This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
Ask a pitt master and you’ll discover barbecue is both regional and personal, from the meat to the base used for sauce. But whatever the style, barbecue is hot in DC right now, along with smoked foods of every kind–from mussels to cocktails (yes, a “Smokjito” exists). Whether you turn out basic backyard burgers or get serious with 12-hour brisket and pork shoulder, our local grill masters have tips for your next barbecue.
- Jim Shahin Owner, Neopol Savory Smokery
- Robert Sonderman Co-owner and Pitmaster, DC City Smokehouse
- Barbara Lahnstein "Smoke Signals" columnist, Washington Post
- Heath Hall President, Pork Barrell BBQ
Fire and Smoke Gazpacho
By Jim Shahin for The Washington Post
-6 large (about 3 pounds) tomatoes, cored and the bottoms trimmed flat
-1 cup peeled, seeded and finely diced cucumber
-1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced (1/2 cup)
-1 small serrano pepper, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
-1/4 cup coarsely chopped basil or cilantro leaves
-1/4 cup red wine vinegar, or to taste
-Freshly ground black pepper
-1 cup cold water (optional)
Prepare the grill for direct and indirect heat. If using a gas grill, preheat to medium-high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal; when the coals are ready, distribute them on one side of the cooking area. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 4 or 5 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames.
When the fire is ready, set the tomatoes over direct heat for about 3 minutes. When they become a little charred, turn them over and grill for about 3 minutes.
Use a spatula to move the tomatoes to the cooler (indirect) side of the grate. Drain the water from the wood chips and scatter the chips on the charcoal fire. If using a gas grill, place the wood chips into a smoker box or a foil pouch punctured with a few fork holes to release the smoke; set the pouch or box in the grill. Close the grill lid and allow the tomatoes to smoke for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the cucumber, bell pepper, serrano pepper and garlic in a large bowl.
Transfer the grilled, smoked tomatoes to a bowl or platter to capture any released juices. When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skins. Dice the tomato flesh; add half of it to the bowl with the cucumber-pepper mixture, along with any juices.
Puree the remaining tomatoes with the oil in a food processor for 1 to 2 minutes, until smooth. Add the puree to the mixture in the bowl. Add the basil or cilantro and the vinegar, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you prefer a thin gazpacho, add cold water until you reach the desired consistency.
Chill for at least 1 hour before serving. Taste and adjust vinegar or seasonings as needed.
Grilled Peach Smokjitos
From Pork Barrel BBQ
Makes: 10 cups
Prep & Cook Time: 40 minutes
Heath Hall says: “This grilled peach mojito uses the freshest of summer ingredients and the grill to turn a good drink into a great drink. The caramelization of the sugars in the peaches pair great with the freshness of the mint and leave you with a refreshing summer cocktail. Leave the rum out for a great non-alcoholic summer drink.”
•8 ripe Peaches, grilled and cut into 1-inch pieces
•1 tablespoon grated Lime Peel
•1 cup fresh Lime Juice (about 4 large limes)
•¾ cup Sugar
•½ cup packed Mint Leaves
•4 cups Lemon-Lime Soda, chilled
•2 cups White Rum
1.Preheat grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high). Cut 8 peaches in half and grill cut side down with the grill lid on for 5-7 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove peaches from the grill and cool for 10 minutes.
2.Remove the skin from 7 of the peaches and cut into 1-inch pieces and place in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Pour peach puree through a strainer into a bowl and throw away solids. Cut remaining peach into wedges.
3.In a large pitcher combine the lime peel, lime juice, sugar and mint leaves and crush well with a muddler. Add the peach puree, lemon-lime soda, and rum. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
4.Fill glasses with crushed ice and pour peach mojito mixture over ice. Garnish with mint sprigs and grilled peach wedges.
Pork Barrel BBQ Ribs
Makes: 4-6 Servings
Prep & Cook Time: 5 hours
Heath Hall says “BBQ ribs are about as classic of a barbecue dish you can get. These ribs are guaranteed to leave BBQ Sauce on your guest’s faces as well as smiles!”
•2 (2-3 pound) slabs St. Louis Cut Pork Spare Rib
•¼ bottle Pork Barrel BBQ Mustard BBQ Sauce
•¼ cup Pork Barrel BBQ All-American Spice Rub
•1 bottle of Pork Barrel BBQ Sauce (Original or Sweet)
1.Trim any loose pieces of fat or meat from the edges of the slab of rib and flip the slab over so the rib side is up. Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs by using a butter knife to pry up the edge of the membrane. Once you have an edge of the membrane pried up take a paper towel and pull the membrane off. Wipe dry with a paper towel.
2.Preheat your smoker to 275° with charcoal, pellets or wood (a combination of hickory, oak and cherry).
3.Pour Pork Barrel BBQ Mustard BBQ Sauce on the bone side of the ribs and rub into the meat. Generously season with Pork Barrel BBQ All-American Spice Rub and let rest for 15 minutes. Flip the ribs over and pour Pork Barrel BBQ Mustard BBQ Sauce on the meat side of the ribs and rub into the meat. Generously season with Pork Barrel BBQ All-American Spice Rub and let rest for 30 minutes.
4.Fill a disposable aluminum pan halfway with water and place in the smoker to the side near the fire box or above the fire box on the grate below where the ribs will sit.
5.Place the ribs, bone side down, on the smoker away from the fire, using indirect heat to cook. Cook for 2 hours, spraying with apple juice every 30 minutes.
