One of the earliest cookbooks I purchased that was completely barbecue related was Paul Kirk’s Championship Barbecue Sauces. It’s still one of my favorites and one I turn to often.
One of the reasons I enjoy Paul’s book is that it’s not just a “here’s a recipe – make it,” cookbook. This book is much more of a teaching and motivational cookbook. And yes, I can call him Paul. We’ve known each other for years. I, along with Matt Fisher and Andrew Fischel of RUB brought Paul to NYC way back on October 21, 2006 for his first ever cooking class in New York
Chef Kirk comes to the forefront in this book. Chef Paul the mentor is ever-present on every page. While he does provide “recipes” a lot of the book is dedicated to technique. He provides a list of ingredients and then walks you through the steps to create. What flavors work together? Which oppose each other? How do you get the combination that achieves the flavor profile you’re seeking? This book walks you through all that and it’s very much how Paul teaches his class.
When Paul was in NYC back in 2006, Matt and I teamed up to create a rub that would be used throughout the class on chicken, ribs and pork shoulder. Paul opened up his magic spice rack and laid out about 70 different herbs, spices, salts and peppers for us to taste. After tasting the spices, we started to devise a rub. The first task was to put it all down on paper. We had to write out precise measurements of each seasoning we were going to use. Once that was done, Paul would critique each creation.
Matt and I approached the Baron of Barbecue with our recipe and waited in anticipation for Paul’s comments. He read over the list, which I wish I still had, and made a couple of recommendations, “add more of this.” or “loose that.” But one line stayed with me to this day, “You Yankees sure love your Bay. It’s not a barbecue spice and I wouldn’t use it, but hey, it’s your rub.”
A little disappointed with the Baron’s comments, Matt and I returned to our table and mulled over Paul’s remarks. Matt and I mulled it over for a while, should we take out the Bay (ground dried bay leaf)? I like the flavor of Bay. Matt liked the flavor of Bay. We went back and forth with it for about 15 minutes before we finally said “Fuck it. Leave it in.” We mixed up the rub, tasted it and were pretty pleased with ourselves.
So we mix up the rub, season up some ribs and smoke them. Nervously we presented a rack of ribs to Paul for review. He looks at them and declares them under-cooked. (Let me explain something here. He didn’t mean that they were still raw. He meant that they hadn’t reach that perfect spot where you could bend the rack together so that the ends almost touch, without the meat breaking.) Paul took a couple of bites, said the rib had a good texture. He put the rib down, wiped his hands and mouth and finally declared, “Pretty good rub.”
Even with expert advice, sometimes it’s best to just follow your gut. Matt and I defied the advice of the Baron of Barbecue and created a rub that pleased even him. Trust your instincts. I remember another time in creating a rub where I added ground up chocolate sprinkles. Damn that was a good rub. The chocolate added just the perfect amount of depth that rub needed.
So what’s the moral of this story? Go – play with your food.