Low & Slow: the tao of Gentle Bear | Bleader

Low & Slow: the tao of Gentle Bear

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Five years ago I wrote a story about a group of obsessive weirdos canvassing the city in search of true low-and-slow-smoked barbecue. Even after Calvin Trillin famously documented the Chowhounding phenomenon in the New Yorker, it was still relatively novel to see people taking notes and photographing rib tips, hot dogs, or jerk chicken posed al trunko, and diligently typing up their findings on the Internet. But one of those guys, an abdominous, black-clad personification of the Second Deadly Sin, fancied himself a barbecue guru to boot, and claimed he could smoke ribs in his backyard that were the equal of or superior to any of the handful of the city's commercial shacks that were doing it right, smoking over wood in glass aquarium smokers and so forth.

"Gee whiz!" I said. If you say so, big fella, I thought.

I wrote about Gary Wiviott again a few months later, after he and a group of Chowhound exiles started LTHForum, and not long after that I began eating and drinking with him fairly regularly (and always excessively). I'd already known how to smoke pork shoulder on a kettle grill over indirect heat, and thought I did a pretty good job of it. But I had to admit Wiviott always achieved consistent, predictably excellent results with smoked chicken, pulled pork, ribs, brisket, salmon, and a bunch of other things I'd never considered. What's more, he claimed to have developed an easy five-step method for achieving these frequently transcendent barbecue outcomes on a Weber bullet smoker, and had already taught a modest group of disciples to waddle in his footsteps.

So I became one of those disciples, and went through the program, which he'd posted online for free. Pretty soon I could say with confidence I made ribs in my backyard better than all but a few commercial joints in the city. Pulled pork and brisket? No contest. I'd even flipped a few vegetarians, which is probably the most satisfying compliment a barbecue cook can take.

As many more graduated from the program, and Wiviott got more attention for it, it was inevitable that this so-called Gentle Bear (pfft!) of barbecue would put the process down on paper and try to make a little cheddar from it. He and I made a few ill-fated, bourbon-fueled attempts to whip something into shape, but not long after I walked through his (closed) screen door during one session, I acknowledged he needed someone with far greater disciplinary and organizational skills to help him get it done.

Enter Colleen Rush, the formidably talented, disciplined, and organized author of The Mere Mortal's Guide to Fine Dining, who cracked the whip, and in no time helped Wiviott find a publisher and muscle out a clear, entertaining 256-page tutorial titled Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons. It's out now on Running Press, just in time for John Kass's annual pre-Father's Day barbecue column (starring Gary, of course).

It pretty much contains everything Gary has to say about barbecue, which renders obsolete the occasional necessity of calling him up midsmoke with a pressing question and enduring the obligatory midget-porn joke or three before getting an answer (that's his next book). Expanding upon the original five-step method which only covered bullet smokers, it includes instructions for kettles and offset smokers, plus more than 130 recipes for sauces, marinades, rubs, sides, and leftovers, most of which readers are strictly forbidden to mess with until the initial chicken, rib, and pulled-pork lessons are completed.

I'd say it even if he weren't my pal: it works.

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