A Different Kind of Smoke

It’s Memorial Day weekend, so that means flying the flag, loading up on the beer and cigars and cooking barbecue. I’m not talking grilling—which I’ll also do—I’m talking take-your-time, low-and-slow barbecue.

When I was younger I used to think that I was barbecuing when I threw a hunk of chicken on the old gas grill and charred it to high heaven. Then I met Jack Bettridge. Jack’s not only the spirits and fashion guru here at Cigar Aficionado, he’s also an expert on barbecue. Heck, he even wrote a book about the subject called Barbecue America.

After studying Jack’s book and hanging out at his house enough weekends watching him turn hunks of plain meat into something that could bring a tear to your eye (while, I might add, smoking great cigars and drinking copious amounts of fine bourbon) I felt confident enough to try it on my own. I bought some baby back ribs and went to work smoking them over low heat for four hours.

Ever eat a piece of pork that’s been marinated in concrete mix and left to harden? That’s what my first try at barbecue tasted like. Jack, good friend that he is, choked down a few of the ribs and managed a smile.

After enough practice, and after getting a Weber Smoky Mountain smoker, I got better.

This morning I woke at 4 a.m., lit my pre-arranged smoker and put on two big pork butts, which had sat overnight in a peppery rub known as “The Renown Mr. Brown.” Using a ring full of Royal Oak briquettes and many chunks of hickory and apple wood for flavor, those two eight pounders have been cooking non-stop. As I write this, I can smell the sweet smoke of the hickory and apple coming in my window, and it’s 2:30 pm. Around 4 or 5 tonight, I'll take them off the fire, wrap them tightly in foil, and let them rest for an hour or two before pulling them into chunks with a pair of forks. Paired with some vinegar sauce, home made cole slaw and pickles, they'll make fantastic pulled pork sandwiches. My buddy Russ is doing ribs and pairing it all with various flights of Ridge Zinfandel. I'll bring some strong cigars and it'll be a good night.

True barbecue requires patience, something the leaders of the cigar industry know well. You can’t rush a great cigar, just like you can’t rush your barbecue. And while you’re working the smoker, no one’s going to complain about your firing up a bracing robusto. You’re just adding to the rich aroma of the smoke.

I hope you have a happy Memorial Day, and I hope each of you has a holiday ritual that gives you as much pleasure as this one does for me.

"For some reason, eating at Lupa has become a Memorial Day weekend ritual. Last year, my brother set up a table for 12 at the restaurant on Memorial Day Saturday.This year, my wife, my brother and his wife, along with one of his Army buddies from Ft. Bragg (hoooah) and his girlfriend were up and we found ourselves at the very same table as we did last year.Food was just as amazing this year as it was last year. " —May 29, 2007 14:09 PM