Pitmasters of Charlotte: Garren Kirkman of Jon G’s Barbecue

While there is certainly good barbecue to be found in Charlotte, I wouldn’t quite say that it’s a barbecue city…yet. However, there are pitmasters out there doing great work, and I hope to spotlight that a little more in this series of posts called “Pitmasters of Charlotte.”

First up is Garren Kirkman, who along with his wife Kelly own and run Jon G’s Barbecue out of Marshville/Monroe. You may recognize Jon G’s as the current #1 on our Charlotte Big Board, so Garren was a natural first choice to feature.

IMG_2499 (2)
How long have you lived in Charlotte (or the surrounding area) and how did you get here?
I was born and raised in Statesville, NC and moved to Union County in 2007 for work. I’m a nuclear medicine supervisor by trade.

How did you become a pitmaster?
First off, I call myself a firekeeper. If you are reading this and think I’m a pitmaster, thanks!

I went to Walmart, found a choice whole packer brisket on clearance, went home and smoked it on an offset Char-Griller bellowing gray smoke for 16 hours and produced a meteorite. Needless to say…I had some work to do. (Although everyone ate it happily that day.) Brisket was surprisingly the first thing I ever smoked and not a Boston butt.

What is your favorite meat to smoke? What type of wood do you prefer?
Brisket and beef ribs are definitely top two, brisket being more of a challenge. My favorite thing to smoke would be beef ribs (dinosaur rib), but we typically save those for catering events due to regional unpopularity.

Mixture of well seasoned white oak and pecan are my choices for wood, but occasionally some red oak will slip in as well. We won’t turn red oak down as long as it’s seasoned. It is all about a consistent, clean burning fire.

IMG_2487 (2)
What are your barbecue influences?
If you’ve ever had our food it’s obviously influenced by Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin,TX. But aside from Texas influences, I admire Skylight Inn and Sam Jones in Ayden, NC. While I’m not smoking exactly like them, the history and their dedication to quality and product speaks for itself. I am not a trained “chef” so there is definitely some “Grandmas Sunday lunch” influence on our side dishes. On a side note, we do have a couple events planned this fall featuring a whole hog.

What is your favorite barbecue joint or style?
I’m not into chain restaurant barbecue. I like to go places where I can see the hard work that’s being poured into the food. I like to think we accomplish this even though we are a food truck (for now).

IMG_2509 (2)What is your earliest memory of barbecue?
Growing up in a small town in NC, fire department BBQ was a go-to and is honestly my first memory of BBQ. I’ll just say, it was for a good cause!

What is the best thing about Charlotte barbecue?
If I’m being completely honest, barbecue is not our first choice of a meal when we are home. We save it up for places like Buxton Hall in Asheville, Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, or when traveling to Texas, more up and coming places like Truth Barbecue. Of course we have made the rounds at Franklin Barbecue, La Barbecue, etc.

What is a weakness or opportunity of Charlotte barbecue?
I’d love to see more pitmaster based barbecue joints. A face behind the food, if you will. And less gas.

IMG_2465 (2)

Thanks to Garren for being our first guinea pig for this series. If you know of a pitmaster who we should feature next, let us know!

Friday Find: “It’s Alive with Brad” joins Rodney Scott to make whole hog barbecue

This is definitely one of the better videos on the entire whole hog process I’ve seen. Brad Leone does it all here, from chopping wood to loading the firebox to loading the pig to shoveling the coals to creating the sauce to mopping. He does it all here, Vinny.

Bon Appétit Test Kitchen Manager Brad Leone is back for Episode 31 of “It’s Alive.” Brad learns the art of whole hog barbecue with legendary pitmaster Rodney Scott in Charleston, South Carolina. Join Brad as he chops and mops his way to a delicious plate of barbecue.

Linkdown: 7/11/18

– Adrian Miller, James Beard Award Winner: It’s time to diversity the BBQ Hall of Fame

Of the 27 inductees chosen thus far, only one African American is in the Hall. This is an absurdity that needs to be rectified given the significant contributions that African Americans have made to American barbecue culture.

