The South's Best Pitmasters

The people behind the pits are often as compelling as the meat that emerges from them. Here, some of the South's best pitmasters, a diverse group reunited by a smoky passion. These Southern magicians have mastered the art of slow-cooked barbecue. It's juicy, it's tender, and it takes hours of work and passion to prepare.


[MUSIC] I'm Sam Jones and we're at Skylight Inn Barbecue, Ayden, North Carolina. This is Avery Payne down here at Cook's Barbecue in Lexington, North Carolina. I'm Chris Lily, pit master at Big Bob Gibson Barbecue in Decatur, Alabama. My name is Aaron Franklin. I'm a owner and fire maker here at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas. Hey all, this is Will Fleischman. I'm here at Lockhart Smokehouse in North Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas. Hi, I'm Ed Mitchell and I'm a barbecue pit master here in Eastern North Carolina. I'm Rodney Scott here in Hemingway, South Carolina at Scott's Barbecue. I am the pit master. My dad taught me. My mom pulls it, serves it. You know I was born in this business. My dad he bought the restaurant back when I was about nine years old. I learned the craft from my family, my grandfather. A father, my uncles. My parents had a barbecue place when I was a kid for a few years. I was about 9, 10, 11, somewhere around in there they only had it for 2 or 3 years but it was enough, I thought it was really neat. My first memories of barbecue definitely with my father you know, we used to go down to the barbecue shack down the road and you know, watch the pit master shovel coals into the hickory pits. And he had a love for barbecue, and I guess that's where I sort of, the seed of my passion began. Originally I'm from north central Wisconsin, land of Scandin, Scandinavians, beer and smoke. How's the barbecue up there? There is no barbecue up there. Our family's been cooking whole hog barbecue for now on 65 years. Basically unchanged, we're doing it the same way, the only way we know how to do it to be right honest with you. A lot of folks they get a brush, and brush their ribs down, sauce them down real good. Brush, brush is like too much work with this, so we use the mop. We put a nice dry rub on the meat. And put it on the cooker and cook it slow over hickory wood at 225 degrees for about four hours, until that rib is perfectly done. Must be in a good mood. If you're in a bad mood while you're cooking, you're about the screw something up. Every day is a good day. I have challenging days. [MUSIC] But not bad. Barbecue is very glamorous, as you might imagine, in that it's full of dirt, grease, wood smoke, fire. Cooking shoulder's usually starts at about 6:15 in the morning. First thing we have to do is start a fire. Usually, it takes about an hour first to get some good coals. Normal day around here starts about 2:30 a.m. You know, we're pulling off briskets for service and making room for ribs to go on the smokers. We've got three big smokers back there that we cook on. By 3:50 a.m, all the ribs are cooking for the day. They come off about 9 o'clock. And you know, during that time, we're Sauce and ribs, rapid ribs, get brisket setup in the warmer. Making sides, making sauce, drinking a ton of espresso. My day starts with coffee and cigarettes before the sun comes up and most people have thought about setting their alarm to wake up. And I spend most of the time in the morning with the shovel in my hand messing with the fire and controlling the amount of embers in the fire, getting my temperature where I want it to be. You've gotta learn to sit back and let the food cook. You can't be too aggressive with it you gotta just let it go. And that affects you life you know, I'm a laid back person so I was all ready for barbecue before I started. Don't in any hurry. Go ahead and just plan on your whole day being Laid back and taking it easy and, taking care of your meat. That's why barbecue's so popular in this house. We got a slower pace down here, but it takes that to master the art of barbecue. The only thing that's gonna make a brisket good, is by taking the time to make it good. And the only thing that's gonna make it bad is by not taking the time. This hog's been on for 12 hours, slow roasting, belly side down. [MUSIC] We flipped it over, which is really 15 to 20 minutes afterwards we do. And what we're doing is, we're trying to crisp the skins. They're gone, all this is gonna pucker up to one of the best bites that you can ever put in your mouth off a pig. We, because we use an indirect, enclosed pit low and slow is our mantra. [UNKNOWN] And I'm an oddball, you know, I do hot and fast. So that give us a different flavor and a different style and a different end result. As it compared to other regions. Wood selection is a key in to be able to cook your meat and In North Carolina in this particular area the hardest wood we have is hickory wood. so, hickory is the best wood to use on our pit. It's not cooked with wood it's not barbecue. For me our customers have a hand in because we have a lot of them that donate us wood that needs to be moved off their property and. They just want it gone. They give it to us, and we use it to barbecue, so it's not a waste of anything. We use the wood, and in return, we tell them thank you on Easter Saturday by giving them a free meal, letting them enjoy the music, the lemonade, the food, the friends, the family, and, and, just, just have a blast, take it back to the way things used to be. Barbecue has always been synonymous to good times and happy times, and those kind of things. And after a hard day's work, then we play hard and we enjoy life. We open at 11 o'clock. People probably start showing up about 8:30 or 9 a.m. They bring in breakfast tacos, mimosas, footballs, frisbees, dogs, lawn chairs, blankets, all kinds of stuff. You can have about people from all different walks of life. All together, standing in one lie, to get one product. And you know, if push comes to shove, when we we're busy, they'd sit at the same table and eat that product. You know, and talk about what their day has been. From the morning till lunch time, and there's allot of foods you can't go and fine dining and see that class gap get bridged, the barbecue doesn't. I personally feel like food is a universal thing no matter where you do it, you're gonna meet somebody. And it, it, it brings a lot of happiness. The biggest reward is meeting new people and seeing them again over the same idea or theme, or party, whatever. As long as it's barbecue. [MUSIC] It's a winner already.
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