6.After 2 hours wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. Place a sheet of foil on a table and sprinkle a ¼ cup of brown sugar and 4 tablespoons of honey on the foil. Place ribs meat side down on the brown sugar and honey and sprinkle another ¼ cup of brown sugar and 4 tablespoons of honey on the bone side of the ribs. Wrap ribs tightly and return to smoker over indirect heat placing the ribs meat side down. Cook for 1 ½ hours wrapped.
7. Unwrap the ribs and brush Pork Barrel BBQ Sauce on the ribs and return to the smoker and cook for an additional 30 minutes.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. When we think barbecue, we think Texas beef brisket, we think Carolina styled pulled pork or sweet Kansas City barbecue sauce. So what about D.C.? We don't have our own barbecue or smoked foods traditions. No grilling techniques originated here. But there's no denying barbecue is hot here at the moment. So what style has D.C. adopted? Well, all of them.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to discuss the art and science of barbecue and smoked foods is Barbara Lahnstein. She is the owner of Neopol Savory Smokery in Baltimore's Belvedere Square and Union Market here in the District. She runs those shops along with her son, Dorian Brown. Barbara, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. BARBARA LAHNSTEINThank you, I'm glad to be here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Heath Hall, he is the president of Pork Barrell BBQ in Alexandria, Va. Heath, good to see you.
MR. HEATH HALLThanks, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Rob Sonderman or Robert Sonderman is co-owner and pitmaster of D.C. City Smokehouse. Rob, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROBERT SONDERMANThanks for having me here.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. You can shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you will find recipes from our guests. You'll see what I will be consuming in studio during this broadcast. You can find all of those at our website, at kojoshow.org. Joining us by phone from Syracuse, N.Y. is Jim Shahin, he writes the Washington Post "Smoke Signals barbecue and Grilling" column. Jim, thank you for joining us.
MR. JIM SHAHINThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIJim, Washington is becoming a food obsessed town. Where does barbecue fit into that?
SHAHINWell, I think, barbecue fits into the Washington food scene in a very big way, especially recently in about the last five years or so, we've seen enormous growth in smoked foods and smoked meats. And I think, now in Washington, D.C., you can get some traditional barbecue whether it's pulled pork or chopped pork or maybe some big meaty ribs. But you can also get some the stuff that colors a little bit outside the line.
SHAHINAnd finally you can also get stuff, say, at a place like Del Campo, which is doing amazing things, very creative things, with, you know, food that's grilled and scorched and smoked. So I think it's playing a really big part now.
NNAMDIWherever that Jim Shahin person I referred to earlier, I don't know who he is. We're talking with Jim Shahin of the Washington Post.
SHAHINThank you. Correction...
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Heath, why do you think barbecue is so popular in D.C. right now?
HALLYeah, well, to go back to what you said earlier, you know, you gotta actually give some cred here to our area and the origins of barbecue in America. You know, the first written connotation of barbecue in this country is out of George Washington's diary, where he mentions that he is heading into Alexandria for a barbecue. You had lots of politicians in this area that were trying to get votes and they were used to, over in England, these big massive parties. And so they hosted a lot of these parties which, kind of, led to things like big pig roasts and things like that, which eventually went South, down into North Carolina and then West down to Texas and things.
HALLSo we actually, I think, do have somewhat of a foundation here. But, I think, that the biggest reason people love barbecue is, it is the most primal form of cooking. Live fire cooking, your inner caveman can be channeled, you know, you're out there. It's not just about the food, it's about the comradery and the community and people love to eat smoked and, you know, open flamed kissed food and have that chance of community.
NNAMDII wasn't even aware that I had an inner caveman but if you say so.
NNAMDIRob, why do you think barbecue is so popular in D.C.?
SONDERMANIn D.C.? Well, I mean, I think, D.C. is becoming even more so, a melting pot of different people coming to D.C. from different regions of the country, different regions of the world. Everyone kind of has what they have in mind as what real barbecue is and you're right, I mean, as much as I agree and have read up on all the history of barbecue and -- the, what he just said is absolutely true.
SONDERMANBut D.C. doesn't have its own barbecue personality. So we're kind of touching on what everyone else has been, kind of, building up over the last 100 or so years. So, I think, at least in my restaurant, people come in and if it's not Kansas City barbecue, oh, it's not barbecue. But then, when they -- I try to not box myself in to any kind of regional style, I love everything, so I try to, kind of, cook everything to the best of my abilities.
SONDERMANBut, I think, D.C. is -- there's so many new young people from all over the country, moving into D.C. that want good barbecue and luckily now is the time that people are, kind of, starting to open up fresh barbecue restaurants and other kind of smoked meat restaurants in D.C. And I'm loving it as much as anybody.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, it's a conversation on barbecue and smoked foods, one you can join by calling 800-433-8850. What is your favorite style of barbecue? What foods do you enjoy smoked, 800-433-8850? Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbara Lahnstein, smoked foods are your specialty at Neopol, smoked salmon, of course but also a whole lot of other things. Have you seen interest grow in the foods that you prepare?
LAHNSTEINIt is hard to tell. I've been at farmers markets for so many years. And we have a really loyal clientele. And my background is a little different, be it a little bit outside the lines of not, I don't know, too much about barbecue but a lot about smoked food. And understand a lot of people, we don't use nitrates and our food is actually quite healthy but nutritious and delicious.
LAHNSTEINBut smoked food is something that brings me back to my childhood. And I was trying to bring it here and I'm really surprised how much people love it. And we have a really good following. And I just live day by day and I don't, you know, the trends are changing, slowly. And people are more adventurous, trying something they never tasted before. And grilling, smoking, has been around for thousands of years. So it's nothing new. It's just nice to be able to show people a different approach of smoked food.
