Whether it’s a tip on testing a gas connection or knowing when your brisket’s done, few know more about cooking over flames than Elizabeth Karmel—and fewer still can explain the hows and whys as clearly. The North Carolina native has been obsessed with fire cookery for nearly two decades. In the 2000s she brought Texas barbecue to the Northeast as the executive chef of Hill Country Barbecue and Market in New York City and Washington, DC. The author of three books on the subject also keeps a trove of information on her twin websites, elizabethkarmel.com and girlsatthegrill.com. Here she shares the differences between a rub, a mop and a sauce, plus why you should oil your food, not your grill grates.
Was there a dish that converted you to a barbecue evangelist?
I was living in New Orleans, and I was missing my North Carolina pulled pork. I realized that I was going to have to teach myself how to make it if I was going to have it more than a couple of times a year when I went home to visit. So I decided to give it a try in my backyard. I took a Boston butt (and I’ll tell the blasphemous truth: I put it on a gas grill with some wood chips) and basically let it cook using indirect heat until the whole outside was covered with beautiful rendered fat that looked like cracklins. The outside was crunchy, and inside the meat was so tender, all you had to do was use two forks to pull it—into pulled pork! Then I made the Lexington-style dip, a.k.a. the vinegar barbecue sauce, which I grew up with. I made that by taste memory, too. I loved what I tasted, and I fed a whole houseful of hungry folks who proclaimed it just as good as any pulled pork they’d had in North Carolina. That was the beginning of my barbecue love story.
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- F&W's Masters Series: Lessons from Grilling and BBQ Maven Elizabeth Karmel
Why are you drawn to barbecue and grilling?
Barbecue is a culture and a lifestyle, it’s not just about the food—it is an authentic community. Even at competitions, which are very competitive, everyone is family. If you run out of something or forget a spice or a tool, your neighbor will loan it to you if they have it. Nobody’s trying to sabotage anyone—or if they do, they don’t stay in the community for very long.