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Playing with Pork

Playing with Pork

Two A-List pitmasters’ advice on grilling the pig

Barbecue is big business in the United States, and while some pitmasters are content with serving the masses traditional, smoked meats, others prefer to go the unconventional route. And it’s not just for the sake of being different.

It’s an opportunity, for example, to showcase pork in all its grilled glory, one prominent chef relishes, without limitations in say, like a smoked pork curry bowl. Another culinary expert says it’s all in the cut and offering guests something not often found on menus, such as pork brisket.

As summer heats up, it’s never too late to tweak an item or two on your menu. Here, we seek the advice of two celebrated pitmasters: Charlie “The Meat Guy” Torgerson and Ray Lampe—better known to the world as “Dr. BBQ.”

Make it a cut above—with offbeat pork cuts

For Chef Torgerson, seeking out different pork cuts comes naturally for him. Professionally trained at New York’s prominent Culinary Institute of America, he learned the art of butchery early on from his uncle and grandmother by way of his grandfather.

He’s had years of professional service, of course, to explore various cuts, from almost 20 years spent in the kitchens at Famous Dave’s to his barbecue-focused eatery in Alaska to his current situation as chef/owner at RC’s BBQ at the Minnesota State Fair. At the latter, he entices fair-goers with unique, yet fun fare.

“I’m always looking for the goofy little cuts,” says Torgerson. “I always come up with a cool new pork item, from pig ear French fries to Korean barbecue collar.”

He appreciates that other chefs, particularly in the Midwest and on the East Coast, also use different cuts like pork steaks and cook them in unexpected ways.

“Some of these hot-shot chefs in Minnesota or in New York,” says Torgerson, “are taking those cuts—and not just smoking them with a rub—and getting a little Asian influence in there or Hispanic influence in there.”

The goal should always be to showcase familiar items, but with a twist, advises Dr. BBQ. That’s what he does best at his eponymous eatery, which he opened with veteran restaurateurs Suzanne and Roger Perry last fall in Tampa, Fla. In addition to global barbecue styles and dishes on his well-crafted menu, he features pork brisket as one of the specialty meats.

“We’re the number one seller of pork brisket in the country,” he says proudly. “It’s tasty and people really like it. It’s for sure sweeter [than beef brisket] and has a different texture.”

More than a trend; it’s lifestyle cuisine

As more diners shift toward eating less meat, Torgerson suggests using leaner cuts as a flavor enhancer in dishes.

“Everyone’s looking for heart-healthy [recipes] nowadays, and you can do that with specific cuts of pork and make some great bowls,” he recommends.

“You can use the loins or the back end of the pig that’s leaner and not as fat. You can bring some of that smoked element into your dishes.

“I do consulting for some restaurants, and any time I show any kind of bowl, whether it’s a curry bowl or anything that’s a pork-related type bowl, it’s a big hit on the menu.”

For Dr. BBQ, it’s about transparency and sharing ingredients’ origins with guests.

“We’ve gotten more conscientious about knowing where stuff comes from,” he says. “Not every barbecue restaurant is doing that because a lot of them are trying to fight the fight and keep the costs down as low as they can. We thought we’d try a different approach and get the best stuff we could that people would hopefully understand and be willing to pay a little premium price for it.

“We’re using pork from out of Minnesota from a family farm called Compart. We use bacon out of Wisconsin from Jones Dairy Farm, a sixth-generation, family-run business. We thought that was a trend people would really appreciate, and so far, we’re right on the money.”


“I do consulting for some restaurants, and any time I show any kind of bowl, whether it’s a curry bowl or anything that’s a pork-related type bowl, it’s a big hit on the menu.”
– Charlie Torgerson

“We’ve gotten more conscientious about knowing where stuff comes from. We thought that was a trend people would really appreciate, and so far, we’re right on the money.”
– Ray Lampe, a.k.a. Dr. BBQ


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