NNAMDIWell, you do have a loyal following but are you noticing that that following seems to be expanding?
LAHNSTEINIt is constantly expanding. The children become -- have their own children, bring them to the market. So just one person, one customer becomes, you know, they marry and bring their whole family to the market and one of the first stops, sometimes, is the Neopol stand, the lemonade helps too.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, it becomes intergenerational after a while. Rob, you mentioned some of the basics, barbecue is very regional. Where are your influences from?
SONDERMANWell, I grew up in D.C., so unfortunately there weren't a whole lot of influences for me, like, growing up. There was a couple barbecue restaurants in the area, as I was growing up. But my moms family is from Texas, like, Austin area. My dads family is from St. Louis area. So there's definitely a lot of barbecue influence in my family growing up.
NNAMDIAt what age were you when you were given your first smoker?
SONDERMANActually, my parents bought me my first smoker when I was about 15 years old. I definitely wrecked a lot of racks of ribs, ruined a lot of briskets before I really got it right. But, I mean, I was in the Boy Scouts, I'm an Eagle Scout, cooking over the open fire was just something that I've always gravitated to. So, just the smell of the smoke in my hair and in my clothes, it might not make my girlfriend happy...
SONDERMAN…but it, it makes me happy.
NNAMDILet's just throw the kid in the smoke so he can learn how to do this. Heath, you grew up influenced by Kansas City style barbecue, what makes it unique?
HALLYeah, so I grew up in Missouri and spent lots and lots of times in Kansas City. And, to me, Kansas City is unique aspect in barbecue, is it is a kind of a melting pot that you get from the other regions of barbecue. Its pork, its beef, its poultry, its lamb, there's a little bit everything. They had huge stock yards in Kansas City. And so when animals were moving from out West into -- to get to New York and Chicago and Miami and Boston, they made -- generally made a stop there in Kansas City. So we had a little bit of everything there. So...
NNAMDINot to mention Charlie Parker and jazz.
HALLNot to mention some excellent jazz, yes. Charlie Parker, was definitely, probably, enjoying himself some excellent barbecue down there on 18th and Vine, I'm guessing. But, I think, Kansas City, you know, it is in the modern world of barbecue, competition barbecue has become a very big part of barbecue. And it's, kind of, the epicenter of that, the Kansas City barbecue society runs the majority of the big competitions around the country with a little bit of competition from Memphis.
HALLThere's a Memphis barbecue network. But I think that, you know, Kansas City is a little bit of everything. So it's a melting pot of a cuisine that is a melting pot.
NNAMDIRob, barbecue sauce also varies by region. What can you expect in terms of sauce if you're in Texas, North Carolina, Memphis?
SONDERMANWell, as you said, it does definitely vary. But traditionally, in the Carolina's, you're seeing a lot of vinegar based sauces. Traditionally towards the Eastern part, it's almost all vinegar and some, maybe, pepper or chili flake, kind of, action going on in the sauce. Moving more towards the Western half of the state, you're gonna see a little bit more of a tomato aspect in the sauce. You go down to South Carolina, there was a lot of land grants given to German and Eastern European settlers down there. So you see, like, mustard base barbecue sauces down there, which you come up to D.C., people have never heard of a mustard base barbecue sauce.
SONDERMANYou move further out to, like, Memphis, Kansas City, you might see a little bit more of a thicker tomato, molasses-y type barbecue sauce, which is definitely what a normal American is going to think of as barbecue sauce, is what a Kansas City style barbecue sauce is. That K.C. Masterpiece.
SONDERMANAnd then when you go down to Texas, you might not find barbecue sauce or at all in some places but it's gonna be -- when you do, generally, it's kind of a little bit of a mixture of everything down there, I feel like in terms of the sauces, it's gonna be a little bit more of a peppery, a lot of dried, chewy sometimes onions, garlic, tomato base. But, for me, I think, barbecue should stand on its own. Sauce should always be just kind of a condiment to compliment the meat. But everybody loves sauce, I feel like.
NNAMDIJim Shahin, we got an email from Alan in Rosslyn, Va., who writes, "I was biking through the Southwest waterfront one day and a group selling barbecue there was wondering if it was Kansas, Carolina, Memphis or Texas barbecue or inspired from one of those areas. When I went to ask what type of barbecue they had, they looked confused and moderately offended." What is D.C. barbecue, Jim Shahin? Does D.C. have its own style of barbecue?
SHAHINI would have to echo Rob and say that in the end, no. It is more of a -- it's a collection of other sorts of barbecue. It's, I mean, when you go into places, for the most part in Washington D.C., you tend to get everybody barbecue. You know, you're gonna get brisket, you're gonna get -- which is identified primarily with Texas. Although that has certainly taken off a lot. And in fact, it's gotta huge now in New York.
SHAHINThere was just a story in the Times about a week or two ago on just how big it has gotten up there. You're gonna get, you know, North Carolina pulled pork. You're gonna get ribs and sometimes the restaurants will differentiate them between Kansas City and Memphis style ribs. So you're gonna get all these different sorts of things. And in Washington, though, and, you know, sort of exploring Washington, I think, one thing I have kind of seen, that once you get away from that a little bit and, it's not easy.
SHAHINSo many of the restaurants do carry so much of everything. I did -- you see to find some -- there's a little bit of this, sort of, like Johnny Boy ribs kind of vibe going on. Especially, like, in Fort Washington and Temple Hills and places like that, where you get these big, meaty pork ribs that are -- have a little bit of a salt crust. And I don't, it's not so much -- it's not so pronounced that it's not so, you know, around the city enough to really call it a style per say. But I have noticed that once you get into a certain kind of barbecue that gets into the ribs and you get into that salt crust, it is definitely identifiable as something that is a little bit different then what I've tasted elsewhere.
