Southern-style barbecue with Eric Kaiser

Northerners don't know good barbecue.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"Some people say it's not done when they look it, but that is called the smoke ring and it's nothing but flavor," said Eric Kaiser of the pink ring just under the "bark" of the pork roast he smoked for 10 hours at home.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Eric Kaiser removes a pork roast from his at-home smoker after letting it cook for 10 hours.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

"Low and slow is the way to go," said Eric Kaiser of barbequing, which is a method of indirectly cooking meat at a low temperature for a long period of time.

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Eric Kaiser shreds barbequed pork for pulled-pork sandwiches.

Western Maine is blessed with good food and good cooks — those experimenting in their own kitchens and professionals alike. Today, the Sun Journal broadens its weekly Eats feature beyond its traditional restaurant meal reviews. Way beyond.

For instance, next week, owner Paul Landry will take us inside his Fishbones kitchen to show us the secrets behind the popular Lewiston restaurant's Seared Tuna Sashimi.

The week after that we're off to the big game with some of the area's top gourmet tailgaters, who will demonstrate what it takes — equipment, food, recipes and more — for successful, fun, easy tailgating.

Each week, we'll present tips, recipes and how-to video on our Web site, all offered by local cooks at local restaurants, in their homes and — as with tailgating — even their trucks.

In the months to come, we'll show readers the secrets behind the popular offerings at other area restaurants, talk to chefs about the techniques they use, offer suggestions you can use in your own kitchen and, whenever possible, answer your food and cooking questions.

How do the chefs at Mac's steakhouse work their magic — and how can you use that magic at home? What are the best cooking gadgets to have in your home, according to local cooks. How can you make croissants as good as the Bread Shack's Dara Reimers — or almost as good?

We'll answer those questions and more.

We start off this week with an invitation from a Southern boy now living in Auburn, to join him in his back yard at midnight to observe what "real" barbecue is all about.

Real Southern barbecue ... in a Northerner's backyard.

Go to

The rub

Eric Kaiser's not-so-secret-anymore basic BBQ rub (makes about a cup)

1 tablespoon raw sugar (turbinado sugar)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon regular sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
2 tablespoons good quality chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

Mix together, keep sealed for future use.

Eric's tips:

• Utilize smaller grills and smokers, as well as smaller cuts of meat, which will allow anyone to tailor the menu for the size of the party — not to mention cut down on cooking time. 

• Experiment with rubs; it's what will separate good BBQ from bland.

• Low and slow. Keep the temperature around 200 if possible, and definitely no higher than 250. "Anything over 250 you might as well shove the BBQ in the oven, since you are cooking at that point and not smoking," says Kaiser.

• To prevent food-borne illness, make sure the internal temperature of the meat is at least 160 F. However, that temperature will likely be reached well before you should pull
it off the smoker/grill. As the pork cooks further, the fat and
connective tissue render making the meat super tender. For a 5- to 7-pound Boston butt or shoulder,
expect at least 8 hours, but to really get it super tender go for 10.

  • A pan of water in the bottom of the grill helps keep the meat moist and increases smoke absorption.

• Bone-in meat equals flavor. "It's tempting to cut down the cooking time with boneless cuts, but I find the flavor suffers."

• After a good bark is formed, wrap the meat in foil to avoid over-smoking the meat. "The smoke should be an ingredient and not overpower the meat."

• Use a very flavorful wood like hickory or mesquite early on and then a milder wood like apple to finish.

• If you're looking for a great grilling resource, the "Thrill of the Grill" by Christopher Schlesinger is a must-have, Kaiser says.

Next week:

In The Kitchen at Lewiston's Fishbones restaurant: Making Seared Tuna Sashimi

Have a food or cooking question? Want to know the secrets behind your favorite dish at your favorite local restaurant? 

We'll try to find out the answer. Write to Tammy at or leave a message at 689-2947.

