Labor Day Pitmaster Tribute

Pitmasters–the guys who actually do the smoky, sweaty work of tending the coals and cooking the pigs–are vastly underappreciated.  There’s no better time than Labor Day to celebrate the pitmaster for what he is: one of the most important parts of any real barbecue restaurant (i.e., anywhere that still cooks over wood coals).

Chop, chop, chop at the Skylight Inn. Photo by Conor "Swine Factor" Keeney.

Interestingly, the owners of many barbecue joints start out as their own pitmasters, but upon achieving success most focus on the business side of the restaurant and delegate the hard work of cooking the pig to a full-time pitmaster.  The Skylight Inn, one of the state’s finest swine establishements, is no exception.  Though the Jones family comes from a long line of pitmasters and continues to play a major hands-on role in running the restaurant, the guy who shovels the coals and cooks the pigs has no relation to the Jones’.  James Henry Howell, pictured here and featured–especially between the 8:00 and 12:00 minute marks–in the documentary Capitol Q, runs the pits at The Skylight Inn.  As you can see, Howell also chops and seasons the ‘cue. 

Next time you are at The Skylight Inn or your favorite local joint, take a minute to say thanks to the pitmaster for enduring the long hours, the hot and smoky workplace, the modest pay, and the obscurity.  He deserves some credit.  Of course, barbecue joints aren’t the only places where the hardest work gets done by people who get little credit.  In honor of Labor Day, take a moment to think about all the underappreciated, hard working folks who make your life a little better each day.

Memphis in August

What’s better than Memphis in May? Not much. Certainly not Memphis in August, when the World Kosher Barbecue Contest hits town, minus the pork.

But if your May calendar is booked up and you don’t mind beef ribs, brisket and a kosher pickle eating contest, book your tickets for next year’s festivities. Actually, that sounds pretty cool. Even cooler is the event’s genesis:

The beef fest got started in 1989, when a group of Jewish men asked the very established “Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest” to do something a little radical: offer a non-pork category. When organizers said no, Ira Weinstein and Larry Brown of the ASBEE congregation decided to start their own competition.

Another plus is the level playing field dictated by the strict kosher rules. All competitors must use on the same Weber-like grills distributed by the host synagogue to ensure a kosher cooker. That ups the degree of difficulty to smoke, not grill, the meat. Plus, that apparatus requires much more work than the all-too-common gas contraptions found at most competitions.

Best of all–in keeping with barbecue festival tradition–beer is anything but forbidden at the “Granddaddy” of all Kosher barbecue festivals. And this year’s rib category winner, The Barfield Basters, made good use of Pabst to bring home the blue ribbon by steaming and braising with the lager.

While we here at BBQ Jew can get behind brisket and beef ribs, we’re trying hard not to be a bit offended by all the anti-pork propaganda. Teams competing included BP: Beyond Pork and All Pigs Left Behind. And then there was this chef hat, which clearly went too far. To equate pigs with ghosts…now that’s not kosher.

Labor Day Weekend BBQ Jew Merch Sale

Good news, BBQ Jew fan(s).  You can order your favorite–or least favorite–BBQ Jew merchandise at rock bottom prices that are cheap enough make a dead man weep. Okay, not really sure what that means, but you can indeed get aprons at 60% off,  and t-shirts and mugs at 10% off

Visit the online store and enter LABORDAYSALE for the coupon code at checkout.

BBQ Jew’s View: Smokey’s BBQ Shack

10800 Chapel Hill Road, Morrisville, NC
Hours: Mon-Wed 11-2, Thu-Fri 11-7:30, Sat 11-7
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C
Porky Says: “Smokey’s is just okie dokie.”

Authentically Inauthentic (or Vice Versa)
Smokey’s feels like what people who didn’t grow up in barbecue country expect a barbecue joint to feel like.  From the joking “Entrance Only – Do Not Enter” sign on the front door to the joint’s a bit too cutesy motto (“The BBQ Rocks and So Do Most of the Tables!”), it has a tongue-in-cheek hillbilly vibe that is both endearing and a little bit grating.  (Judging from the large lunchtime crowd, which was diverse but leaned toward white collar RTPers easily identified by their ID badges, most people find the hillbilly vibe more endearing than I do.)  Similarly, the joint looks like it has occupied the modest white cinder block building on a still-rural stretch of Highway 54 for many years.  Of course, it hasn’t, as The Deli Box occupied the spot just a few years ago.  Still, it’s impossible to deny that the look of the building and location are perfect for a barbecue joint–close enough to RTP to pack in the customers but rural enough to look the part of a 50-year old BBQ joint.

Careful What You Promise
On their website, Smokey’s says it is “the best North Carolina ‘Q’ in Raleigh.”  That is a dubious claim for a couple of Continue reading