Mike Porcari has ideas about meat. In particular, he’s got ideas on how best to barbecue it. When he gets to explaining those ideas, he can sound almost like an NFL head coach addressing the media.
“Consistency is probably the hardest thing in barbecue,” he says. “It’s execution.
“The finish is key. It’s all about practice – doing it over and over and over until you understand all the variables.”
Porcari has earned that knowledge. He’s worked in kitchens for 20 years; about four years ago, he made the move to barbecue. Today he’s the pit master at Smoke BBQ – the term “head chef” holds little value in the barbecue world – and his work is getting noticed. Writing last year in the Sun-Sentinel, food critic (and native New Yorker) Mike Mayo reckoned that Smoke’s pastrami might be better than that on offer at the Lower East Side’s legendary Katz’s Deli.
Like other Smoke staffers, Porcari wears a T-shirt with the restaurant’s name on the front and, in big letters across the back, “I like pig butts and I cannot lie.” Barbecue, he says, is the most challenging type of cooking he’s ever done.
“I’m a little obsessive,” he says. “But in this method, you’ve got to be.”
An obsession with barbecue is something Porcari shares with the people who sign his paychecks. Smoke BBQ is the creation of longtime friends Steve Chin and Scott Kennedy as well as Steve’s sister, Michelle Chin. The trio aren’t lifelong restaurateurs – Steve made his money as a tech entrepreneur, Scott built a career with Ernst & Young and Michelle’s a model and actress. (Michelle’s been able to get some of her friends from her other career to stop by Smoke. “They say models don’t eat,” she says. “But when they come here, they do.”)
They had jobs that allowed them to travel, and wherever they went, they always sought out the local barbecue joints. “We are obsessed with barbecue,” Michelle says.
Barbecue’s the sort of cuisine that lends itself well to obsession. Ask a member of the Smoke team about, say, the wood used to smoke their meats, and they can tell you. (It’s mostly post oak, but they’ll incorporate a bit of hickory or fruit wood, depending on the dish.) The handmade sauces, the hand-trimmed briskets, the amount of hours every piece of meat needs to spend in the smoker – yeah, there are things to think about.
Fort Lauderdale’s Smoke is the trio’s second; the original is in Delray. The Fort Lauderdale Smoke sits on NE 32nd Street, just off A1A and Oakland Park Boulevard, in the same section of sidestreets that houses places such as Blue Jean Blues, the Dive Bar and Bokampers. It’s a lively spot – Smoke is one of a handful of new places that’s opened in the past couple years.
That’s the local geography. There’s also the barbecue geography, which can get confusing and hotly debated. In this modern, de-regionalized world, you can get various kinds of barbecue
anywhere you go. But by and large, the abridged version goes like this: South Carolina barbecue is known for its yellow, mustard-y sauces, Memphis barbecue is famous for its dry rubs and heavy smoking, Texas barbecue is all about the beef brisket and Kansas City barbecue features just about any meat and – famously – thick, dark, rich barbecue sauces.
Then there are the forms of meat that don’t tend to get lumped in with “barbecue” even though they are, in the end, smoked meats. Pastrami may be associated with the traditional Jewish delis of New York, but preparation-wise, it’s got plenty in common with what’s for sale at the barbecue joints of Memphis.
Perhaps Smoke’s greatest trick is its ability to move between these traditions. It’s a small-c catholic approach to barbecue that allows spare ribs and a sandwich called the Austin (brisket, jalapeno-cheddar sausage, raw onions, pickles and barbecue sauce) to sit alongside that raved-about pastrami. On Fridays after 4 p.m. they even serve burnt ends, a Kansas City delicacy that’s more appetizing than it sounds. (They’re fatty smoked brisket morsels, but that description doesn’t do them justice either.)
It all combines to create an experience that barbecue fans will recognize as authentic – whether your idea of good smoked meat comes from the middle of America, western Tennessee or the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
The Dish: Beef Ribs
- 1 rack beef short rib, 3 to 5 lb
For Beef Rib Rub Recipe
- 2 cups butcher pepper
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup garlic powder
- 1/4 cup onion powder
- 1/8 cup paprika
- 1 tsp espresso powder
Start with the highest quality beef you can find (Smoke BBQ uses superior Prime Angus with no antibiotics, no steroids, no added hormones). Trim most of the fat and remove membrane.
Coat the surface and edges of meat with rib rub. Preheat smoker to 250 degrees using post oak wood (or hickory if necessary) and smoke ribs for 4–6 hours or until internal temperature reaches between 190–195 degrees. Wrap in foil and let rest for one hour. Keep warm or serve at 140 degrees.