NNAMDIAnd, Heath, in case people are concerned that we're only talking meat, pretty much anything you can think of can go on the grill or can be smoked. Can you talk about some of your favorite non-meat options?
HALLSure. You know my goal in life is to prove that anything you can cook on any kind of cooking instrument can be done in a grill, in a smoker, over a live fire. And so I spend a lot of time messing around with different things. I love doing drinks on the grill. We've got a really killer grilled rosemary lemonade that is on our website. I do tons and tons of desserts. I think on your website we've just put up a peach mojito recipe, which I call a Smokjito.
HALLAnd it smokes off limes, you grill the peaches. You know you can do anything that you can do in a kitchen, you can do it on a grill. So, I mean, my only rule when it comes to grilling is try it and if you mess up you can always order a pizza.
NNAMDIAs he said, you can find the recipes on our website, kojoshow.org. Barbara, of course, you do smoked meats and fish, but lots of other things can also be smoked. Can you talk a little bit about some of your vegetarian options?
LAHNSTEINYes. Well, we are doing a tofu. We do some smoked tofu, smoked tofu salad, smoked garlic, smoked jalapeno peppers. We pretty much put everything in our smoker, you know, we like. And not so much the meats, but much more fish and shellfish, crab cakes, not cheeses. Our smoker is very hot, so you will melt them. You know we do everything on warmer temperature, but not quite as hot as the barbecue. So we actually smoke our salmon for four or five, sometimes up to six hours, the fillets. And we top with different herbs and spices and cranberries, ginger.
LAHNSTEINWe also use a lot of honey in our smoking to balance off the bitterness of the smoke so it's a really good marriage between the smoke and the sweetness of the honey. And I find people especially like our mussels with the smoked honey. And I'm sorry I didn't bring them to the studio. We sold out of them. And the next time -- or maybe I'll just send them to you.
NNAMDIWell, you brought enough to the studio. Thank you. Thank you very much. We're going to take a short break while we continue to munch. You can call us at 800-433-8850 with your comments or questions. It's a conversation on barbecue and smoked foods. What tips or techniques do you use when grilling or smoking foods, 800-433-8850? You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there and take a look at some of the recipes from our guests. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're having a conversation about barbecue and smoked foods with Barbara Lahnstein. She is the owner of Neopol Savory Smokery, in Baltimore's Belvedere Square and at Union Market here in the District. Heath Hall is the president of Pork Barrel BBQ in Alexandria, Va. And Robert or Rob Sonderman is co-owner and pitmaster of D.C. City Smokehouse. Jim Shahin writes the Washington Post's "Smoke Signals" barbecue and grilling column. Jim, you wrote earlier this year about the science behind smoked foods. I was fascinated to learn that we do not in fact taste smoke. Can you explain that?
SHAHINI was fascinated to learn that, too, Kojo. I…
NNAMDII'm still taking it in.
SHAHINYeah, what -- the thing about smoke -- I was very fascinated with the growth that I believe I see in smoked foods. I mean there are smoked jams out there, smoked mustard, smoked everything. And people are -- it just seems to me that there is this almost a resurgence in the flavor component of smoke. And if you've ever been to Italy, you know there you'll have olive oil as a flavor component, as opposed to just sort of a salad dressing or something.
SHAHINAnd it -- you can really detect it in the food. And so it is, I think, with smoke now. And I was really interested in the idea of what is that component and what is it that speaks to us and more specifically why? And basically what it does is you're really -- it's a reaction caused from combustion that is in the end really -- is more about our smell response than it is our taste response so much.
SHAHINAnd so that along with the Maillard reaction, which is -- was sort of a caramelization of the meat, those two things together sort of create that just incredibly exquisite flavor that comes from smoked meat. And that's where the -- so the smoke that penetrates the meat, we smell that and then it mates with a very complicated process of taste buds and appearance and texture and the reaction I talked about earlier.
NNAMDIThe smoke, Heath Hall, takes us back to that whole caveman thing, doesn't it?
HALLIt does. It does indeed. We actually created a barbecue scented cologne called Que, which Jim, I know, has -- probably has it on right now up there...
NNAMDIJim and Dagwood -- probably Dagwood Bumstead. Barbara, you create some really interesting variations on traditional smoked salmon, candied, ginger and green tea. How do you come up with your recipes?
LAHNSTEINPart is visual, part is the taste and the combination of both. I think if you -- your eye sees it first, then you shouldn't be disappointed, you know. It should be bright and colorful. And the very next thing is the taste. And, you know, it's very important it stands up to the first impression, which is what you see.
NNAMDIIt's -- go ahead.
LAHNSTEINAnd also the type of wood you use is just as important. You know, within, you know, different woods we have, we use local -- all -- most of the woods that we get are local because, you know, that's the easiest way for us to -- and to keep the prices down. And we find mesquite, which is more a Texas wood, was too overpowering. So we are very fortunate to have great wood in Maryland, such as oak and maple and apple and fruitwoods. And even using them mainly on the seafood and on the chicken.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from someone who says he loves your smoked mussels and therefore, tweeted about it. It's my understanding though, that one of the favorites on your menu was something of an accident. Tell us about your salmon BLT.
LAHNSTEINThe salmon BLT. Well, again, a lot of people are intimidated when they see the whole sides of salmon. So, you know, getting a sandwich is for everybody, pretty much everybody. And, again, it was a big surprise. It was -- a lot of people never had smoked salmon before or they had and they didn't have a very good experience. And so it was very good feedback. We were very fortunate.
