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3-course interview: barbecue master Rodney Beals 

On Hogs for the Cause and popping up

click to enlarge rodney_beals.jpg

Local barbecue legend Rodney Beals has been smoking for his friends and family for years. A longtime member of the Pork Funk All Stars, which participates in the barbecue fundraising festival Hogs for the Cause (www.hogsforthecause.org), Beals launching his own barbecue pop-up, Big Boyz BBQ, in April. Beals spoke with Gambit about barbecue.

Gambit: What got you started smoking meat?

Beals: I think I was just hungry. And I couldn't turn on the stove. I was home for the summertime and I saw people grilling and I thought, "I can do this." I think I grilled burgers for the first time. I've been barbecuing for my family and friends since I was 15 years old. The first time I did chicken it was raw and burnt. I didn't know any better.

  It got better, and I'd have a barbecue every year for Memorial Day. I just kept on doing it. I didn't really start smoking till after (Hurricane) Katrina. Every year I do a big barbecue in City Park that keeps on growing. My friend Alex (Watkins) came one year and asked me to do it with them for Hogs (for the Cause). The first year we had mutual friends on the team, and then I started bringing on people.

  I love the process. I love being up all night. I start the morning with coffee, in the afternoon there's beer, and by the time night comes, it's time for whiskey. I love that taste of smoked food. When you get it right, there's nothing better.

G: What lessons have you learned at Hogs for the Cause?

B: We started at Hogs five years ago. At first it was too big. We had too many people wanting to do it. We had a big operation going on. We cooked so much food the first year — we thought we were so good and we were going to sell out but we had so much food left over. We had to learn with a festival like that, people want sample sizes because they want to taste as much food as they can. We learned that after the first year and ended up donating that food to a local shelter. The next year we toned it down and changed our plates to a sample size and that worked out well.

  This year, we're going to have our ribs with greens, we're going to have pork butt taco with a smoked pineapple salsa and then we're going to have a sandwich that me and Dan (Esses) came up with called the Funky Melt. It's going to have whole hog barbecue with Taleggio and smoked Gouda cheese with pickles on Texas toast.

G: What can diners expect from the pop-up?

B: It's exciting and scary at the same time, but it's something that's been in my head for about four or five years now. The plan is to do pop-ups at established businesses. The first one will be April 28 at Pearl Wine (Co.) the first Friday of (the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival). I'll also have one in June at Pal's (Lounge) and one in July at Pagoda (Cafe). I'm looking to do maybe one or two a month to start. I want to keep it fun.

  I'm not going to be the guy who just pulls up on the side of the street and starts selling barbecue. I want to be invited to different establishments. I have a New Orleans style, but it's kind of a mix of Texas and Kansas City, which are the places where I like the barbecue the most. I'm called the "butt master." I make smoked pork butts, smoked ribs, I do smoked briskets every now and then. I usually do a dry rub but every now and then I'll sauce my ribs. It's all just how I'm feeling, I don't follow just one method. The common theme is that it's just good.

  I'll mix it up a bit. You can do flank steak, you can do tacos. There are so many options that you can do when you're grilling or smoking. I'm also going to sell my crawfish pasta. I think that's going to be my special dish.

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