T.J. McNabb's introduction to BBQ was a long slow process, one that was similar to the drawn-out cooking technique itself.
"I've taken the more relaxed approach to learning it," said McNabb, owner of the newly opened Broken Top BBQ food truck that has made its home outside Mountain Supply on Colorado Avenue. "I started it as a trade just a few years ago, but my apprenticeship was a long, drawn-out one. It lasted about 15 years." He added, "I was already a gourmet chef and that was great, but BBQ is highly specialized."
McNabb's business was previously called Barbeque the Blues, and was a successful truck in the Rose City Food Park in Northeast Portland, and was called "A meat lovers' cart" run by "the new sheriff in town for barbeque," by a reviewer from portlandfoodcarts.com. McNabb moved the business to Bend earlier this summer, and is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and early dinner.
McNabb's favorite cut of meat:
"The favorite thing right now is the brisket. It's the 'cool thing,' but it's also really hard to master. It's probably the hardest thing to do right. If you don't cook it long enough and at the right temperature and the right humidity, you end up with this tough fatty unappetizing piece of meat. I've botched a few of them."
He continued, "Really what it has to do with is the quality and the trimming of the brisket. I refer people to Aaron Franklin's videos on Youtube where he goes through the detail of how to trim and cook the brisket. He's an Austin barbecue guy. He's got a really hip restaurant down there where they sell about 80 briskets a day. Austin is pretty wild."
McNabb on where he gets his meat:
"I've been working with Painted Hills Natural and Grass-fed Beef recently. My main criteria are that I want hormone-free and all-natural meat. I'm trying to source my meat from Oregon and Washington. As we start doing more business we will do some cool things like introduce the buffalo brisket, we'll start doing some elk, and some lamb. Not typical things for BBQ, but things that work out really great."
McNabb on smoking meat:
"I think you can make good BBQ on anything, but really if you're talking about smoking, I prefer a softer smoke. I use seasoned Maplewood in all my BBQ and that's all I smoke with for the business. I've also used a lot of apple, cherry, apricot, pear, those types of woods and they make really outstanding BBQ, too. For the consistency and mass appeal the maple works great.
Depending on what kind of final product you want, don't be afraid to research and purchase a nicer cooking apparatus. We chefs are really into the gear. My smoker is from Galveston, Texas. It's a Texas style smoker and I have a Kansas City-style smoker."
Pitmaster McNabb's Top 5 Tips for great backyard barbecue:
Get a quality cut of meat for your BBQ...if can make for a much better final product.
Give yourself enough time to cook your BBQ properly, whether it be chicken, ribs, brisket or pork.
Heat your smoker or BBQ to the full cooking temp before beginning your cook...this will help ensure an even cook throughout.
Learn to manage your cooking temperature and maintain an even temperature throughout your cook. For example, my wood-fired smokers require more fuel to burn at 225-250 degrees when full versus half full with meat.
Invite friends...BBQ is an inherently social activity, perfectly suited to social groups of all sizes. I have found this to be the best part of my BBQ experiences...relaxing and creating memories around the BBQ is for me, what it's all about.
Picnicking and Grilling in Public
Only two of Bend's public parks allow barbecues—and even then, they require some pre-planning. Adjacent to the Deschutes River, but close enough to downtown to walk, Park Pavilion (1525 NW Wall) allows propane barbecue, but you need to pick it up from Park & Rec. A site for 4-10 people is rentable at $40. A bit more wild (in terms of natural setting, not Mardi Gras attitude) is Shevlin Park (18920 Shevlin Park Rd.), which has two sites allowing gas barbecues. Again, no bratwurst, no matter how tasty, is worth a forest fire. Follow Park & Rec's rules—and no briquettes in any of the parks. ($40/group of 4-10)
It is just $5 for an alcohol permit to drink in Bend's public parks! And certainly the price of one pint of craft brew is better than a ticket for an open container. But, points out the operator at Park & Rec, there are perimeters for what the permit allows, like only drinking "responsibly," she says. And it requires a simple form to fill out. Available at Park & Recreation District Office (799 SW Columbia St.).
Tumalo State Park (64120 O. B. Riley Rd) is one of the most family-friendly spots on the Deschutes River, where the flow is relatively easy-going. Not quite as busy as a McDonalds' in Redmond, but still well-trafficked, this is not where Henry David Thoreau would go for P&Q, but it is a great spot for a convenient (and beautiful and fun) picnic.
A more rustic (read: no flush toilets, and the only running water is the Deschutes River), Meadow Picnic Area is in a National Forest, meaning subjected to the sparse patrolling by US Forest Service rangers (just sayin', in case you're bringing booze and beer). It is first-come, first-serve—and a popular area, so if you don't wake up and leave Bend until noon, you should probably plan on eating your picnic in the backseat of your car. Six miles west from Bend on Cascade Lakes Hwy (46), then 1 mile south on Forest Road 4600.