It was an incredible honor to be invited by Toby Shea, director of the International BBQ Network and Founder of the British BBQ Society to teach a couple of classes in England in mid-July.
This was a culmination of series of fortuitous events after I met Scott and Lyndz Lane of the Miss Piggy UK barbecue team through my former teammate Benny Adauto.
When the English couple vacationed in Los Angeles in March, they got me in touch with Toby Shea, head of the International BBQ Network (IBQN) and after a series of email exchanges I found myself in July walking out of Heathrow airport arrival hall into a warm welcome by Toby.
Both classes on July 14 and 15 were sold out even before Toby could get the registration forms online and the students were eagerly awaiting my arrival. En route home from the airport, we stopped by Toby’s old butcher shop and pick up all the BBQ meats ordered for the class from his butcher friend Ian. We walked into a charming traditional butcher’s cottage that took you back a hundred years in time. You could almost feel the sawdust on the floor as carcasses of meat were being meticulously broken down into primal cuts and smaller traditional English cuts.
Sourcing meat and ingredients for my class which covered 15 items in 6 hours proved to be a logistical challenge. Fortunately, Toby was able to use his incredible planning skills and attention to detail to solve any issues. All the meats on my Excel spreadsheet were carefully obtained for the class including a big block of sashimi-grade tuna which Toby had special delivered.
I learned that tri tip is called rump skirt in the UK and was a relatively unknown cut of meat. Pork shoulders also looked very different than their American Boston Butt counterparts as British hogs are bred with little fat and are much shorter in the torso than US hogs so the money muscle (pectoralis profundi) was only about an inch and a half in length as cutting any higher on the hog shoulder would result in a cut including the pig’s head!
The US brisket cuts were also hard to come by and if you could find them, were sold as beef rolls without any fat cap on the point or flat. Spareribs and loin-back ribs did not have as much meat on them as their American counterparts as most of the rib meat was removed to make English back bacon. British bacon is off the back of the hog unlike Americans who like it off the fatty belly area. Due to the health-conscious nature of the English, all the fat was bred out of their hogs and cows so I knew teaching low and slow BBQ would pose a challenge because fat equals flavor and lean meats are not good BBQ candidates.
Toby went to great lengths to guide his butcher on standard US cuts which he knew about from his experience as a cook and a judge in the US. He had previously done trips to the Royal and Jack and also cooked incognito at the recent Academy of Country Music contest in Vegas in March as the Chicago Meat Packers barbecue team.
About half my students started showing up after work on Friday with equipment to camp in Toby’s 5-acre backyard meadow in the quaint town of Tongham, Surrey, about 40 minutes from Heathrow. Even though class was supposed to start at 8 am on Saturday, many arrived early for a Friday dinner of Ranch Kettle ribeye and jacket potatoes hosted by Toby.
I felt immensely privileged to meet some of the friendliest and most enthusiastic students that I have ever met. They are as crazy and fanatical about American BBQ as any American. Many had never met a US instructor and gleaned their BBQ knowledge from YouTube, BBQ forums, and word of mouth. I learned that I already had many fans who watched the TLC BBQ Pitmaster series I was on. We had a good laugh amid the evening drizzle into the wee hours as they humored me on my flattering and unflattering moments on various episodes.
US style barbecue is a growing phenomenon and more and more BBQ restaurants are opening up in Britain. After making new friends, I could not help but feel that I was standing in the midst of the pioneer pitmasters who would go forth to spread BBQ knowledge in the UK. I even met a BBQ team from the Netherlands that traveled 5 hours to attend class.
Toby’s setup for conducting a class was well thought out and everyone was dry even though it rained much of the weekend as we were in a huge tent. The written and verbal feedback from students after class confirmed that they enjoyed the class and learned a lot about BBQ. Class graduation pictures were barely taken before I was asked when I would come back to teach in the UK and even the Netherlands!
By the time the second class was concluded on Sunday, I was tired from the jetlag and being on my feet for 48 hours. Though I was knackered (British term for dead tired) my heart was happy as I felt I had made lifelong BBQ friends. Several teams would be cooking in the US this year (Royal and Jack) so I may get to see them on my side of the pond.
My students reciprocated with many acts of kindness including ensuring that I sampled British local fare such as Scotch Eggs, Cheese & Pickle Pork Pie, Meat Pasties, Black Pudding, scratch-made home pizza, and live crawfish from a local brook.
I was profoundly grateful that I had the privilege of sharing my BBQ knowledge with my new British friends. They were among the most enthusiastic and welcoming students I have met. Kudos and thanks to Toby and all his volunteers (Scott, Lyndz, Steve, et Al.) for putting on such a superb event. I also learned many new English words and now have a profound appreciation of the uniquely British manner for naming body parts from the Fri and Sat late night ale sessions! Your hospitality was immense and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.