LAHNSTEINEvery food we have is an accident, but they just seem to be something that people like and we just have to make it now all the time. And, you know, from one side of salmon, now we're getting 100 sides of salmon, you know. It's just gets bigger, but it's still the same. I thought I'd do something for one time. We had a salmon crepe that was a special one week. Now we have it every day.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. Rob, we mentioned that you were given your first smoker at age 15. What's your approach to smoking foods?
SONDERMANWhat's my approach?
SONDERMANI mean, really what you need is a passion. You need passion, patient -- passion and patience are probably the two biggest things. I mean, you can kind of go anywhere with the seasonings, with the rubs, with the woods that you're going to use. But really, you need -- like to make a good brisket or even to cook a proper side of salmon, you've got to have patience. You've got to let it cook. You can't try to cook it too hot. You can't try to cook it too cold.
SONDERMANAt least one of the things that I kind of have discovered over the course of my smoking meat over the past 10, 15 years has -- you can absolutely over-smoke and just make something complete inedible just by putting too much smoke on it. I mean there can be a point where it reaches like a really acrid, bitter flavor from the smoke. And that can come from the type of wood you're using, like she mentioned mesquite wood doesn't necessarily work all that well.
SONDERMANAnything that -- like a -- like pine. You don't ever want to use obviously anything that might have been weather-treated from Home Depot is definitely something you might not want to use. But I mean, fruitwoods, any kind of hardwood, like an oak, a hickory, a cherry, an apple, those are kind of the easiest and most forgiving kinds of woods. But, really for me, seems like my favorite thing to do right now is cooking barbecue and smoking meat. So it's always been something that's fun for me and it's been an awesome ride to learn how to kind of like master the art that's been going on for hundreds of years, you know.
NNAMDIHeath, there are -- our listeners, who I'm sure have heard about the Mojito, but I don't know if they've heard about the Smokjito.
HALLYes. Well, again, I think you can cook anything on the grill or in a smoker. And we decided to take one of our favorite drinks, the summer Mojito and try to turn it into a smoked cocktail. And so simply -- pretty simple. You take your limes, you smoke them. If you don't have a smoker you can grill them. You want to get a nice char on them, juice them, and then you can take any kind of fruit you want really take.
HALLIn the recipe we provided you guys today was peaches, but you can do a number of different fruits, from strawberries to pineapple, any of the stone fruits smoke really well. Obviously, you can do a lot of the citruses, oranges and grapefruits and such. But that smoke and caramelization that the fruit gets just provides another element to an already fabulous drink in the Mojito.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones, we'll start with Daniel, in Arlington, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHi, Kojo. Hi, guests. How are you all today?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
DANIELExcellent. So I was just curious about whether you see barbecue and smoking be something that can be elevated, especially in a restaurant setting. You know, in the past 10 years or I guess 20 years now, we've seen cuisines like Italian and, you know, Korean, Japanese. These have all made real elevations in the United States upon it being Michelin star-rated products.
DANIELI was wondering, do you think barbecue and smoking is too niche or it's too kind of myopic within the American dining spectrum. Or if you figure out something where there isn't so much dogma that will keep it from being always kind of like a casual food?
SHAHINI'm sure others will also have thoughts on this, but I think it's definitely already migrated from being so tradition-bound. And there's, you know, you get two barbecue people together and you've got yourself argument. And there's, you know, sort of the traditionalists and the purists and then there's the people that are kind of playing around with it a lot. And, you know, even among the purists there's, well, you know, there's North Carolina is better than Texas, and all that kind of stuff.
SHAHINBut I'll tell you what, one of the most exciting things to me right now is some of the experimentation that's going on with barbecue because to me -- and it's happening at restaurants all across America. And I would throw, you know, Del Campo in with that, even though it's not maybe traditional barbecue, some of the flavors they're getting and some of the combinations of things that they're doing are extending the idea of perhaps not barbecue per say, but certainly the idea of sort of grilled and scorched meat.
SHAHINBut you are getting sort of traditional barbecue that is being mated with Asian flavors. You're getting that a lot. You've gotten that at -- I think it's Sixth and Magnolia, down in Louisville, where Ed Lee, the chef there, has been doing -- working with his Korean background and mating flavors with traditional barbecue and really pushing the envelope on stuff there. And Fatty Cue, up in New York, which is now -- I believe it's closed now, but they started doing a lot of experimentation also with sort of Southeast Asian flavors and mating those with barbecue.
SHAHINAnd short of taking barbecue, you know, this notion of American southern barbecue and moving it into a more experimental realm. And now, also, a trend that I kind of want to, at some point maybe write about, is these -- all these chef-driven barbecue places. It used to be that, you know, barbecue was something that was done pretty much, you know, by people, just, you know, just folk. And now people are coming out of the CIA and everywhere else and opening up barbecue restaurants.
SHAHINAnd so that's already happening. There's some very exciting things on the plate, even in some tradition-bound places like in Dallas, where there's a place called Smoke. And they're doing chimichurri with, you know, a big beef rib and stuff like that. And even more exotic things than that. So, yeah, that's already -- it's already begun.
NNAMDIOn to Alex, in Washington, D.C. Alex, your turn.
ALEXHey, guys. I just want to talk about one of the most ubiquitous sides for barbecue and that's coleslaw. I grew up in eastern North Carolina and then spent some time in Winston-Salem, sort of towards to the west of the state. And it wasn't until I moved to D.C. that I found this stuff that they label as Carolina-style coleslaw, which seems to be nothing more shredded cabbage with some vinegar dumped on it. And I don't ever recall seeing that crap in North Carolina.
