Feeding the Fire
When Joe Carroll opened Brooklyn’s Fette Sau in 2007, he was among the very first pioneers to bring legit barbecue to New York City. A couple years ago, the New Jersey-native expanded his operation to Philadelphia, adding a second Fette Sau to his roster of restaurants (which also includes the neighborhood steakhouse St. Anselm and the beer garden Spuyten Duyvil, both in Brooklyn). His new cookbook, Feeding the Fire, presents aspiring grill masters with 20 important barbecue lessons, from choosing the right smoker and firewood to the importance of brining poultry and the best way to grill shellfish. Below, we asked Carroll to share a few tips for cooking with fire and his favorite New Jersey barbecue joints.
AndrewZimmern.com: Personal preference: wet or dry rub?
Joe Carroll: I’m fully committed to dry rubs. Some say that wet rubs yields juicier barbecue, but I’ve never found that to be the case. In addition to being less labor-intensive (you don’t have to baste dry-rub meat as it cooks), dry-rubbed meat has a better “bark”—that dark, chewy, deliciously smoky lacquered crust that forms on the surface of the meat.
AZ.com: Why are brining and salting worth the extra effort?
JC: A well-marbled steak or lamb chop contains enough intramuscular fat to keep it tender when grilled, but animals that carry more of their fat on the outside of their bodies—like chickens and pigs—need your help to stay juicy and flavorful, especially when their fate is a hot grill or smoker. Brining and salting ahead of time both help you achieve this. One very important thing to remember with any meat that’s been brined: be careful about seasoning it during and after cooking. Cook the meat and taste it before adding any salt.
AZ.com: Say I don’t have a smoker, what are a few tips for smoking in a kettle grill?
JC: Kettle grills make pretty good smokers. The main disadvantage is that you have to open the cover to add more charcoal and wood or to check your meat, which lets out heat and precious smoke. So, to make sure you do that as infrequently as possible, I recommend using hardwood chunks over wood chips; they take longer to burn down and, thus, will release smoke over a longer time. If you must use wood chips, make sure they’re well soaked and place them in a foil-wrapped packet. Otherwise, the process is very similar to using a dedicated smoker. Gas grills aren’t so good at smoking. Most of them are too leaky, so the smoke goes straight out the sides and back (and not around the meat).
AZ.com: What is the best way to know when meat is done?
JC: With barbecue, I usually cook to texture—that is, smoke the meat until it reaches the right balance of tenderness and chewiness that I’m looking for, which varies from cut to cut and animal to animal. But with grilled meats, I almost always cook to temperature. It’s the only way to ensure that the meat will be done to your liking. For this, I recommend using a high-quality, instant-read digital thermometer; the ones made by Thermoworks are my favorites.
AZ.com: Why is wood so important?
JC: Barbecue isn’t barbecue without wood smoke; wood is as much flavor as it is fuel, especially when you’re cooking simple barbecue. When your only ingredients other than meat are dry rubs, or just salt and pepper, the type of wood you use can have a profound effect on the taste of the finished product. I like to impart a good amount of smokiness into my barbecue; I want whoever’s eating it to smell and taste the smoke right away. Think of wood like a seasoning in the same way chefs use spices in their cooking: you want to use enough to make their presence known, but not so much that they overwhelm the dish.
AZ.com: Give us a few tips for grilling seafood.
1. Almost any fish can be grilled whole: the skin protects the delicate flesh and takes to char nicely, as long as your grate is well oiled.
2. With larger fish that are always broken down into smaller cuts, I favor the oilier varieties—like salmon, tuna, and swordfish—and I always opt for grilling steaks over fillets: they’re easier to move around the grill and their uniform size helps them cook more evenly.
3. Shellfish are my favorite seafood to grill. I throw clams and mussels directly over a hot fire, which steams the meat in its own juices and gives it a slightly smoky flavor. Likewise, crustaceans—shrimp, langoustines, lobster, and the like—have a protective shell that keeps the meat moist and tender and can take a good hit of char.
4. No matter what kind of seafood you’re grilling, keep the preparation simple. A sprinkle of salt and pepper before it hits the grill, a squeeze of lemon juice, and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or melted butter, just after it comes off, are all good seafood ever needs.
AZ.com: Favorite New Jersey barbecue joints?
JC: As surprising as it may sound, my home state of New Jersey has a barbecue subculture all its own. There’s also a pocket of legitimate barbecue hidden among the heavily wooded Pine Barrens in the southern part of the state. In warmer months, you’ll find a smattering of roadside stands here, each spring bringing a new crop of barbecue entrepreneurs. Two of my favorites are Uncle Dewey’s Outdoor BBQ Pavilion, located along Route 40 in Mizpah. Nearby is Henri’s Hotts, where owner Doug Henri smokes his version of Texas-style barbecue—brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and chicken—in portable smoking rigs behind his restaurant.
Get Carroll’s recipes for Axe-Handle Rib-Eye Steak & Grilled Fingerling Potatoes.