For more than seven hours, slabs of premium pork shoulder have been undergoing a transformation.
Constant heat from the burning hickory wood below have tenderized the pork, sealing in juices and providing a sweet, savory taste. A special rub, created by Franklin resident April Roland, has been baked in to give the meat a bold, spicy flavor.
In a few more hours, the creation will be complete, the meat will be shredded, and Jivy’s BBQ will have another batch of its pulled pork.
“It’s dirty work — you’re messing with the fire and making sure the temperature is right. It’s time consuming and a lot of work. If you don’t want to do that, I’d just stick with your grill,” she said. “But the rewards are worth it.”
Jivy’s BBQ chefs are professionals at smoking and barbecuing meats. But the concepts and strategies they use when cooking up loads of ribs, brisket or other smoked dishes are just as applicable to the weekend gourmand.
For those who like their barbecue done patiently, with maximum juiciness and flavor, smoking is the path to backyard greatness.
Barbecued food is as much part of summer in the United States as muggy weather and the Fourth of July. A report by the trade organization Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association says that 80 percent of American households have an outdoor grill or smoker.
Nearly half of all grill owners see their setup as a functional cooking area in the home, as much as the kitchen.
While gas, charcoal and electric grills that provide direct heat are the most popular, smokers have been gaining traction.
Jeff Yader has been smoking meats since he was 11 years old. He and his father entered a small contest in Noblesville, cooking up a slab a ribs in a small smoker.
They didn’t win. But the experience was so enjoyable that Yader wanted to keep getting better at the barbecue.
“It was father-son stuff that we were doing,” he said. “It was an enjoyable thing to do with my dad. But as we kept meeting people from other areas, we built these friendships with other barbecuers. They were our barbecue family.”
Yader kept playing with different barbecue styles and entering more contests. Eventually, he formed his own contest team, traveling throughout the Midwest with the goal of cooking the best brisket, ribs and pork butt.
That experience became a full-time job for Yader as owner of Squealers Award Winning Barbecue in Mooresville. He opened the restaurant in 2001, an extension of his own barbecue competition team. An Indianapolis location was founded three years later.
“It stems from loving to cook and eat barbecue,” he said. “I’ve never had any culinary training, but I love to dabble and mess around with the rubs and the spices and figuring out all of that.”
Roland always had been a maestro on her backyard barbecue. But she got interested in smoking meat only after her father gave her an electric smoker for Christmas.
Slowly, she started developing recipes, playing around with the flavors of different types of wood chips and more ambitious meats.
As a stay-at-home mom, she thought that opening a food stand at local farmers markets and events would give her something to do in her spare time.
“I had been praying for what my purpose was for a long time. The light bulb went on one day that I could do this,” she said. “I enjoy all kinds of food, not just barbecue. But I find myself doing a lot of barbecue.”
Roland was able to find a good deal on a custom-made smoker that she could tow behind her car and opened Jivy’s BBQ earlier this year. She smokes pulled pork, bacon, ribs and brisket, with plans to do unique offerings such as chicken potpies and gumbo in cooler weather.
She has found that hickory gives her ribs or pork shoulder a smokey-sweet taste. But if she’s doing things such as chicken potpies or gumbo, apple wood or cherry is a better option as it adds a little more sweetness.
The smoking starts hours before she’s ready to serve the meat. Depending on the meat and the conditions outside, smoking can take from seven to 12 hours.
“I feel like it depends on the weather and the humidity. Things like that can have a big difference. With a big wood smoker, we have to regulate the heat ourselves,” she said. “I always give myself 12 hours, regardless of if it takes that long or not.”
For professional barbecue teams such as Squealers, the preparation can start days before the cooking even starts. Yader and his teammates plan out how much meat to buy and head to their personal meat provider. They make sure the cooker is cleaned, stocked with wood and ready to fire up.
“Being well-organized can make it a little smoother for you. You have to be on your game and know what’s going on,” Yader said. “You have to know you have a good product and be in the state of mind that you’re cooking good barbecue.”
The same is true for backyard chefs.
Yader encourages beginners to backyard barbecuing to be adventurous and try new things. Play around with different rubs and flavor profiles.
“You have your friends and family as guinea pigs, and they won’t mind having to eat what you cook,” he said.
Mostly though, remember that it’s supposed to be fun.
“Don’t get the discouraged,” Yader said. “The guys who take it too seriously are the ones who are no fun to be around.”