The season of road tripping has begun. Some are traveling with friends, others are visiting family. Ari White came to Pittsburgh with 160 pounds of meat.
White drove the nearly 400 miles between New York City and Western Pennsylvania in a van packed with ice coolers, poultry and beef.
“I had zero visibility out of the back of the truck, I had so much food,” White explained.
Self-described as the “Pitboss,” White operates Wandering Que Kosher Wood Smoked Texas BBQ. The company features pop-up barbecue restaurants, private catering, wholesale specialty meats and a competition team.
White’s Pittsburgh arrival was for Hillel Academy’s Annual Cultural Event. Housed in the backyard of Lou and Amy Weiss, the $600-per-plate evening offered the consummate carnivore’s smorgasbord.
Charcuturie, smoked egg pate with kosher bacon lardon, 12-spice Texas-rub smoked chicken, six-hour cherry wood smoked beef spare ribs and 18-hour smokehouse brisket all adorned the menu.
Between servings of plated dishes, White offered insights into grilling, his Texas childhood and Jewish education.
“The brisket is really what the barbecue is about,” White said of the cut of beef that has practically defined Texas barbecue. “It’s probably the most difficult piece of meat to cook. You can’t do it fast, because it’ll turn to jerky. You can’t do it too hot, because you’ll melt the collagen. The only way to get it soft and buttery is to use a slow process.”
And while event goers sampled lamb belly bacon, baked beans and Texas chili with homemade tortilla chips, White described the laborious process for cooking brisket.
“You judge a man’s barbecue by his brisket. It’s just about the toughest piece of meat to do well in barbecue. Almost anybody can do short ribs — timing and heat doesn’t matter — [and any] barbecue chicken is going to be amazing. But brisket, you devote 12 to 18 hours and you absolutely need to heat the meat to a specific temperature. If it were easy everyone would be doing it; the fact that makes it tough is what makes it great.
“With the variables changing every day — the weather, how much humidity is in the wood, the size of the piece of meat — it’s exhausting,” he added, “but I love it.”
White grew up in El Paso, a West Texas city separated from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico by the Rio Grande River. El Paso currently possesses three synagogues and a kosher grocery store.
When hearing of Pittsburgh’s kosher options, White marveled at the availability.
“I grew up in a city without any kosher restaurants at all,” he explained. “If you wanted kosher Chinese, you had to learn it yourself and that was before Google.”
He returned to the inherent difficulties in cooking brisket to offer a metaphor about Jewish continuity.
“Especially in outposts like these, where we have to fight our children, we have to feed the fire,” he said. A slowly-fed fire is “like Jewish education. It’s not an overnight thing, nor is it cheap.”
For those looking to learn from the pit-man, White cited a recipe he shared with Tablet Magazine in 2013 for “All-Purpose Texas BBQ Dry Rub.”
The recipe is “incredibly versatile,” he explained. “We use it on everything from chicken, to steaks, brisket, ribs, fillings, curds, pineapple, peach, apricot; we dust popcorn and potato chips, heck I’d almost put it on my Frosted Flakes, it’s great.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.