Live fire cooking of whole animals has a Neanderthal attraction that has always intrigued me.
There was no better excuse to fire up my inner pyromaniac than being invited as a member of the Houston-based Pitmaker team to cook at Latin America’s largest barbecue festival in Monterrey, Mexico on August 27 and 28, 2022. The event, called Grill Master HEB 2022, was hosted By Sociedad Mexicana de Parrilleros (Mexican Grilling Society).
My BBQ buddy Lee Hickel of Red Mule BBQ competition team and I flew from Corpus Cristi, TX, to Monterrey, Mexico, to cook on nine-member Pitmaker LLC team from Houston responsible for the brisket and beef shortribs. We were a small part of a contingent of 100+ chefs, pitmasters, helpers, and volunteers from all walks of life responsible for feeding 35,000 visitors for the two-day barbecue fest.
According to Chef Sebastian, about six tonnes (about 12,000 lbs) of protein would be prepared to feed the hungry masses. Three main methods of cooking so much food included brisket and shortribs smoked by our Pitmaker team using Amish made-in-USA Meadow-creek smokers; young goats (cabritoes) and suckling pigs roasted Barbacoa-style on a metal frame over live fire; and Discada-style dishes.
Discada is a mixed meat dish popular in the northern Mexican cuisine. The dish includes a mixture of grilled meats (often sausage, chorizo, ham, bacon and flank steak but can include a different variety depending on region) as well as onion, pepper, jalapeño and sometimes cheese. It’s cooked on an agricultural plow disk that’s welded shut and results in a Disco Cooker (or Cowbow Wok) that yields spectacular flavors. There was several Disco Cookers used at the event from a 22-inch gas fired unit on a stand, 8-foot wood fired, to a giant 12-foot Disco Cooker.
It took an army of helpers two-days (Thursday and Friday) to prep the vegetables, fabricate the meats, roast, and get everything ready for the Saturday and Sunday event. Top restaurant chefs and cooks from all over Mexico and US (including World Champion Mark Lambert of Sweet Swine O Mine and his team), plus myriad of volunteers including culinary students, doctors, and folks from all walks of life to chip in to work on the mounds of meat and vegetables.
Our 9-member Pitmaker team smoked and served about 60 briskets and 50 shortribs over the weekend. While we were not working on our meats, we helped prep, cook, and serve other dishes from noon to 10 pm as lines of hunger guests flowed though continuously.
An onsite tortilla factory cranked out thousands of tortillas served every hour. Guest would have a choice of four food stations serving meat with tortillas on a paper plate and a self-serve salsa bar with five fire-roasted salsas of increasing spiciness starting with bell pepper tomato, salsa blanco (spicy tangy white mayonnaise sauce), tomatillo jalapeno, tomato serrano, and pineapple habanero. These salsas were prepared the traditional way using jumbo-sized molcajetes (Mexican mortar pestle).
In addition to the festival, over 100 competition teams battled for the grand championship in beef, pork, and seafood. By 10 pm Sunday night, the winner was crowned, and we finished our gig, totally exhausted but enriched from the experience. The hospitality and kindness were amazing, and I made many new friends even though I did not speak Spanish as the camaraderie of cooking barbecue together united us.
Thanks so much to the SMP for inviting me and the Pitmaker team for hosting me, and Lee Hickel for chaperoning me on this once-in-a-lifetime journey to see, feel, and experience live fire cooking. Looking forward to more such cooking adventures in 2023.