When it comes to barbecuing meat, there may be no better person to ask than Joe Carroll. A self-taught cook, Carroll shows off his mastery of live-fire cooking through his acclaimed eateries in Brooklyn and Philadelphia, Fette Sau and St. Anselm. While much of Carroll's inspiration for smoking meats draws upon the "dry" style of barbecue, Carroll has developed his own lessons along the way, which, in turn, has created a new regional style of barbecue: Brooklyn barbecue.
If you think all of this can only be achieved with fancy equipment and timeless barbecue traditions, then think again! Carroll's debut cookbook, Feeding the Fire: Recipes and Strategies for Better Barbecue and Grilling, will uncover his top 20 lessons of fire-cooked foods and the accoutrements that bring out the best flavors through 75 recipes. Some of the main takeaways of his signature method involve how the quality of meat matters, why wood is an ingredient in its own right, the importance of using one dry rub, the difference between grilling red meat, chicken, and seafood, and why brining and salting are worth your time.
Carroll discusses why more people should fire-cook their food, the best American whiskey blends to pair with your meat, and what makes his method for barbecuing meat different than the rest.
What’s the hardest meat to fire-cook?
It’s basically impossible to make the ubiquitous skinless chicken breast taste good over the fire. I always leave the breast on the bone, as I do with any piece of chicken, which helps the meat hold its shape and prevents it from drying out. Grilling chicken is a race against the clock: the challenge is always to get the meat cooked through before it dries out.
Why should more people fire-cook their food?
One of the best things about live-fire cooking is the sense of celebration that comes with it. Whether you’re grilling a batch of burgers or roasting a whole pig on a spit, a party is sure to ensue.
What kind of American whiskey blends are best paired with barbecued meats?
American whiskey has a lot in common with barbecue: both have deep roots in our country’s heritage and both are predominantly flavored with charred wood. But I don’t think whiskey is an ideal partner for food. Whiskey is so assertively flavored and high in alcohol that it will overwhelm almost anything you eat with it. I’d rather have some beer or cider with my barbecue and save my whiskey for afterward.
Why do you specialize in barbecuing meat? How did you get there as a chef?
I’m a self-taught home cook whose most important job is to feed his family and friends. Through trial and error, I've made my way into a unique place in the food world. I’d had a longtime obsession with smoked meat, but as a poor NYU student years ago, I first started to load my shelves with barbecue books and bought a $40 Weber Bullet smoker that I kept at my parents’ house. On weekends, I’d smoke anything I could get my hands on. I picked up the basic technique pretty quickly but had no real idea of how good my barbecue was, so I started traveling to the big four regions of American barbecue—Texas, Kansas City, Memphis, and the Carolinas—in search of legendary barbecue restaurants and stands. The funny thing about grilling is that I never studied it the way I did barbecue; it was just a skill I developed through a lifetime of cooking in my backyard.
What makes your method for barbecuing meat different than conventional methods?
My approach lets the meat speak for itself and relies on wood smoke and patience as its primary ingredients. I’ve learned that using meat from sustainably raised, heritage-breed animals resulted in food that was much, much better than anything I’d tasted before. And I have a preference for the “dry” style of barbecue found in North Carolina and especially Texas, where meat is coated in a dry spice rub (or often just salt and pepper) before a long, hot nap in the smoker. Ironically, the highly personal, regionally untethered, mongrel style of barbecue restaurant I developed for Fette Sau has become something of a regional classification, increasingly called “Brooklyn barbecue.”
Butcher’s Steaks with Garlic Butter
Makes 4 servings
The hanger steak (aka butcher’s steak) is one of the most underrated cuts of beef. It’s silky and fairly tender, thanks to the fact that the muscle, like the tenderloin, does very little work; its primary function is to support the diaphragm. It literally hangs there, from the cow’s last rib, unprotected by the bones and fat that surround other cuts. Once the animal is processed, this extra air exposure helps the hanger develop its extra-beefy, almost liver-y flavor. Each cow yields only one (two halves separated by a vein), which means that butchers—back when every neighborhood had one—wouldn’t have more than one or two of these steaks on hand at a time, so they’d either grind them into hamburger meat or keep these meat orphans for themselves (hence the name). Its working-class status also makes it the best inexpensive steak around, perfect for a quick weeknight dinner.
On the grill, treat this long, irregularly shaped cut like a sausage, turning it frequently to get a good char on all sides. I prefer mine cooked to medium, which makes it a bit more tender than medium-rare while retaining its gamey flavor and silky texture.
Four 10-ounce hanger steaks, trimmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons melted Garlic Butter (recipe follows)
Coarse sea salt
1. Start charcoal and let burn until coals are glowing red and coated in gray ash, about 15 minutes. Spread an even layer of charcoal, about one or two coals deep, over the bottom of the grill.
2. Generously season the steaks with kosher salt and pepper. Grill the steaks, turning frequently, for about 8 minutes for medium-rare or 10 minutes for medium. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.
3. Cut the steaks across the grain on the diagonal into 1-inch slices. Divide among four plates, drizzle with the garlic butter, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Serve.
Makes about 1 cup
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes; the butter should simmer gently but not brown. Remove from the heat.
2. Skim the foam from the top of the butter and slowly pour the butter through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Discard the milky solids and garlic. The butter can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks.
Excerpted from Feeding the Fire by Joe Carroll and Nick Fauchald (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2015. Photographs by William Hereford.
Follow Gillian Speiser on Twitter.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.