Interview with Chef Chris Lilly of Big Bob Gibson BBQ – Decatur, AL

June 2008

Which woods do you use? “Most pitmasters use regional woods – everything in Alabama starts with hickory. For beef, I’ll usually use hickory and sometimes I’ll switch to post oak. For poultry I like to mix some fruit woods in with the hickory, whether apple, apricot or peach, because they highlight the depth of the hickory flavor. Pork is about hickory any way you cut it. For whole hog and big cuts like shoulder it’ll be all hickory, and when it comes to baby back ribs I like to add cherry. For salmon I like something very light and delicate, like alder.” (Chris’s favorite type of hickory is pignut.)

Tip: A lot of beginners will make the mistake of trying to cook with nothing but wood – but this can lead to oversmoke and bitterness. Start with charcoal and add wood to that.

Philosophy on Rubs: “First I’ll get my mind to what exactly I am putting it on. (I think the all-purpose rub is a little misleading). My philosophy is this: first I’ll mix my salts and sugars and do a taste test. At this stage, I’ll take into consideration how long I’m cooking, because of the caramelization that will develop on the meat. Then, I’ll add different types of heat. Once I get my heat regulated, I move towards something that gives it color and will bring all the flavors together, like paprika or chili powder. Then I go to my personal signature spices. From there on it depends on your own ideas.”

Sauce Tips: “If you’ve got a sweet sauce, only add it at the very end during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking (so the sugars don’t burn). If you’ve got a vinegar sauce or another sauce that isn’t too sweet you can baste your meat with it as it cooks. Slathering your meat with mustard will make the dry rub adhere and provide an even color to your meat without affecting the flavor profile.”

Preferred Fuel: Kingsford charcoal briquettes. “If I pre-load them in my cookers in a ring shape, I can get up to 15 hours of heat. I don’t pile the new briquettes on top, as it will smother the lit ones.”

Chris’s Tip For Serving Barbecue: “Leave your large cuts (chickens included) whole after cooking and slice, chop, or pull as close to service as you can.”