– What’s the best beer pairing for barbecue? 12 pitmasters weigh in, including Sam Jones

– No surprise here

– Heirloom Market BBQ, B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, and Fox Bros BBQ continue to be on Eater Atlanta’s refreshed 38 essential restaurants

– Midwood Smokehouse Park Road and Unknown Brewing have collaborated on a smoked malt Helles beer called Heaven and Helles and are debuting it this Saturday at their Hop, Chop, and Sauce It party

– TMBBQ’s best pitmaster pit stops in Texas

– Conyers also earned a PhD in 09 from Duke

– City Limits Q in Columbia (who I still really need to try) is serving smashburgers this Friday at Craft and Draft

– Jon G’s Barbecue will be at the Union County Farmer’s Market in Monroe this Saturday at 10:30

– Not sure if there will be any left at the time of posting, but here’s your PSA

Pecan Lodge – Dallas, TX (Speedy’s Take)

img_0720
Name
: Pecan Lodge
Date: 7/21/18
Address: 2702 Main St, Dallas, TX 75226
Order: The Trough (1 beef rib, 1lb of pork ribs, 1lb brisket, 1/2 lb of pulled pork & 3 sausage links), ½ pound burnt ends, fried okra, collard greens (link to menu)
Price: $120-ish (for 3)

Speedy: On a recent work trip to Dallas, I experienced Divine Intervention. In town for only two days with full calendars both days, I was resigned to having to miss Pecan Lodge once again, and based on Rudy’s review, it’s a joint not to miss. I must have done something right over the past week, because a cancelled meeting left me a block of time between 10 and 2, enough time to head to Deep Ellum to try the ‘cue. I brought two co-workers in tow, which turned out to be a great decision.

Monk: The barbecue gods certainly work in mysterious ways…

Speedy: We arrived right at 11, which is right when Pecan Lodge opens. The line was already out the door, which is when coming with friends comes in handy. We went straight to the bulk order counter (minimum 5 pounds), which had no line (hence the great decision to bring back-ups), and we were on our way.

Our number was called after a short wait, and it was time to dig in. Obviously, we had more food than the three of us could eat, and everything looked and smelled incredible. I have a hard time knowing where to begin with this meal, so let’s just jump right in.

img_0718

The brisket was heavenly. Rich, flavorful, moist, peppery, and perfectly cooked. It is easily in the top 4 briskets I’ve ever had, joining La Barbecue, Franklin, and Killen’s, and frankly, nothing else even comes close. The brisket seemed to melt in your mouth.

Personally, my other top meat was the beef rib. It was incredibly tender, had an amazing bark, and pulled, but didn’t fall, right off the bone. Honestly, I’d take these two cuts of beef over even the finest steaks. Beef like this just doesn’t come around often.

The other beef dish we had was the burnt ends, which was a special of the day. My two co-workers rated this as their favorite meat, and I agree it was very good, but I thought it could have been slightly more tender and could have used a little heat on the sauce. This is nit-picking to the extreme, but it was a tier below the brisket and beef rib for me.

The pork was also a pleasant surprise. I have had very hit or miss experiences with pork in Texas, but you could have told me the Pecan Lodge pork was from Tennessee or North Carolina and I would have believed you and demanded to know where from. It was tender and had nice bark, and overall was really great.

Monk: Funny you should mention that. I recalled hearing at one point at there was a connection between Pecan Lodge and NC and lo and behold, Justin and Diane Fourton (the couple behind Pecan Lodge) both used to live in Charlotte and met at Selwyn Pub in 2000. So while they both are originally from Texas, they may have gotten some pork knowledge through osmosis during their time in NC.

Speedy: On Rudy’s trip to Pecan Lodge, he raved about the ribs. This was my least favorite meat by a wide margin. The ribs were still good, but I felt like they could have been a little meatier and the outside got a little charred to me. I’m not sure if it was just a sub-standard batch, but the ribs were forgettable, especially when compared to the rest of the meal.

Rudy: Maybe you got a bad batch or I got an overly great batch. You may have also had the benefit of having several different meat to compare it to, and I only had the brisket. I’m sorry that I missed out on the beef rib.

