Zagat: Any new projects that you're currently working on?EK: I am always working on new projects, that’s my middle name. Hill Country is going to be opening in Brooklyn in late 2013 [downtown Brooklyn to be exact] which is very exciting for us. I also just finished a revision of my Pizza on the Grill book which is very popular and is in double digit printings. I revised it with a gluten-free pizza dough recipe that took me about six months to create, after testing every gluten-free flour and mix out there. I have a new appreciation for what my gluten-free friends have to go through.
Zagat: You grew up in North Carolina but you’re renown for your Texas Style ‘cue, how did that come to pass?
EK: Basically what happened was when I moved away from North Carolina my love affair with making my own barbecue really started because I had to learn how to make it myself. It wasn’t readily available for me to go through the drive-thru at Stamey's Barbecue where I grew up. So I started going to some barbecue contests and I started to learn about all different styles of barbecue not just N. Carolina-style barbecue and I got hooked, so I set out to learn as much as I possibly could on different kinds of regional barbecue.
I taught myself how to make it, sometimes by trial and error and sometimes after getting tips and secrets from barbecue legends that I met along the way. And as it turns out, Texas barbecue is the most similar to North Carolina barbecue so I really fell in love with it. My love of Texas barbecue led me to become an equal opportunity barbecue lover and I also became an equal opportunity southerner. I adopted the cowboy boots of Texas, and I have more than a barbecuer's dozen pair of those. I wear those everyday.
Zagat: Do you think Southern chefs have less regional allegiance these days?
EK: For every Southern chef, the core of their game - their foundation - is what they grew up with. But there’s so many similarities in southern cooking. For example there’s more peppers and jalapenos in Texas cooking than where I grew up. But the core of the recipe is pretty much the same. There’s lots of renown Southern chefs that didn’t even grow up in the South. Like Ed Lee who’s in Kentucky - he’s a New York boy. So I always say that you’re either Southern by birth or Southern by soul.
Zagat: Why do you think barbecue has blown up so much in NYC, probably the most technically difficult city in America to pull off an authentic barbecue joint?
EK: Well I think there are two reasons. Number one - barbecue has exploded all over the country, people are passionate about barbecue, they love to eat barbecue. More and more people are actually trying their hand at it at home. This is the food that people want to eat. Number two, there are so many ex-pat Southerners in New York and when they’re a little homesick and they want a little taste of home. So instead of buying a plane ticket, now they have lots of different restaurants they can walk into and have two or three hours of Southern comfort if you will. Barbecue is so alluring that there’s lot of people like Daniel Delaney who is from New Jersey who has opened up BrisketTown. He happened to fall in love with it and he’s not Southern at all but he really fell in love with it and had the passion for it.
Zagat: What is the most critical technique when it comes to making great barbecue?
EK: The most crucial element is a love of the game, it’s feeling the love and that’s why Daniel Delaney who didn’t grow up with barbecue and this is not a cultural or traditional choice for him, this is purely a food choice for him. That’s why he fell in love with it. The thing about barbecue is that it’s much more of an art than a science. If you have a passion for it, then you can make some really great barbecue.
Zagat: What’s an underrated style of barbecue in your opinion?
EK: I think people are pretty well-versed in barbecue but I think there is one type of barbecue that is lesser known to everybody, that’s probably the barbecued mutton of Kentucky. I think that’s because it’s a very specific flavor and it’s not for everybody but when it’s done well it’s absolutely delicious. It’s kind of a cultural thing. In Mexico, a lot of the barbecue that they do is goat and it’s absolutely delicious but if you didn’t grow up eating goat, it might be a little strong or gamey for you, and that’s sort of the same thing with mutton. I think that barbecue is having a renaissance and a heyday and I think it’s really an exciting time for barbecue.