(Originally published August 14, 2014 on Examiner.com).
“Coming from a place like the French Laundry and doing fine dining for so long. This barbecue pop-up [at Short Order] is really a way to get back to my roots,” Chef Tim Hollingsworth explained. He continued, “BBQ has been around forever. BBQ has been around since the beginning of mankind. Every culture has it. It’s interesting to study the American culture. It’s also interesting to study something like barbacoa.”
Chef Tim Hollingsworth was born in Texas, but moved away at a young age, though growing up his mom continued to cook food from the Longhorn state. Plus he still had and continues to have family there. So even after moving elsewhere, chef Hollingsworth frequently returned to Texas and ate barbecue while visiting with his aunts, uncles and grandparents.
Starting this past Friday, August 8th and continuing until Thursday August 21st, Chef Tim Hollingworth’s pop-up at Short Order LA has featured daily lunch and dinner barbecue specials that have changed daily. This event is for a short time only, and though Hollingsworth won’t say it will never occur again, his next pop-up will most likely feature another cuisine.
So prior to opening his new restaurant in DTLA next year with restaurateur Bill Chait, Chef Hollingsworth has been studying different techniques of cooking from different countries. In addition to returning to Texas, Chef Hollingsworth has also gone to Mexico, Korea, and Lebanon. He plans to do some additional trips to Spain, Italy and Japan. He’s studying a lot of different techniques to be a more well-rounded chef to have more tools in his tool box that he may use in the kitchen of his future restaurant downtown with Bill Chait.
What follows is some additional Q & A with Chef Hollingsworth regarding his exploration of barbecue in Texas and what he is now serving here in Los Angeles until the twenty-first at Short Order.
[LAC] You and Bill Chait did a couple barbecue trips including the most recent one to Texas to visit a number of places. Was there a consensus as to which place of the thirteen places you visited had the best barbecue?
[TH] People have very strong opinions on barbecue. They have flavors they associate it with. If you’re from the Carolinas maybe you don’t like a sweet tomato base sauce. Maybe you like a vinegar and chili sauce. So when you have something different, you say that isn’t good barbecue. Barbecue is a bit of a tricky thing and there are a lot of different flavors.So people will say that barbecue is different things.
In Texas, the barbecue was exceptional at several of the places we went to and to say at that level which was the best really comes down to preference. We can go to all these places and agree all these places are good, but your favorite is going to be different than my favorite. A lot of people like Freedman’s beef rib. Freedman’s rib had a ton of pepper on it. I like that but I know people who don’t like that. So again there’s a lot of preference in barbecue.
That being said, you have six people around, and one person says I really like this so there’s also the power of persuasion. For me personally I enjoyed John Mueller‘s barbecue the most. Not to say that others weren’t close to him. I just say overall when I tasted his barbecue, I didn’t taste any kind of sauce. I tasted salt, pepper and the meat plus, of course, the smoke. The smoke wasn’t too over powering. The meat was really good. If you were going to compare the texture of Franklin’s brisket to the texture of John Mueller’s, Mueller’s texture was more of what I like in a brisket. Franklins is definitely very moist and succulent and melts in your mouth. The same thing with Franklins’ ribs. They’re very good. They’re the same thing. But you grab a bone and pull it directly out. For me, I don’t like being able to pull the bone out. I like having a little bite on the rib where it still comes off, and isn’t chewy or dry but still grabs a little to the bone. So for me John Mueller was what the essence of what barbecue is. I asked him how he was doing things, like I asked everybody trying to get an understanding of what the processes were. How the processes varied. How the smokers varied. How they varied their technique. And Mueller was old school. He didn’t have a thermometer. He said, “We build a fire at this end and monitor it. Then it comes out and we serve it.” Again it was the essence of what barbecue is. He wasn’t wrapping anything in foil. He just relied on that cooking technique that he knows. When you’re wrapping the brisket in foil, even half way or when you’re wrapping the ribs, they stay moist but they lose that crust and texture on the outside
[LAC] So were the pit masters forthcoming or were they guarding deeply held secrets?
