Judaism, Barbecue & Basketball A Dangerous Mix

Coach Pearl during better times

As a Jewish barbecue enthusiast and basketball fan, I am deeply saddened to report that University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl was fired on Monday after being embroiled (slow-cooked?) in a barbecue-related scandal.  

Pearl, the President of the Jewish Coaches Association, committed a number of violations during his tenure at UT, not the least of which was coaching his team to a humiliating 30 point loss in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament.

According to the USA Today, “When asked by investigators where a photo of Pearl and two recruits — high school juniors — was taken, Pearl told them he didn’t know the location. The photo turned out to be taken during a barbeque at Pearl’s home.” Unfortunately for Pearl, hosting high school juniors for an off-campus recruiting visit is a no-no.  Worse yet, I have reason to suspect that the “barbeque” at Pearl’s house was really just a run-of-the-mill cookout rather than a pig picking worthy of using barbeque as a noun.  I have contacted the NCAA about my concerns and as of press time await a response.

Lest you be concerned about Pearl’s financial future, take solace in these words from UT’s press release: “Pearl will be paid at his current salary rate through June 30, 2011. He will also receive $50,000 per month for 12 months, from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012, and will also receive health insurance costs. This cumulative figure is $948,728.” In short, it sounds like Pearl will “earn” plenty of gelt to buy himself, and any high school juniors he’d like to invite, a proper pig picking.

Not all Jewish basketball coaches are corrupt.  Most notably, renowned Celtics coach Red Auerbach was a Jew, and he was even inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame (along with that lesser basketball hall of fame in Springfield, MA).  Yep, ol’ Red has a place in the Jewish Sports Hall alongside other legendary members of the tribe—pro bowler Marshall Holman, Canadian Football star Noah Cantor and, of course, renowned canoeist Joe Jacobi. Despite this impressive roster of Jewish sports stars, I can’t help but wonder, do Baptists or Presbyterians find it necessary to have their own sports halls of fame? Or are they too busy hosting real barbecues?

Unhinged Ramblings from a Real New Yorker, Part II

Below is a message I recently received from New Yorker Aaron Weiss, wanna be BBQ expert and all around good sport.

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Hello Mr. LeSwine,

You may remember me from my Durham-area trip report from last spring. In fact, you posted it (with editorial comment!) on your web site. [Editor’s note: indeed I do remember you, with editorial comment.] I owe you a follow up, but I am afraid it may it ruffle your pig feathers. (Flying pigs have feathers, little known fact.)

This past January we drove home up north after a winter holiday in Florida [Editor’s note: typical for a New Yorker!]. On the way toward an overnight stop in Winston-Salem [Editor’s note: atypical for a New Yorker], I realized that we would be driving through Lexington. I know from reading your site and other ‘cue blogs that Lexington is considered a holy ground, but had not had a chance to visit before. Sadly, I do not yet own a smart phone, and I wanted to do the smart thing by referring to BBQ Jew before wandering into Lexington naked and clueless. So I stopped at a McDonald’s to take a ride on their free wifi, grabbed my netbook
from the trunk, and loaded up bbqjew.com [Editor’s note: and ordered a delicious McRib sandwich?].

We pulled into Lexington and stopped at, of course, Lexington #1. We ordered two “large” pork platters, one in the standard chop style and one in a “coarse” chop. Now, before I speak the words of heresy, let me be clear that we enjoyed our meals. I mean, come on — NC barbecue pork!  But…I have a few buts.

Portions were a little skimpy for the price. Maybe I am just the “pig” here, but a little more pork for the money would have seemed more fair. Likewise, we felt a little shorted on the vinegar sauce [Editor’s note: next time just ask for more, this is North Carolina, we’re friendly like that]. The Lexington-style cole slaw wasn’t quite to my taste, especially compared to Allen & Son, although my partner liked it more.

In sum, we enjoyed our meal but didn’t walk away feeling like we were on barbecue cloud nine, like we did at Allen & Son (and, before it went under, Barbecue Joint). I realize that this reaction is not quite in line with the orthodoxy, and so if I am now cast out of the tribe, I will understand and return to eating Buffalo wings. [Editor’s note: If you were Catholic, I’d listen to you repent for your sins, but as a fellow member of the tribe it’d be more appropriate for me to try and make you feel guilty… just remember to atone for your failures next time Yom Kippur rolls around.]

Porkless in NY,
Aaron

BBQ&A: Sam Suchoff, The Pig Chef-Owner

Sam Suchoff is not your typical pit boss.  But then The Pig is not your typical barbecue joint. Indeed, Suchoff has a damn near disturbing range of culinary experience for a barbecue cook.  More to the point, much of the fare he serves at The Pig veers away from North Carolina barbecue tradition with menu items like brisket, tamales, kielbasa and, yes, even country fried tofu. 

Veering away from tradition is not necessarily a bad thing because many traditional North Carolina barbecue joints offer little on their menus worth sampling beyond the holy trinity of barbecue, slaw and hushpuppies (which, to be fair, is not necessarily a bad thing either).  Suchoff offers a wide-ranging, pork-centric menu, but he respects the tradition of whole hog barbecue and that reverence is evident along with his creativity. 

