different from the backyard grilling we normally refer to as "barbeque". Grilling is cooking food on grates and over high heat for a relatively short period of time. Barbeque, on the other hand, is typically done with indirect heat or smoke, and requires several hours of cooking time. The Boston Butt pork Bobby Q's uses to make their most popular menu item, pulled pork, is cooked for almost 20 hours!

We started with dry rubs. We sampled basic rubs, fancy rubs, sweet rubs, and spicy rubs. Dry rubs are the cornerstone of barbeque at the restaurant, and the chef demonstrated how he applies rubs to racks of ribs, briskets, and Boston Butt (which, is not the "butt" at all, but rather a cut of meat from the pig's shoulder). We discussed which cuts of meat marry better with which rubs (the chef prefers brown sugar rubs with pork and granulated, white sugar rubs with beef and chicken).

We then talked about sauces, which at Bobby Q's, are used primarily for dipping tableside. Again, we sampled a wide variety of sauces to determine which flavors were our favorites. We covered home smokers, types of wood for smoking, and how to tell when something is ready to eat. Then, finally, came the eating!

First we tasted the St. Louis Ribs, which are smoked with a simple rub. According to Bobby, "authentic" barbeque is supposed to have a little "pull" to the meat (meaning you need to work a bit to get it off the bone), the ones we tried were as tender as could be, and literally fell off the bone into your mouth. He noted that in the northeast, people tend to like the more tender meat, so he gives the people what they want. He also stated that while in other parts of the country, people prefer the St. Louis style ribs, here in Connecticut, the Baby Backs are by far the better sellers. Different demographic, different tastes.

It was time to move indoors into the kitchen, where we gathered around the smoker large enough to shelter a small family (a mere $25,000, if you're in the market for one). When the door opened, we saw a gigantic Boston Butt coming around on the rotisserie, which operated much like a ferris wheel (the meat sitting on one of the "seats", which is really a large, moving rack). Luckily for us, it was just ready to come out of the smoker, so the chef pulled it out, deboned it (the bone literally slid right out), and began to shred the meat. To say it was tender would be an understatement. Then the brisket came out. I felt this particular cut had been a bit dry and overcooked (and the chef concurred), but it was still decent. It perhaps just needed some of that tableside dipping sauce to moisten it up.

All in all, the class was informative and fun. It didn't surprise me that the participants were mostly men, whereas my classes consist almost exclusively of women. I suppose people consider barbeque more "manly" than other types of cooking. Manly or not, it is certainly one-sloooow-process, for which I'm not sure I have the patience. The results are great, but waiting 8 hours for some ribs to cook is not my kind of weekend activity. I think I'll leave the smoking to Bobby Q's.

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