Chef’s Table has covered masters of pastry and street food beloved by locals and tourists alike. Now, the series, known for its artful, elegant portrayals of food and chefs, is tackling barbecue.
Barbecue is one of the most iconic offshoots of American cuisine. The battle for barbecue dominance rages on throughout Texas, up to Kansas City, Missouri, and over to Charleston, South Carolina. But Chef’s Table: BBQ widens its lense to focus on the many international styles of barbecue.
The four-part series will cover four key barbecue regions: Mexico, Texas, South Carolina, and Australia. Each episode will highlight a pitmaster who has perfected his or her craft and solidified the barbecue in their region as must-try-before-you-die culinary excellence. Some of the chefs are reviving ancient cooking techniques, while others are considered barbecue inventors who explore more modern methods. But each one uses smoke, fire, and meat.
Before the series premieres on September 2, here’s a brief primer on each region featured in the show and their barbecue specialites.
The main character of this episode, Tootsie Tomanetz, has been cooking barbecue for 50 years. Her barbecue outpost, the now-legendary Snow’s BBQ, opened in Lexington, Texas, in 2003. Snow’s BBQ specializes in pork steak, pork ribs, and jalapeno sausage, but Texas barbecue is as diverse as the state. In Central Texas the crucial ingredient is a dry rub not a sauce, while West Texas favors “cowboy style” — barbecue cooked over an open flame. Meanwhile in South Texas, you’ll find more Mexican-inspired flavors accompanying the barbecue.
Lennox Hastie, chef and owner of the Sydney restaurant Firedoor, is the epitome of a modern experimental chef. He barbecues lettuce, cod, and crab and has earned many accolades for his creative twists on this ancient cooking technique. Hastie is playing on an open fire cooking tradition that one study speculated has been used by indigenous Australians for at least 40,000 years. Soon after the country was officially established in 1788, colonists began holding “bullock roasts” — the term wouldn’t enter the mainstream lexicon until the early 1900s. Today, barbecue (affectionately nicknamed the “barbie”) is central to Australian cuisine.
James Beard-award winning chef Rodney Scott is famous for his whole-hog approach to barbecue, which he slow cooks for 12 hours at his restaurant Rodney Scott Barbecue. He’s probably the most famous South Carolina pitmaster today, but this region’s barbecue is legendary all on its own: First and foremost, it’s all about the pork — pulled, shredded, chopped, or whole hog. The sauce is also distinct: The golden, mustard- and vinegar-based sauce is nicknamed Carolina Gold.
Rosalia Chay Chuc of Yaxunah, Mexico, is keeping Mayan cooking traditions alive through her mastery of cochinita pibil, a slow roasted pork dish that originated on the Yucatán Peninsula. Though the Taino people of the West Indies likely originated firepit barbecue cooking, the technique eventually made its way to Mexico. Pit barbecue is still the traditional way of roasting meat in Mexico. The process historically involves slow-roasting fish, beans, and turkey, and in more recent history lamb and pork, in a pit covered by leaves before it’s served with mole.