Speedy: Generally, I don’t pay too much attention to the sides when I have five pounds of barbecue in front of me, but it was a different story here. The fried okra was really, really good. Perfectly seasoned and fried. The collards were also amazing and very unique. While I’m used to having bacon bits or pieces or pulled pork (or at least chicken stock) in the collards, these were very sweet – my guess is brown sugar. The collards are not to be missed.

The next paragraph is going to be a little hard to write. As a North Carolinian, I will go to my grave saying that Lexington barbecue is the best single food item that one can eat and that it was bestowed upon man by God himself. All that said, the top four all around barbecue meals of my life all happened in Texas, and this was in that group. It’s just that good. If you get a chance to visit Pecan Lodge – just do it.

Monk: Who in the? What in the? How in the?

Rudy: I have always said that the ceiling on Texas barbecue is higher but so is the floor.  When it is done well, it is great, but it can also be done poorly. North Carolina barbecue is more consistent. I agree that Pecan Lodge is a must visit and if you have to order from the bulk window to avoid the lines, you will never be disappointed.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – 4 hogs
Brisket – 5 hogs
Beef rib – 5 hogs
Burnt Ends – 4.5 hogs
Pork – 4 hogs
Ribs – 3.5 hogs
Sides – 4.5 hogs
Overall – 5 hogs
Pecan Lodge Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday Find: “Nourish” by Howard Conyers

Howard Conyers is a literal rocket scientist from Manning, SC who attended NC A&T in Greensboro for undergrad and Duke University for grad school where he earned a MS and PhD. He now has a show on PBS’s YouTube Channel, and the first episode is on SC whole hog.

When most people think “barbecue,” they don’t think “whole hog.” But that’s not the case for Dr. Howard Conyers, rocket scientist and South Carolina Whole Hog pit master. Watch this episode for a short-course on everything you need to know to fire up the pit for this regional Southern tradition.

Linkdown: 7/4/18

– Hate that I’m going to be out of town later this month for Bryan Furman coming to Charlotte for Brisket & Biscuits at Koffee Kup Cafeteria

Put them together, and you have a very special food weekend: First, there’s Brisket & Biscuits from 9 a.m.-noon July 21 at the Koffee Kup Cafeteria, 1520 West Blvd. For $20, you’ll get a plate cooked by Gregory Collier of The Yolk in Rock Hill and special guests Erika Council of Atlanta, the author of The Southern Souffle blog and the granddaughter of Mildred Council, aka Mama Dip, and Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin BBQ in Atlanta.

Served cafeteria-style, you’ll get Furman’s brisket, Collier’s eggs, Council’s biscuits, sides and pie (by local pie baker Keia Mastrianni).

– The top 15 Birmingham barbecue joints

– Howard Conyers, a rocket scientist and barbecue man, has a new digital show on PBS’s YouTube channel

– Sam Jones and Fullsteam Brewing will represent NC at this year’s Windy City Smokeout 2018 in Chicago

– Brooks Sandwich House and Seoul Food Meat Company will be featured in the first episode of season 2 of “Southern and Hungry” on the Cooking Channel; it airs later this month on 7/30

– This is a few months late to respond to the Vice Brooklyn barbecue article that broke the internet in March, but a good write up on Allen & Son which doesn’t always get the NC barbecue recognition it deserves

Friday Find: Georgia’s New King of Barbecue

I linked to a great profile of Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque in Wednesday’s Linkdown, and here is the accompanying video from Bon Appétit. I met him at Memphis in May and he was gracious enough to speak with me for a few minutes in the hot Memphis sun and couldn’t be nicer. Bryan is already a star on the rise when it comes to barbecue and this makes me think it’s only going to get bigger from here on out. Keep an eye on Bryan Furman for sure.