ALEXIt's very hard to find true North Carolina-style coleslaw up here. It's usually very, very finely shredded cabbage. It doesn't have that much mayonnaise in it. It does have a little hint of vinegar and a fair amount of sugar. And it really balances out sort of the, you know, the smoky, salty rich components of the pork. And the only place I can find it up here is Black Hog, up in Frederick. But I'd love to know why more people don't try that style of coleslaw. Thanks.
NNAMDII have no idea. Rob Sonderman, along with your pulled pork and your brisket and your turkey, you brought some sides here.
SONDERMANYeah, I actually -- I ended up just bringing potato salad. I was hoping to bring some more stuff, but they weren't quite ready yet. On the coleslaw, I think, unfortunately, coleslaw is -- all right. It is one of these things that, for me, I think a good Carolina style of chopped pork with slaw is probably like the pinnacle of what, like, good barbecue is, as much as I love everything else. Like, I think that's my go-to.
SONDERMANBut coleslaw is like -- it's unfortunately just a little bit -- it's hard to get amazing coleslaw anywhere, I feel like. Like, I feel like the coleslaw that I make at the restaurant, it tries to be something like that. It's vinegar, a little bit of mayo. It's not quite as finely shredded cabbage, but I have, like, a lot of red chilies. I love to use dried chilies in everything so -- but coleslaw is one of those things that everyone -- and with barbecue in general, everyone kind of has, like, their own way that they like it. And it's -- it goes back to tradition.
SONDERMANI mean and maybe it's the way their mom made it or maybe it's the way their favorite barbecue restaurant that they were growing up at made it, but it's hard for everyone -- and it would be boring, I feel like, if everyone made everything the same.
NNAMDIBarbara, you also have a number of prepared foods for the home chef. And many of those ingredients are smoked. You have a range of smoked salts. Can you tell us how someone might use smoked garlic or smoked red wine and juniper berry salt?
LAHNSTEINYes. We have an array of salts. I thought of it a very long time ago and now it's very popular and you can find it anywhere. Not our flavors, juniper berry/red wine, I found you can soak the salt in a liquid, such as red wine, and it also adds a beautiful color. It's like a purple salt. When -- I'm not a football fan here, but we do have the color purple Baltimore for the Raven football team. So it kind of works well with, you know, our customers.
NNAMDIAll of the people who want to sit around watching games.
LAHNSTEINYes. And juniper berry is good with meats, you know. So we have another salt, we -- which is lemon and rosemary, which is great of seafood.
LAHNSTEINSo we do different salts. We have about four or five different flavors. Some for vegetables, some for meats and some for seafood.
NNAMDIOn now to Norma, in Silver Spring, Md. Norma, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NORMAOh, hello, and thanks so much for taking my call. This is such a great program. My father is from -- was from Kentucky. He'd be 100 years old if he were still alive today. But he made the sauce every year. And it was a secret, a family secret. And so, I got to help him with doing that. And it was a tomato-based sauce, but it had so much -- so many of the things you mentioned like the mustard, vinegar, molasses, onions, Tabasco, onions, limes. And they were just kind of a basic, sort of, recipe. But he'd always say, oh, let's try a little bit of this.
NORMAOr let's try a little bit of that. So, every year, I make the sauce on his birthday, in honor of him. And someone mentioned earlier that they thought of it as the condiment that shouldn't be overwhelming. But, you know, I'm known to go in there and just stick my finger in the sauce. And, you know, just lick it off my finger because it's just -- it is so good.
NNAMDIEven as you honor your father with it, are you honoring him by adding other things all the time?
NORMAOh, yes. I do mole or I add mole to it now and just, you know, whatever I think might be good. It's always a fluid sort of thing. And just always add different things to it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll talk with our guests about how they got in this business in the first place. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think D.C. is becoming a barbecue town? You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website. Take a gander at the recipes that our guests have posted at kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on barbecue and smoked foods. We're talking with Jim Shahin. He writes the Washington Post "Smoke Signals" barbecue and grilling column. Barbara Lahnstein is the owner of Neopol Savory Smokery in Baltimore's Belvedere Square and at Union Market here in the District. Heath Hall is the president of Pork Barrel BBQ in Alexandria, VA.
NNAMDIAnd Robert Sonderman is co-owner and pit master of DC City Smokehouse. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. You all have interesting stories about how you got into your particular line of work. Barbara, how did you get into the food business and, in particular, smoked foods?
LAHNSTEINWell, it was again, an accident. I have a background in graphic arts and I was also pregnant at the time and I figured a safer future will be into food because food is a necessity, art is a luxury, more. So I started at a very young age. And also, I had these terrible food cravings for smoked food, which reminded me of my childhood. And I try to recreate it and, again, I found a different way of smoking food. It took me many, many years and many accidents...
NNAMDIYou experimented a lot since the '80s.
LAHNSTEINA lot. I actually designed the first smoker, which was an outdoor smoker and we had it for 10 years and it's still encased as a grill in my backyard. We have an indoor smoker now because the health department wouldn't approve such a thing. And...
NNAMDIYou work with your son who is...
LAHNSTEINHe grew up -- that's what he knows. He went to school to become a teacher and he came back to become a partner. The business has doubled and tripled since. And we opened up in Washington, thanks to a third person who's my adopted daughter Jeni who runs the Washington location. The three of us are the main people at Neopol. And we have also a great group of people working for us. And it feels like a family.
NNAMDIThere was a time when you lost your business partner and you were thinking about closing this business.
NNAMDIBut your son said, that's not going to happen.
LAHNSTEINIt's not going to happen.