In a recent interview, Suchoff was kind enough to share with me the reasons he cooks with an electric smoker, why barbecue is the dish he’s most proud of cooking despite all the variety on his menu, and why vegetarianism is an easy way to get girls (at least in L.A.).  Follow this link to read the interview.

BBQ, Jews and the Law

According to a January 10th article in the International Business Times, “A company suing Cisco systems for patent infringement got a new trial because Cisco’s attorney made remarks about a plaintiff’s religion, drawing attention to the fact that he is Jewish.”

What does this story have to do with BBQ you ask (no, really, you do)? The IBT article continues: “The remarks, by one of Cisco’s attorneys, Otis Carroll, were in a cross examination of Jonathan David, one of [the plaintiff’s] principals. According to the filing, Carroll said, ‘Well, did you eat dinner with him? Did you talk to him? Did you say hi to him?’ David answered yes, they had had dinner at Bodacious Barbeque and Carroll said, ‘I bet not pork.'”

The moral of this story? Never make not-so-veiled references to other people’s religious beliefs. Also, never assume a Jew doesn’t like pork barbecue. Or else we may just sue you.

Hanukkah Coming Soon: Still Time to Buy a Pork Cookbook

Fellow BBQ Jews, need I remind you that Hanukkah comes early in the year 5771? (That’s 2010 for you genteel gentile readers.)  Indeed, the Jewish Festival of Lights begins less than one month from today, as you can likely tell from all the Hanukkah tunes polluting the radio (my local station has “Latkes Roasting on an Open Fire” in predictably heavy rotation).  Though time is slipping away, rest assured it’s not too late to find the perfect Hanukkah gift for the ones you love. 

In case this website sells out of BBQ Jew Merch again, as it has in many past Hanukkah shopping seasons, then consider buying The White Book instead.  As implied by the awkward title (awkward at least for those of us in America, where “white” suggests a mayonnaise-loving racial group more so than a type of meat), The White Book is a pork cookbook.  It was written for Israeli Jews by an Israeli Jew.  Former cardiologist, current author and likely future hate mail recipient Dr. Eli Landau is a not too serious man after my own heart (as The New York Times article puts it, “ANY author has to deal with bad reviews, but how about the wrath of God?”).  He waxes poetic about the other white meat, telling the Times, “Pork meat is to a cook like canvas to a painter.”  He also goes on record suggesting that Israeli Jews will abandon their pork-scorning behavior in a couple of decades; a bold assertion for a people awash in thousands of years of tradition and religious teachings but time will tell. 

Alas, the Mediterranean focus of Landau’s cookbook seems to exclude North Carolina style barbecue pork from the list of recipes, but no matter.  Assuming The White Book manages to break down the thousands of years old wall of anti-pork (and pro-boiled chicken) sentiment among my Jewish brethren then no doubt whole hog barbecue will soon sweep the Promised Land quicker than Moses parted the Red Sea.  Until then, at least you’ll have a nice cookbook to get you through the holiday season if you get sick of latkes.

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.

It’s Swine Time for Israel

Using pigs for medical research as a front for being able to raise and eat the state-outlawed-swine: Only in Israel!

In a fascinating article that manages to interweave Judaism, pork chops, Marxism, colorectal cancer, and a collection of decorative pigs, the BBC looks at a kibbutz that raises swine (for research! Yeah…that’s the ticket!).

OK, the medical experiments may not be, strictly speaking, an excuse to raise and eat swine. But somewhere in your heart of hearts, Kibbutz Lahav members, we both know where your primary motivation lies. To which I say: Well done!

Next stop on the Barbecue Trail??


Life’s hard. And I’m sure it’s even harder with the threat of mortar attacks never far off. Why not enjoy the divine swine??

As photographed, the kibbutz’ main hog cooker is Ofer Doron is partial to the pork chop. Trust us, Ofer, if you make some barbecue and do it right, you’ll have that pork ban lifted in no time. And it would probably earn him the chance to fill BBQ Jew’s long-vacant Israel Correspondent slot. Give us a shout if you think you’re up to the task, Ofer.

BBQ&A: Michael Stern, Road Foodie

Michael Stern, along with his writing partner Jane Stern, have authored more than 40 books, including the wildly popular Roadfood series.  They also write a recurring column for Gourmet magazine and maintain a lively, interactive website that features restaurant write-ups, recipes, user forums and more.  The two are also frequent guests on The Splendid Table, which airs on National Public Radio stations across the country. 

Michael’s biggest career misstep to date was being kind enough to mention BBQJew.com in a web post way back in 2009.  Emboldened by our good fortune, we set out to track him down for an interview.  We caught up with Michael in between Roadfood travels and peppered him with questions about North Carolina barbecue. 

Follow this link to read the interview.

Notes from the Underground (aka Unhinged Ramblings from a Real New Yorker)

I recently received an email from a reader, Aaron Weiss of… ahem, cough, cough… New York.  As you might have guessed from his name, Aaron is a fellow BBQ Jew.  He visited North Carolina recently and gave me a full run down on the rather substantial BBQ-related portion of his itinerary.  Check out Aaron’s reviews of The Pit and Allen & Son’s below.  Note that I edited his report slightly just to remove some non-BBQ commentary that diluted from the pig-centric focus of this website.  Once you’re done reading Aaron’s interesting report, check out his other writings here.

