John Lewis, the renowned pitmaster, on why brisket reigns supreme, why sauce is a no-no, and what first-timers should cook at home
Lewis bbq : John Lewis embraces all of the qualities that most people find intimidating about smoking a brisket (hefty weight, awkward shape, extensive connective tissue): “It’s the most difficult aspect of barbecuing, which is why I enjoy it.
” Though the native Texan didn’t encounter Central Texas BBQ until he relocated to Austin as a youngster, he was instantly smitten.
Lewis says, “It was so different from what I grew up with in El Paso.”
“I became enamoured with it and began duplicating it at home and competing in barbeque contests.”
But it wasn’t until he teamed up with friend Aaron Franklin to help build his eponymous Austin restaurant in 2010 that he began to attract the attention of foodies and barbecue fans alike.
Lewis subsequently went on to help LeAnn Mueller and La Barbecue achieve national acclaim in 2012, before relocating to Charleston in 2016 to launch Lewis Barbecue on his own.
The house’s specialty, as you might assume, is brisket. Though Lewis’ other dishes (such as his pulled pork and housemade sausages) aren’t bad, it’s his uncanny ability to turn a plain slab of beef into something eerily scented and meltingly delicate that steals the show.
Lewis only utilises local oak wood in smokers he built himself, in addition to taking plenty of time and care (16 to 18 hours for a brisket). He continues, “This way, I can make the exact product I desire.”
“Nothing tastes unduly smokey because my smokers are highly efficient and clean burning.”
And, with the start of summer just around the bend, many of us are thinking about grilling.
But, because travelling isn’t as secure or easy as it used to be – even as regulations lessen – Lewis thoughtfully made his smoked meats, sauces, and other enjoyable goods accessible for fast, safe shipping directly to your home.
If you’re concerned that reheating Lewis’ famed brisket may be difficult, Lewis tells you that “the instructions are really straightforward.”
Simply open the box and place the bagged brisket in a pot of boiling water.”
(If you want to experience Lewis Barbecue at home, place your order online by 11 a.m. on Wednesday and it will be delivered the following week.)
To maintain freshness, meat is only transported on Wednesdays.)
Lewis explains why he relocated to Charleston, how to discern the difference between good and bad barbecue, and what to grill at home if you’re a first-timer in the kitchen.
Why did you decide to relocate to Charleston?
Lewis: When I competed in the SC-TX BBQ Invitational with my friend Rodney Scott, I first became aware of the food culture.
It’s really diversified, and there are numerous eateries to choose from. It’s also rather lovely.
The water is only a few blocks away from my place, and the temperature is ideal — just like in Austin. Hardwood is also available, which you won’t find in L.A. or Denver.
Charleston, like Central Texas, has a lot of oak. Every week, we go through a significant amount of stuff.
How do you determine the difference between good barbecue and bad BBQ?
Lewis: I think you’ll enjoy it. More importantly, it should not be flaky or dried out. It shouldn’t appear to have been reheated.
Personally, I prefer a beautiful bark on the outside because it signals that the flesh hasn’t been too cooked.
It should have a lot of flavour, but it should never be burned.
What are your thoughts about sauce? People appear to be split on the subject at all times
Lewis: My goal is to make meat tasty without adding any frills. If you’re going to use sauce, be sure it’s a good product.
Some establishments in Texas refuse to serve sauce, but we do. However, we’d prefer you to test our meats without it first.
If the meat on your barbeque comes with sauce, make sure it isn’t stale or dried out.
To make a substandard product more appetising, some establishments will drown it in sauce.
Do you have any advice for folks who are cooking BBQ for the first time at home?
Lewis: Get a pork butt if you’re new. It’s huge, affordable, marbled with fat – the more white streaks, the better – and the most difficult cut of beef to mess up.
The fat will help it baste itself from the inside out, and it always tastes delicious once you peel it apart, whether it’s slightly overcooked or underdone.
For a small sum of money, you can feed a large number of people.
What are your favourite ways to serve leftovers if there are any?
Lewis: Breakfast tacos, burritos, and enchiladas are all wonderful ways to use brisket as a filler.
It’s chopped up and mixed with pinto beans by my grandmother. For breakfast, try scrambling the sausages with eggs.