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Friday, February 5, 2010

Chef's Choice Special: Barbecue Tips from Mike Emerson of Pappy's Smokehouse

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2010 at 2:00 PM

"Barbecue is not a menu item," says Mike Emerson of Pappy's Smokehouse. "It's an experience. When people walk in here, and I watch them take a big, deep breath..."

A roar of laughter erupts from the kitchen staff. "And this right here, the people in the morning, laughing. This place is waking up every day. It's a blast."

click to enlarge Mike Emerson, co-owner of Pappy's Smokehouse, hard at work - ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
  • Mike Emerson, co-owner of Pappy's Smokehouse, hard at work
(Read Gut Check's profile of Mike Emerson, whose Pappy's Smokehouse was named Riverfront Times' "Best Barbecue" in 2008 and 2009 as well as "Best New Restaurant" in 2008.)

It's hard to not be happy in the presence of barbecue. But just as there's no recipe for happiness, barbecue's more about technique and quality ingredients than following an exact formula. Especially when the second ingredient of pitmaster Skip Steele's ribs comes from a tub with "Secret Rub" scrawled on the side in black marker.

click to enlarge ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
Emerson assures me that there's nothing in the secret rub that can't be found in the average cook's spice rack. Still, he is not giving up the details, instead encouraging home cooks to tinker and experiment to find what they like best.

More important than the spice combination is the quality of the ribs. "We use baby back ribs," Emerson says. "Spare ribs look like they have more meat, but they don't. You've got to start with good-quality ribs as a canvas for everything else."

click to enlarge ROBIN WHEELER
  • Robin Wheeler
Emerson's baby back pork ribs are pink and marbled, well-trimmed to ensure consistency without excess fat or gristle.

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