NNAMDIAnd as a result, he became your business partner. Heath, before opening Pork Barrel BBQ, you were a national security and foreign policy expert and you worked on Capitol Hill, tell us how...
LAHNSTEINOh, wait a second, you're mixing me up with somebody here.
NNAMDINo, I'm talking about Heath.
NNAMDII'm mixing you up with...
HALL... (unintelligible) foreign policy.
NNAMDI...the guy sitting next to you.
HALLWell, I grew up in Jefferson City, MO, the capital city of Missouri. So I grew up all around politics. But I grew up with a dad who I like to jokingly call the postal worker of barbecue. Rain, sleet, snow, winter, summer, fall, hurricanes, tornadoes, it didn't matter, he was out there grilling, smoking, doing something. So grew up at a young age, you know, around a person who loved, you know, live fire cooking.
HALLAnd also grew up very close to Kansas City and eventually lived in Kansas City. I moved to D.C. for my other love, which is politics and working on the Hill. And it was late one night during a U.S. Senate budget debate, where the Senate was debating pork barrel spending projects, and we were debating dinner. And two conversations merged and Pork Barrel BBQ was born. Our boss later on down the road lost his reelection bid.
HALLMy business partner Brett Thompson and I went our separate ways. And then we came back a couple of years later and said, you know, let's give this Pork Barrel BBQ thing a try.
NNAMDIAnd see -- similar to Barbara, it was her passion that...
NNAMDI...caused her to get into this business.
HALLI think there are -- you know, there's people passionate about everything they do. But you -- it's hard to find a barbecuer or a smoker that isn't passionate about it. Because, like Rob said, it's something that is not instant gratification. It takes hours to produce the end product. And in order to get those -- through those hours, you have to have some passion and some patience.
NNAMDINot just passion, but they also had a yearning for this food.
NNAMDIThey were satisfying their cravings, turned it into a business plan. Rob, you were a traditionally trained chef. You graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, the other CIA. It seems -- it seems barbecue is pretty humble in your training. What drew you to barbecue and how did you decide to open your own shop?
SONDERMANWell, yeah, I did go to Culinary Institute of America. Most of the people who I went to school with are in fine dining, French restaurants, New York City, L.A., Chicago, all over the country. But like I was saying before, just the -- I grew up with that yearning for barbecue. I mean, the smell of smoke in the air, going to Boy Scout meetings. Unfortunately, unlike Heath, my dad was the dad who was burning the steaks and the pork chops and the chicken on the grill.
SONDERMANSo I kind of had to take over that part of the duty for my family at a young age in order for us to eat good. Luckily, my mom is a great cook. She had me in the kitchen at a young age as well. Pretty much my -- for the first job I ever had when I was 14, I was working at a small Italian restaurant one of my neighbors owned. So just -- I've been kind of going along in the restaurant industry pretty much my whole life.
SONDERMANIt's pretty much the only job -- the only kind of job that I've ever had. But working in the other fine dining restaurants, I enjoyed it but always on my day off was -- it was time to cook some barbecue and then maybe bring it in for staff meal the next day. And then it just sort of, I was like -- one day, I was like, why not just do this every day. And I started working at Hill Country downtown.
SONDERMANWorked there for a few years, and then it was kind of time for me to move on to something my own -- my own speed, my own style. And that's kind of where we are now, you know.
NNAMDIJim Shahin, I wanted to get back to the conversation raised by one of our earlier callers about side dishes. What regional side dishes stand out for you?
SHAHINWell, there's, you know, when you go to traditional places around the country, whether it's North Carolina or Alabama or Texas or Memphis, you tend to find certain side dishes that go with those meats. Like in Texas, for example, you're always going to have a sort of a mayonnaise-y coleslaw, almost mashed potatoe-y potato salad and soupy pinto beans as opposed to, say, baked beans, that are like sort of sweet, maybe a little spicy that you're going to find more so in Memphis and Kansas City.
SHAHINBut I think what you're also seeing is, again, just like one of the callers talked about with side dishes and talked about with things being experimental, you're seeing different sorts of side dishes coming about now, too. And it's sort of lightening up the barbecue plate. And I don't think that's a bad thing. I think, you know, people are doing some great things with sort of citrus flavors and whatnot. And, you know, I think the side dishes have actually gotten a lot more interesting.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Nancy in Asheville, NC who says, "I can't believe you're mentioning North Carolina barbecue without including hush puppies." She was born and raised in Durham.
NNAMDIBorn and raised in Bullock's BBQ. Rob, so for people looking to fire up the grill this weekend, what are some basics people should keep in mind?
SONDERMANWell, to cook good barbecue you need, at least in the backyard, my easiest way is I always start with charcoal just because it has a nice, neutral flavor and it's a good heat source. I mean, like, temperature control is really important and then kind of start with the easier stuff. I mean, going to a -- trying to cook a brisket your first time firing up your smoker is definitely not a good idea, I don't think.
SONDERMANBaby back ribs are, even though they're kind of that stereotypical, like, Applebee's kind of thing, that's because they're the easiest thing to cook. You can find them pretty much anywhere. And from there, I mean, maybe, like, pulled pork, pork shoulder, that's also kind of one of the easiest, like, fool-proof -- fool-proof, like, just kind of cook it until it's -- until it's about ready to fall apart and you're pretty much there.
SONDERMANBut temperature control, picking a wood and a seasoning that works for you that you like, I definitely -- I'm on the boat that barbecue starts with a dry rub. So always a dry seasoning on the meat and maybe -- a lot of places do, like, a little bit of a mustard base to their eats before they put the dry rub on it. But it's never about barbecue sauce on, like, the whole way. Maybe you can finish with a barbecue sauce as a glaze on your rack of ribs the last 20, 30 minutes or so. But if you start with a barbecue sauce on the meat when it's raw, it's going to end up being burnt by the time your rack of ribs is ready.
