Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and this pitmaster-chef.
Tim Byres is building an above-ground barbacoa pit in a lucky recipient’s backyard (the result of a generous auction item he donated for a local charity event). He carries cinder blocks in, one after the other, and stacks them as he talks. “They didn’t want me to dig a hole in their backyard, so we’re stacking cinder blocks instead.”
After he gets the fire started, Byres throws tortillas on the grill over the open pit he just built and starts flipping them with tongs as he talks about the next steps in the taco-making process. He’s sweating and smiling, and there’s smoke and fire. He’s in his element.
At Byres’ Smoke restaurants (he now has two, one in Dallas and one just north in Plano), he serves dishes “honoring Texas and the Gulf and the West.” And fire. He also honors fire. “Almost everything we do at the restaurant is over fire,” Byres says. “We boil water over an open fire. We’re about primal cooking, over the flame.”
Are there tweezers in his kitchen? “No. There’s nothing wrong with them; they just don’t have the strength and power to lift what we’re cooking.”
What he’s cooking are coffee-cured beef brisket (recipe below), smoked pork chops, and bricked Cornish hen with blistered grapes and pecans that are like nothing you’ve ever tasted.
“It’s about a shared moment at this table,” Byres says. “It’s all about associating with something and holding onto it. I remember eating raspberries off of a bush at my grandma’s house as a kid, and every time I eat a raspberry, my brain hooks back to that taste memory. Meringue on key lime pie evokes a memory. Barbecue does that for people. It’s finding that common denominator that gets everyone in the same room.”
BBQ Beef Coffee Cure
Applying a dry rub is important with large cuts of meat. Tim Byres uses a select mixture of seasonings paired with an earthy dark-roast ground coffee that complement the brisket. The salt and sugars in the rub cure the outer portion of the brisket, leaving a heavy flavor and smoky, charred crust called “bark.”
⅓ cup finely ground dark-roast coffee
⅓ cup dark chili powder
⅓ cup smoked paprika
½ cup kosher salt
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl, using your hands to break up any clumps. Do not refrigerate; store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, such as your cupboard.
Recipe excerpted and adapted with permission from Smoke: New Firewood Cooking by Tim Byres (Rizzoli New York, 2013).
From the May/June 2015 issue.