Eric Kaiser doesn't mean any disrespect when he says that. It's just that after a decade of living in the Northeast, the Sun Journal's director of New Media Development has yet to find what he considers real Southern barbecue, though he says he's sure there's at least one Yankee who can barbecue.

So what's a guy who loves Southern-style — typically slow-cooked, smoked and secretly rubbed — to do? Bring the South north, to his own New Auburn, Maine, backyard, of course.

Kaiser, who grew up in Virginia, recently held his annual barbecue and was happy to share tips and techniques for Southern-style barbecue straight from his kitchen. On the menu for the 15 to 20 people expected for this occasion: two pork roasts (Boston butts), two racks of ribs, three
four-pound chickens (split) and a 17-pound beef brisket, cut in half. Our focus: the pork roasts and the pulled pork they promise to yield.

It began at an hour normally reserved for late-night snacking: 10 p.m. A gloved Kaiser placed two 6-pound pork roasts on cookie sheets, then scooped up a handful of rub and coated each slab of meat with the reddish mixture. The cookie sheets are simply to keep your work area clean, he said.

"Massage it in and be sure to get all the surfaces of the meat," said Kaiser, noting that his rub — a mixture of sugar, salt, various peppers, chili powder and cumin — is also good for beef brisket and chicken. (See Kaiser's recipe.)

The roots of barbecue reach back to a time when those of modest means sought ways to tenderize and improve the flavor of inexpensive cuts of meat, so the cuts you choose don't have to be pricey. But moisture is essential, said Kaiser; slow cooking, water — more about that soon — and marinading or basting are the keys to getting the most flavor out of your barbecue. Meanwhile, the rub not only provides flavor, but the salt in the rub draws out some of the moisture to the skin, which, under heat, firms up and seals in the rest of the moisture.

"Which is very important for the caramelization that is going to happen as we slow cook it," said Kaiser.

Roasts coated, Kaiser headed out to the backyard deck where the long night began. He lifted the lid off his basic Weber charcoal grill to reveal another secret for successful slow-cooking barbecue: ordinary charcoal briquettes banked up on one side of the grill, taking up only about one-quarter of the space. The rest of the space was taken up by a large pan of water. The briquettes were hot and ready to go.

"Since we have such a long cooking time, moisture is important," said
Kaiser. "This creates a steam environment so your meat doesn't get
dried out." 

For the next 12 hours Kaiser basted — mopped really — the roasts hourly, stoking the small fire with more charcoal briquettes and occasionally adding small pieces of hickory, apple or mesquite woods. He used a 10-pound bag of hickory wood that he bought at Home Depot and some apple wood that he got from a friend who has apple trees, using a few small pieces at a time to maintain temperature.

Another method of keeping meat moist is to inject marinade with a syringe. Though this is not how Kaiser approached this barbecue, he says he injects on occasion, and when he does he likes to use apple juice or apple cider with pork during this time of year.

Slow cooking should be done in a temperature range of 180 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Kaiser's grill was a little on the hot side to begin with, at 250, but he expected that to level out as outside temperatures dropped during the night. A word of caution: Don't oversmoke the meat — heat it too high or use too much wood — or it will taste overwhelmingly like smoke, Kaiser warned.

He positioned the pork roasts away from the coals — over the pan of water — and placed the lid back on the grill: The barbecue was officially under way.

"We'll check back in two hours, see what our temperature is doing, and also mop it with a little vinegar and sugar mixture we made earlier," said Kaiser. The basting sauce Kaiser used was made with apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, sugar, Tabasco sauce and hot pepper flakes.

Kaiser was introduced to barbecue as a child going to "pig pickin's" in his home state of Virginia. These barbecues consisted of pits carved into the ground with an entire hog cooking above the heat for 24 hours straight. During that time, coals were shoveled into the pit and the pig was mopped with a basting sauce frequently.

"These guys were up all night," said Kaiser. "They called it pig picking because no one was there carving it up for you, you just walk up and take what you want and move along. It's awesome, the skin is so crispy and the meat is so tender."

