Press – Harpers

Carl’s Perfect Pig Press

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Harper’s Bazaar

July 1995- “Barbecue: A Love Story” by Dwight Garner and Cree LeFavour

harpersbazaar0707“Making classic American barbecue is hard, sweaty, smoky work. But as Dwight Garner and Cree LeFavour found when they went south to study with two experts, the result can be a revelation…. ”

“…Our purposes were relatively humble: We wanted some honest, hands-on experience tending some serious meats over serious flames and, okay, maybe a few juicy secrets to smuggle back home for our summertime dabblings on backyard grills.

After consulting a pile of guidebooks, several amateur barbecue scholars, and some grease-stained notes we’d taken on previous trips to the South, we chose our spots: Louie Mueller Barbecue, a revered institution located on a rundown main street in Taylor, TX, and Carl’s Perfect Pig in White Bluff, TN, a relative newcomer run by Carl Teitloff, a rising young star in the barbecue firmament.

Both places where happy to have us, if a little perplexed about why, as Teitloff put it, “anybody would want to stand around all day in this inferno just to get a little something to eat.”

It’s a serious drive out to Carl’s Perfect Pig in Tennessee hill country west of Nashville (you wind along roads dotted with feed shops and deer-processing signs), but Carl Teitloff’s roadside restaurant isn’t always taken altogether seriously by many barbecue fanatics. He breaks too many rules.

For one thing, the booths in Teitloff’s place are painted a bright, kitchy pink. For another, his menu features too many nonbarbacue items like hamburgers and fish, a big no-no among zealots. And some experts seem bugged by how hugely Teitloff enjoys himself. Aren’t barbecue masters supposed to be kind of flinty and grim?

“Aw, hell,” Teitloff said, laughing as he stuffed an armful of hickory into the furnace at the back of his dilapidated smoking shack, “People are always giving me grief about something. But once they try my ribs and pork, they usually quit talking and start eating.”

We quickly became Teitloff admirers too. We spent a scorching but entirely blissful day with him in the shack outside his restaurant, helping prepare for a pig pickin’ – a ritual that involves cooking large sections of pork shoulder for a full 24 hours while shoveling hot coals under the meat every 20 minutes or so to keep the temperature in the pit at around 300 degrees. It’s backbreaking labor that Cree likened to ” working on a pork-crazed chain gang.” But the following morning makes it all worthwhile: Teitloff and his female staff throw a miniature party of sorts, donning gloves and ripping succulent bundles of pork to shreds for sandwiches. Even Teitloff’s mother, known around Carl’s as Momma Pig, dives into the action.

In the barbecue world, where reputations accrue over decades, Teitloff is close to a beginner; he bought the building that became Carl’s Perfect Pig seven years ago, after he quit a job managing a Kroger’s supermarket. “I didn’t have any real experience,” he said, “I just tried every variation I could think of until I hit on something I liked.”

We hit on something we liked when we arrived at 7:00 a.m. on a Friday: Teitloff immediately had us swabbing down thick, fatty pieces of pork shoulder with a mixture of butter and salt. We laid the pork in the pit and spent the rest of the day removing glowing hickory coals from the nearby furnace, then shoveling an even layer of them under the meat. The temperature inside that shack was sweltering; Teitloff kept watching for fires, “This place tries to burn down every few weeks,” he said.

Late in the afternoon, we helped Teitloff douse the pork with a vinegary sauce, then wrap it in foil to steep overnight. He suddenly got a mischievous grin on his face, “Wanna see how to make some of the tastiest ribs you’ve ever come across?” he asked. We nodded. We were starving.

Teitloff uses pork ribs called three-downs, which are smaller than the five-down ribs many places use. He seasons them with the requisite spices- top secret, of course – seals them in foil, and cooks them for an hour or so over good but ordinary charcoal. “Most people just throw ribs right on the grill.” he said, “They’re good that way, but in foil they stay more tender.” Later, he removes the ribs from the foil, brushes them lightly with a spicy tomato sauce -“don’t use too much, or people will think you’re hiding something” -and puts them back on the grill for 10 or 15 minutes. That final bit of cooking, sans foil, gives the ribs a gorgeous glaze.

We sat around in Carl’s parking lot, eating ribs and drinking beer in the dwindling sunlight. “I take back everything negative I’ve ever said about barbecue,” Cree said, sampling her fith or sixth rib. For the first time on the trip, she was making a pig of herself

The following morning we gathered in a big communal circle with Carl’s employees and pulled apart the pork we’d cooked the previous day. Heaps piled up on the table: smoky, crusty bits mixed with softer, lusher pieces to create a gorgeous melange. I’d been complaining about my weight the day before, but when Carl caught me sneaking pieces and popping them into my mouth, he grinned. “Go ahead and eat, I always do” he said, sampling a piece himself, “If you’re going to be a serious barbeque person, you’ve got to remember my motto: A waist is a terrible thing to mind.”