He’s an architect of great barbecue

November 25, 2012
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Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Two pork butts cooking on the grill at Dave Smith’s home in Peters Township Oct. 25. Order a Print
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A forkfull of fresh barbecue, Dave Smith style, at his home in Peters Township Oct. 25.
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Photos by Jim McNutt / Observer-Reporter
Dave Smith of Peters Township coats two pork butts with his special barbecue sauce on one of three grills on the backyard deck of his home Oct. 25. Order a Print

Holy smokes, can Dave Smith grill.Year-round, undaunted by snow, rain or cold weather, Smith hunkers over a fire, barbecuing briskets, ribs, chicken and pork shoulders on the four grills that stand on the backyard deck of his Peters Township home.Smith, 62, an architect and native of St. Louis, Mo., is a Kansas City Barbecue Society-certified judge who travels around the country judging barbecue competitions. He knows just about everything a carnivore needs to know about cooking meat.“I’ve always grilled. I like to eat, and I like barbecue,” said Smith. “The whole concept of barbecue has grown in recent years. You can’t watch the Food Network or the Cooking Channel without finding a barbecue show.”And you can’t peek in Smith’s kitchen cabinets or open his refrigerator without running across all things barbecue: rubs and spices, grilling tools, recipe books and magazines.On Nov.1, his chili took first place in The Best Chili In Peters Township Chili Cook-off, sponsored by the Peters Township Public Library cooking club.Smith has appeared on QED Cooks on WQED, where he whipped up his specialty cole slaw – Lexington Red Slaw made with barbecue sauce (see recipe) – for host Chris Fennimore, and his barbecue recipes have been published in a variety of cookbooks.So what’s the secret to great barbecue?“It’s all about keeping it low and slow,” said Smith. “You don’t want the fire getting above 250 or 275 degrees. Then it just cooks too fast, particularly the brisket and meats that have a lot of fat. The trick is the air control. You have to control the amount of air through the vents to keep the fire low. You’ve got to cook it slow, and cook it a long time. It’s a skill you develop. You’ve got to know your pit, and you’ve got to know your cooker.”Smith, who spent his architectural career renovating upscale hotels and moved to the Pittsburgh area 31 years ago after visiting the city on a business trip, was born and raised in St. Louis - selected by Kingsford Co. in 2011 as America’s top grilling city.In many ways, Smith’s barbecue is like good architecture, where form follows function: his meats taste great, but they also are creative and visually delightful. The star attraction of barbecue is the meat, and Smith gets his at Weiss Meats in Pittsburgh. His arsenal of grills includes smokers and a kettle grill (you won’t find a gas grill), and he relies on lump charcoal, hickory wood, cherry wood and apple wood that he retrieves from Simmons Farm.Smith enjoys eating barbecue and entertains often, but one of the things he most likes is judging competitions. His son and his son-in-law both are KCBS-certified judges, and the three recently judged a competition in Maryland together. It’s a serious business. Competitive barbecue teams – armed with clever names like Glazed and Confused, Church of Swinetology and Squeal of Approval - work hard to win competitions, where prize money at some of the premiere events like the American Royal BBQ Championship reaches $100,000. “It’s a lot of fun. You judge chicken, then ribs, then pulled pork, then brisket. There will be five to six plates, and you take a portion of each one and you judge them. You’re only supposed to take a couple of bites, but once in a while you’ll hit something that’s so fantastic, you eat more than you really should,” said Smith.Which is quite a feat, because really, Smith doesn’t have to go any farther than his backyard grill for fantastic barbecue.***********Lexington Red BBQ Slaw (modified by Dave Smith)3/4 cup mayonnaise3/4 cup vinegar-based red BBQ sauce (like “Bone Suckin”)2 Tbsp brown sugar1 Tbsp cider vinegar1 tsp celery salt3 cloves garlic, chopped fine1 bag cole slaw mix1 cup onion, chopped1 cup red bell pepper, chopped2 hard-boiled eggs, choppedPreparation time: 1 hour, 30 minutesThoroughly mix the first six ingredients. Toss the next four ingredients, then pour the dressing over the slaw mix and toss well. Chill for at least an hour. (Feel free to add a little more garlic and a little sweet/hot sauce like Tiger Sauce.) Smith said he usually makes the dressing the night before to allow the flavors to “blend.” Then toss with the other ingredients just before serving.

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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