[TH] I think there is a little bit of a game going on over there. There’s this is just the way we do it. Maybe they’re not going into detail about what they do. Or maybe they don’t focus on what they do in a scientific way like modern chefs do. The fact of the matter is that they’re producing really good barbecue.
[LAC] What other barbecue trips did you do?
[TH] To Georgia and Chicago. Bill came along on the Chicago trip, but not the Georgia one.
[LAC] Is the barbecue you’re doing now as part of the pop-up reflect all of the styles of barbecue you tasted, or is it strictly Texas barbecue?
[TH] The barbecue reflects a mix of different styles because in Texas, for example, you typically don’t serve sauce with your meat. Some places even forbid it in Texas
[LAC] I had a pork rib on Saturday. Was that a Texas style pork rib or more of a St. Louis style pork rib?
[TH] That was more of a St. Louis style pork rib. That pork rib had been rubbed and layered in barbecue sauce. This is a fun pop-up for us. Experimenting with this smoker. We’re trying different things. The ribs served last Saturday are different from the ribs served on other nights. It’s not to say that they aren’t the same ribs or cooked the same way. They may be, though the seasoning is going to be different.
[LAC] This pop-up then is a test kitchen for learning how to use the smoker with different meats, wood and cook times?
[TH] We’re playing around with a lot of different things. We’re finding a lot of variances with the meats, the cuts of the meats, the specs of the meats. The rib that you had is not the spec of meat that we’re ordering any more. The rib you had is a leaner rib. I’m not entirely sure that that is the best way to go. We cooked sample chickens. We cooked five different kinds of chickens in the smoker the same time and temperature. The quality of the bird itself made a tremendous difference. It was pretty incredible.
[LAC] Different breeds of chickens and different suppliers or all of the above?
[TH] All of the above
[LAC] Who are some of the suppliers?
[TH] We’re getting meat primarily from Newport Meat and the farms include Salmon Creek, Snake River Farms and a few others
[LAC] So you are trying out different breeds or pork, beef and chickens from a supplier who is getting it from different farms?
[LAC] And you’re trying different cuts including shoulder, belly, and ribs?
[TH] We’ve done it all. We’ve done shoulder. We’ve done belly. We’ve done ribs. Some people really like the belly. Me, personally I think it’s a little fatty. It’s again about preference.
[LAC] And there’s a lot of experimentation with the smoker with cook times and what type of wood you use?
[TH] Yeah definitely. We’re trying out different woods as well as diameters of the wood. It is a machine that operates off of fire so there are a lot of variables. So we’re playing with it sometimes trying to get more smoke, sometimes less smoke, and more of a smoke ring by trial and error. We keep record of everything we do in a notepad and also on our iPhones so information can easily be sent to different people. There are a lot of variables again. You put the brisket in, then you fire the logs, then you put the thermometer in. Maybe when you fire the logs, the temperature jumps up twenty five or fifty degrees. Or maybe there is less smoke but the temperature is the same when you set it. There are just a lot of different variables and we’re recording all of those to figure out what the best thing is.
[LAC] Compared to the old propane smokers in Texas, you have a fancy one with a thermometer, propane ignition, and it’s a little more hi-tech than what they use, correct?
[TH] Definitely more hi-tech. It’s more of a commercial smoker. It still requires a lot of technique and experience to use. Number one I can put it on a trailer and put it outside of Short Order. Those propane smokers are great. It’s just hard to get around with those. Plus they require even more technique. Which one is better? I’m not really sure. I think there are benefits to both of them. Sometimes you might be able to manipulate the airflow better in a propane smoker. Even with the pits in Texas there are different styles of pits. Even some of those are fun to watch since there are a lot of different things going on.
[LAC] What is the end game here? You’re not doing barbecue downtown. Are you just experimenting for fun out of the love of barbecue?
[TH] Coming from a place like the French Laundry and doing fine dining for so long. This is really a way to get back to my roots. And also to study different techniques. I went to Mexico, Korea, and Lebanon. I’ll be doing some more trips soon to possibly Spain and Italy. I also want to go to Japan. I study different food to make myself more well-rounded as a cook.