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As I prepare to head back to NY in the morning after being here in the Durham area this week, I wanted to share my experiences. In a perfect world, I would have eaten at a dozen bbq places and be able to write a comparative tome.  [Editor’s note: In a perfect world pig grease would heal the sick and give sight to the blind.  And maybe it does.]  But unfortunately I can’t eat like that anymore.

Last year we’d been here on our first trip to the area and had eaten at the Barbecue Joint in Chapel Hill and also Allen & Son. At that time we really liked the Barbecue Joint. I know you gave it a lackluster review, and I certainly would not pretend to disagree with your wisdom [Editor: They don’t have sarcasm in New York, right?]. I do think their pork was quite good on our particular visit (in fact, we went there twice on that trip). When we hit Allen & Son that time, I think we were a little porked out. I remember liking it, but didn’t remember coming away from it wowed (although I did remember being wowed by the pecan pie).

This year, things worked out a little differently. First of all, the Barbecue Joint is now closed. Apparently this just happened recently. Upon arriving in the area, we made our first stop at Allen & Son. Guess what? This time, we were wowed. Really, really wowed. I’m not saying the food was any different — maybe it was just as good last year and we Continue reading

BBQ&A: Bob Kantor of Memphis Minnie’s

[Note: Follow this link-Kantor BBQ&A-for an easier to read, .pdf version of the interview.]

Bob Kantor is one of the country’s best known Jews who barbecues. Born in New York, in 1970 Bob moved to San Francisco where he attended the California Culinary Academy.  He spent the next ten years as a chef in the high-end fine dining sector.  Then he became obsessed with barbecue.

Kantor soon traded fine dining for a plenty fine BBQ joint and he’s never looked back. He now describes himself as “not-quite-retired,” and spends much of his time “on the on the road in my RV with the Fabulous Gail Wilson and a white Jeep Wrangler with black spots.”  Kantor’s Jeep is nicknamed The Cowntess, and he cooks a mean beef brisket, but he knows a thing or two about pig too. 

Recently we interviewed Kantor about surviving a BBQ-free youth in Brooklyn, his mid-life conversion to fundamentalist barbecue beliefs, and his predictions for the future of the world (at least when it comes to ‘cue).  We can’t think of a better post to run as we celebrate the one-year anniversary of this website.  Enjoy.

BBQ Jew: Where did you grow up? And while you’re reminiscing, can you recall a fond childhood memory of food?
Bob Kantor: I grew up as a chubby little Jewish kid in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn. I remember as a child our Rabbi coming to visit us – I don’t recall why he was visiting us, but I have this very clear picture in my mind of my mother throwing open the kitchen window, and flapping her apron trying to rid the apartment of the wonderful aroma of the bacon sizzling on the stove.

BBQ Jew: Hmm, that ain’t kosher.  Speaking of which, when did you first encounter barbecue? Was it love at first bite?
BK: Like most folks outside of the traditional barbecue regions, I had no idea what real barbecue was for most of my life. My first experience with real barbecue came during the period I was travelling around the South researching the great American regional cuisine that barbecue is. It was absolutely love at first bite. Being an inveterate carnivore and growing up the son of a butcher, it was a revelation. Meat was good, but the slow smoking added a whole other dimension.

BBQ Jew: What drew you to the barbecue business and why barbecue instead of some other food (not that we need any convincing)?
BK:
My discovery of barbecue was very serendipitous. It came as a result of some consulting that I was doing at the time for a restaurant owner who was looking for new menu items. He asked me what I thought about putting barbecue on the menu. I said, “Well let me see what I can come up with.” 

That was the defining moment in my career as a Barbejew. During the course of the next several weeks I researched barbecue. I was immediately smitten by the long-standing tradition and the fact that this was truly one of the few American regional cuisines that we have. Guess I’m a sucker for tradition. I told my client, “No, you can’t do barbecue – it’s not something that one just puts on a menu.”  And so began my journey over the next several years learning about BBQ. It was during this time that I asked myself, how it is possible that San Francisco, one of the food capitals of the world, has no true representation of this great cuisine?

BBQ Jew: We’ll let you talk more about BBQ in San Francisco soon, but first… Cooking barbecue probably didn’t come natural for a yankee Jew like yourself – how’d you learn?
BK: Being a trained chef, I knew how to cook. I knew how meat reacts to heat. The addition of smoke was another ingredient to add to my list. It was then mostly a matter of learning technique. I joined just about every barbecue organization around the country that I could. I got mailing lists from these organizations and would write to their membership asking if I could visit with them and talk barbecue. They were a huge help. I became a certified barbecue judge and spent a lot of time eating and talking about championship barbecue and developing a taste for what good BBQ was. I also took classes offered by various organizations and individuals to build on my technique.

Lastly, I listened to some of the old timers talk about the tradition and the lore of barbecue. There’s a great story told by an old timer about how they could judge the temperature of their pit by watching the height of the flies hovering over the Continue reading