On last night’s season premiere of “Man Fire Food,” Roger Mooking, chef, musician and lover of all things smoky and delicious, visited two amazing places to see how they do their thing, and taste the results of long hours in the smokehouses and grills. So sit back, and bring a few napkins, as your mouth will be watering.
First stop was Papa Kay Joe’s BBQ, in Centerville, Tenn. Roger visited this small-town right outside of Nashville in the heart of the Bible Belt, to meet with a minister who is also a pitmaster. Devin Pickard, the owner of Papa Kay Joe’s BBQ was happy to show Roger his thirteen-year-old smoker, crafted from a huge industrial pipe. A large hole has burned through the back, requiring a patch job of old coals that do their best to cover the hole, preventing flames to shoot out. This makeshift barbeque smoker has been going strong creating what the locals call, the best barbeque sandwich around. The only thing he uses for the fire is hickory wood.
For starters, Roger put twenty pork butts on the grids and covered them with sheets of metal to keep in the smoke. His only ingredient on the pork was salt and lots of it while they cook for 8-10 hours. When they are done to Devin’s liking, he takes them and puts two in each pan, then he puts them in the oven, covered with foil, for twelve hours at 200 degrees. Once done, they are covered in their own juice and pulled apart with heavy gloves, and made into the pulled pork for his famous sandwiches. As Roger was helping, he noticed the one bone in the pork came right out clean. Roger puts no other seasoning on the pork, and when Roger tasted it, he confirmed how delicious it was.
For the sandwich, he puts the pork on lard-griddled corn cakes. Roger had his choice of vinegar slaw or mayonnaise slaw, and chose the vinegar slaw that was put on top of the pork, then pickles and choice of sauces, from mild to hot, then topped with another corn cake. Roger chose the hot sauce, and enjoyed every bite of it.
Roger’s next stop was in Virginia, in a town called Gordonsville, to visit the Barbeque Exchange. Roger arrived before the crack of dawn to meet with owner Craig Hartman, who has a place called the Magic Shack and in the back, a monstrosity called The Beast, a custom-built rotisserie. Because Virginia is not famous for their barbeque, but does not take a back-seat to their hams, Craig wanted to create something indigenous to the area. The Beast, weighing 4500 pounds of black steel, is capable of cooking 720 pounds of pork at a time. When they opened The Beast, inside was their famous red-eye bacon, done to perfection. It was cooking overnight at 150 degrees. Because Craig uses green hickory, he starts the fire with charcoal made of hardwood. While the coals and wood were getting nice and hot, they prepared the pork. They rubbed the meat with Roger’s seasoning and then injected it with a mixture of apple cider, sugar and salt. What a fun time, Roger had, sticking the injector into the pork, but it sometimes fought back, squirting the person doing the injection. The pork will go overnight into The Beast. However, Craig has some already done, just for Roger.
Some of the sandwiches at The Barbeque Exchange are pretty radical. So Roger starts off with the one they call Heaven, can Hell be far behind? Heaven starts with a soft roll, then baconaise, their own homemade bacon mayonnaise, then a mound of pulled pork, fried potatoes that resemble thicker potato chips, lettuce & tomato with a sprinkling of red rub, next a sunny-side up egg with melted cheese on top, then a couple of slices of their red-eye bacon and then the bun. But Roger enjoyed it like it was his last meal.
Next, as suspected, came Hell. This sandwich earned its name, as everything on the large roll contained the hottest of the hot. First, toxic waste sauce made with scorpion peppers, pulled pork doused in poltergeist sauce, the battered and fried red-eye bacon has a sweet and spicy ghost pepper sauce, three fried mac & cheese balls with habaneros inside, and lettuce and more peppers with seeds. Roger admitted it was hot, but sickeningly good. After a few bites, he was reaching for the chocolate milk, but surprisingly, there was no steam coming from his ears on this episode of “Man Fire Food.”