NNAMDIHeath, what choices are there in terms of flavoring your barbecue with wood?
HALLWell, I like to use hickory as my base. That's a Missouri thing. Missouri is very hickory prone and probably hickory is the -- probably most used wood around the country outside of a few places. Texas oak is very big. I also use a little bit of oak. And then just like these guys talked about a little bit earlier, I love using some of the fruit woods. To me, the cherry wood provides a really nice flavor and also particularly on pork.
HALLIt helps to get that mahogany color that you're looking for in a properly piece -- a cooked piece of pork. And -- but beyond that, you know, you can do anything. At my house right now, I probably have 20 different kinds of woods, everything from orange wood, to persimmon, to pecan, oak, hickory, you know, red oak, post oak, white oak. Have fun with it. Experiment with it. Find the combination that works for you.
HALLAnd if you are going to use charcoal, I like to use either a lump charcoal or the kings for competition charcoal, which is also 100 percent but it's in a briquette form. A lot of the cheaper briquettes have additives in there that you really don't want to be cooking with. And then to add on to what he said about tips, never ever use lighter fluid. Throw your lighter fluid away.
HALLGo buy a $15, $20 chimney starter, get some newspaper. You're going to have a clean fire, a quick fire and it's not going to taste like lighter fluid.
NNAMDITony in Sunnyside, Md. has something to say about wood. Tony, your turn.
TONYHey, thank you for taking my call. Excellent lunchtime show to be having. I can see everybody running out to the stores right now. The one thing I couldn't agree with you more on is about the lighter fluid thing. I don't even start with it when I cook. And if I mess up on my fire, you got to bite the bullet and boot up with sticks or whatever. But lighter fluid is just the taste you don't want in your food and it will be there.
TONYBut the thing I wanted to ask you folks about -- or rather say to you folks, and I'll take your comments off the air, is about some of the woods you have to be very careful with. When I teach barbecue to people, we talk about things like locust and redwood and cedar, which have preservatives, natural preservatives in them and they can be harmful.
NNAMDIThat was mentioned. Yep.
TONYAnd the other thing I wanted to throw out there is about -- oh, I'm going brain dead, help me. But basically about...
NNAMDIWell, you've thrown out more than enough food for thought on the issue of woods. And I think all of our panelists basically agree with you, correct? Which allows me to move on to this, Heath. You have proven that pretty much anything can be smoked or grilled. You have even grilled an iPad.
HALLI have. Yes, you know...
SONDERMANThis is gonna be good.
HALL…it's a beautiful, you know, white, fat cap around the outside, you know, like on a piece of brisket. I'll tell you, the iPad is much -- much better on the grill than the Samsung Galaxy. The Galaxy, you know, it really just blew up quickly. So if you're looking to smoke a piece of electronics over Labor Day, I would stick with an Apple product, they tend to be better.
NNAMDIIn all seriousness, you can grill most foods. But what are some of the more unusual foods that you like to throw on the grill?
HALLOh, my wife and I, like I say, we love to do anything that's crazy. We do a lot of pizzas on the grill. I was just recently on a Travel Channel grilling competition called "American Grilled," and I -- in the last round, I did a canned sardine-crusted tomahawk rib-eye that ended up winning me the competition. You know, fish, obviously I'm not the fish expert here. We've got a fish expert here, but we love taking whole fish and putting herbs and citrus in it. And really just, you know, if it walks, if it flies, if it swims, if it grows in the dirt, if it grows on top of the dirt, I'm ready to cook it.
NNAMDIJim, we're running out of time, very quickly, we only have about a minute left. We promise we wouldn't only focus on meat, of course. You've got a recipe for smoked gazpacho?
SHAHINOh, yeah, I just love that dish. You know, you can -- you can take all the great flavors this time of year, put them together in a gazpacho and you can gently smoke some of the ingredients there and it just makes for a lovely, you know, lovely chilled soup before or...
NNAMDIYou can find that -- you can find that recipe at our website, kojoshow.org. Anyone can answer this quickly. We got a tweet from Vicky, "Any of the guests know the best way to smoke olives?"
LAHNSTEINYou don't want vinegar, too much vinegar in it. Add olive oil, add rosemary. It works really well, a little bit of honey on the end really helps. And the lemon you can add after you smoke but not before. And then another good idea, if you do it on the grill, you can always add some fresh herbs, basil, rosemary branches directly on the coals.
SONDERMANRight on the fire, yeah.
LAHNSTEINIt will flavor the smoke.
NNAMDIVicky, you got your answer. Barbara Lahnstein is the owner of Neopol Savory Smokery in Baltimore's Belvedere Square and at Union Market here in the District. Hello to Dorian for us. Thank you so much for joining us. Jim Shahin writes the Washington Post "Smoke Signals" barbecue and grilling column. Jim, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISay hello to that Shahin guy when you see him.
NNAMDIHeath Hall is president of Pork Barrel BBQ in Alexandria. Heath, thank you for joining us.
HALLThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Rob Sonderman is co-owner and pit master of DC City Smokehouse. Rob, you rock.
SONDERMANThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Coming up tomorrow on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," the computer guys and gal are back. Apple gears up for a big announcement, Amazon bets big on video games as a spectator spot. Plus, the latest back to school gadgets. Then at 1:00, U.S. weapons in enemy hands, from radar cloaking devices to missile guiding systems. A sting operation traces how advanced military technology goes astray, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon till 2:00, tomorrow, on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.
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