Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Pork Experiment: Recap & Pics

During SXSW, Chris & Brad attended The Pork Experiment at Club de Ville. (My thanks to both for covering the event for us.) The event was one stop of several by The Food Experiments, out of Brooklyn. Here are Chris' excellent recap & Brad's first round of pics (And here is TFE's recap.):

Some followers of Man Up were up in arms last week when someone made the bold claim that South Carolina has the best bbq because beef isn't bbq. Pork reigns supreme in the Carolinas, and it also got the chance to showcase itself during South by Southwest at Club DeVille. The Pork Experiment, Austin's stop of the The Food Experiments, pitted 22 dedicated amateur chefs in a competition featuring an ingredient or theme (in this case pork) where the winner gets a trip to the finals in New York. With beef getting the love in the Lone Star State, it was a nice change of pace to see what all the pig has to offer.

I should get something straight first before launching into the actual food. Yes, Man Up is a bbq blog, and yes, blog favorite Franklin BBQ was an official sponsor of the event. However, this was not a bbq competition. In fact, there were maybe three of the 22 dishes that would even qualify as bbq. So as much as I would have been ecstatic about having nothing but ribs, pork shoulder, pork butt and sausage to sample, instead I got to try several cuts of pork prepared in styles from all over the world. I think creativity was also encouraged in selecting team and dish names for the competition.

To demonstrate just how far from bbq some of these dishes were, the first dish I had was a White Meat Bad Boy from Masarap. It consisted of pulled pork prepared Filipino style topped with queso fresco, shaved chocolate, and candied bacon and served on a banana leaf. Was it delicious? Of course (it actually placed second in the competition), but it was a far cry from half a link served on butcher paper.

Brad and I still agreed that our favorite item was the one probably the closest to bbq, ribs courtesy of Matthew Schaeffer that were marinated in Dr. Pepper and green chili. They were fantastic. The marinade imparted a little heat and good flavor throughout the meat, which was cooked so well that the ribs fell off the bone. Moisture was perfect too. In fact, if I was ordering ribs from anywhere, my wish list would probably be Kreuz, Milt's, and Matthew Schaeffer in some order.

Surprisingly, only one other team had ribs, and they were done with a spicy Asian dry rub by Pork Fiction. I enjoyed the kick, but the ribs were a little dry for my liking.

The last real bbq menu item was pulled pork from Wildly Natural One. Their official entry dish was actually a pulled pork taco with mango salsa, but I asked Carl, who was manning their spot, to give me some pulled pork without wasting time with corn tortillas and mangos. He happily obliged, and I'm glad he did. Their pulled pork was phenomenal, and I understood why after talking to Carl. He's originally from south Alabama and waxed poetic about smoking meat. We discussed different wood, and he told me they used post oak for the pulled pork because oak is the standard for good bbq. Carl also told me about smoking using pecan (a fine wood to use), applewood (great for fish), and mesquite (way too strong a flavor to use by itself and best using only a couple of bits with other wood). I had a blast talking to him, mainly because he was content smoking his meats and letting them speak for themselves. Wildly Natural One also just started selling seasonings (www.wildlyone.com).

Everything else I liked featured pork prepared in ways from all over the place. One of my other favorites was from Pork Chopper, who used a Spanish soft ground pork called sobrassada that looks like pepperoni. They layered it with potatoes and were liberal with paprika for spice. I'm a huge fan of paprika and highly recommend using it for any type of dry rub you might make.

Right next to them was Satiation, which made a dish called Pork by Pork West. It was fried polenta layered with pork and topped with a thick bacon slab. This dish ended up winning best overall from the judges, and I understand why since it tasted great and was probably the most complete and well-rounded pork dish in the competition.

The menu also included pork in peanut red curry, Cuban sliders, poached pear pork cups, pork mole, tamales, pulled pork sliders, mini pork sausage topped with sweet potatoes, and pork empanadas. I was a big fan of both the pork curry and the empanadas and would have been happy to eat either as a meal. Getting to wash everything down with Brooklyn Lager added to the joy of the festivities as well.

I have to extend many gracious thanks to Nick Suarez and Theo Peck for putting on the event and allowing Man Up to participate. It was great fun to be able to sample so much delicious cuisine, even if it wasn't a traditional Man Up bbq outing. In fact, if you're going to be in New Orleans on Sunday, April 3, I highly recommend getting to the tour's next stop at the Howlin Wolf for the The Brunch Experiment.

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