It was when he was in college in North Carolina, he said, when he truly "got the bug" for barbecue. Becoming a connoisseur of sorts, he eventually turned his love of the style into a tried-and-true pastime, experimenting with various ingredients and techniques to get it ever better.

At 10:30 the next morning, Kaiser removed the roasts from the grill and shredded them using two forks. He placed the foil-covered pulled pork with the beef brisket, which took about two more hours to cook, in a pre-heated oven while he checked the ribs and chicken.

By mid-afternoon, the lucky people invited to try the fruits of Kaiser's labor were confirming that he is closing in on perfection. Maybe — maybe! — northerners don't know good barbecue, but they know good eating.

"It's so good," said Kaiser. "Twelve hours of lovin' on the grill. It's worth it."

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David Rossi's picture

Between barbequing and

Between barbequing and grilling I cook outdoors around 75 times a year. I have only been into real barbeque for a few years and am still perfecting my technique and experimenting with different local woods. I have only had good barbeque from two commercial establishments in Maine, anything from the place in Monson and a very good smoked beef brisket from a pizza joint in Millinockett. I have had mediocre or worse barbeque from many more Maine establishments. Because they are still learning the craft many of these places are getting better. I currently have three smokers-a charcoal fired bullet smoker, a propane fired bullet smoker and the big beast made from an upright freezer with a wood stove for a firebox. The propane smoker is great because I can leave it unattended for hours at a time. The big one is for volume and the charcoal bullet for small gatherings. I would love a chance to compete in a contest locally.

 's picture

I'll agree with the sauce

I'll agree with the sauce comment, but I suspect many have resorted to this because of consumer demand. I prefer a nice spicy/sweet vinegar combo myself. Occassionally a mustard sauce.

I'm not Dave from DJ's BBQ, and no, have never done a whole hog, but have been to a few parties that have. The easiest method I've seen was a guy that took an oil tank, cut it in half, and made a smoker out of it. Others relied on a rotiseriee approach (manual and/or mechanical). In college, the Beta Theta Chi frat always dug a pit, built a fire, then buried a pig. Tasty.

I believe there have been attempts to have a BBQ contest in L/A, but I don't recall that any actually materialized. Railroad Park would be a great location. Combining a BBQ/Grilling contest with an outdoor Grapes and Grains festival in Railroad Park with a Blues Festival would be a winning combination!

Keep smookin'.

 's picture

Oh, and I disagree about

Oh, and I disagree about foiling. In most BBQ circles, it is an accepted opinion that the meat stops absorbing smoke after reaching an internal temperature of 145 degrees. By foiling the meat, you risk creating a "mushy" bbq.

 's picture

Sorry you don't get out

Sorry you don't get out much.

There is good barbeque all over the place in Maine. Several commercial places, like Little Dan's, Buck's Naked, Beale Street, and a small place near the road in Monson. In fact, there's been good traditional BBQ in Maine since Uncle Billy's opened up in South Portland back in the 80's.

There's lots of great bbq happening in back yards as well.

I don't consider your technique 'real' Southern barbeque, as you use charcoal brickets. A non-traditional short-cut, don't you think? That said, it is much easier than traditional methods of burning hardwood logs down to coals. But I'll give you a pass on that. I could also argue about foiling or not - but I think that debate will always exist as well.

I use a Cookshack Smokette, which is an electric rig that uses small chunks of wood for smoke. Because it's tightly sealed, it reduces the volume of air flowing through it (compared to a charcoal method) , and produces a better product. The best part is that I can put in the pork butt in , select 225 degrees on the thermostat, and have the thermometer beep when 195 degree internal temp is reached. (1.5 hours/pound typically) No need for an hourly basting. Some call it lazy-q. But I'd put my final product up against any other method. Great bark. Great flavor. Moist.

Despite my differences, nicely done article and video. Maybe we can have a competition some time!


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