IMG_0299

Linkdown: 6/27/18

– The origin story of the great Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ Barbeque, the next great pitmaster (who’s already here)

Though he’s been a restaurant owner and full-time pitmaster for just four years, Furman, 37, already sits among the greats. Maybe it’s because he swaps out typical commodity pork for whole heritage-breed hogs he raised himself. (“Nobody else was doing that,” Furman says, “Not in a barbecue restaurant.”) Maybe it’s his unique Carolina-meets-Georgia style sauce, a sweet and tangy blend of mustard and fresh peaches. (“He does everything different,” says Nikki Furman, his wife and business partner.)

– B’s Cracklin Barbeque and a few other Barbecue Bro faves are on this Eater list of best Atlanta barbecue

– Eater’s got a list of barbecue in New York City, too

– Meet the Executive Pitmaster for Midwood Smokehouse’s 4 locations, Matt Berry

– Noble Smoke is one of Charlotte Agenda’s 9 most-anticipated restaurants and bars opening in Charlotte by the end of 2018 (wow that’s not a brief title)

– The Takeout has a crash course on Chinese barbecue, which isn’t wood-smoked like American barbecue

– Houston foodwriter J.C. Reid on the expanding role of the pitmaster

Another responsibility is that of barbecue ambassador. Pitmasters are asked to travel to distant locations to cook for an event or speak on a panel. In this case, the pitmaster isn’t just drawn away from working the pits — he’s often absent from his barbecue joint for days at a time.

– 8 Austin barbecue sandwiches that break the mold

– This Travel + Leisure list of the 25 best places for barbecue in the U.S. is based on Yelp and is…certainly a list

– Reminder: Daniel Vaughn’s Smokelandia airs its pilot episode tonight

– Registration is now open for October’s Tour de Pig in Lexington

OooWee BBQ (food truck) – Charlotte, NC (RE-REVIEW)

IMG_0566
Name: OooWee BBQ
Date: 6/15/18
Address: N/A
Order: Chopped BBQ plate with slaw and mac and cheese (link to menu)
Price: $11

Monk: I’ll admit it, the last time we reviewed OooWee BBQ was not under the most favorable conditions and I was probably a bit harsh. It was a a chilly October Saturday at a somewhat sparsely attended music festival in Charlotte. But still – what they served was dry, nearly inedible chopped pork and I reviewed them accordingly. Though I did state in that review that I’d be interested in trying them again under better circumstances.

In the past five years, OooWee BBQ has gone on to open a brick and mortar sore in Pineville but they are still kicking around the food truck circuit in Charlotte. They are regulars at events at my neighborhood pool and they stopped by on a Saturday in June for a day of music at the pool (“music festival” would be a bit overstating it).

In a bit of serendipity, I made the exact same order that I did last time around which allowed me to provide a direct comparison between then and now. The pork came pre-sauced with a tangy red sauce and was much better than what I had tried from them before. Not the smokiest, but at least moist and more flavorful. The mayo-based slaw and mac and cheese were also better than before, although I will say that I ended up mixing the three together, creating a makeshift barbecue sundae on my plate.

IMG_0569Speaking of the barbecue sundae, Mrs. Monk ordered one and in case it wasn’t obvious, it includes all of what I ordered plus baked beans mixed together to make a 4-layer “sundae” into a single cup . And I’m a big fan, though I think it’s kind of hard to mess it up. If every component is as it should be then no problem. But if the pork is dry, then the other sides can help cover it up. Regardless, I think this is the best dish that I’ve had from them and will likely be my order next time.

So OooWee BBQ were much better this time than last while still not reaching the upper tier of Charlotte barbecue. If you do encounter their bright yellow truck around town, I would recommend going for the barbecue sundae.

Ratings:
Atmosphere/Ambiance – N/A
Pork – 2.5 Hogs
Sides – 2.5 Hogs
Overall – 2.5 Hogs

Friday Find: Rodney Scott joins Eater’s Upsell Podcast

Fresh off his James Beard Award win, Rodney Scott was in town earlier this month for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party and stopped by Eater’s NY office for a quick chat about barbecue and a potential expansion to NYC.

Link to podcast in above link or here

…the only reason he hasn’t opened up in NYC already is that he hasn’t found the right building yet. “The space is very important as well as the people around it,” he says. “You want the residents and the neighbors to be comfortable with what you’re bringing.”