Tyson Ho is the type of guy who invites his pals over to hang out in his front yard for a pig picking. Not such an unusual occurence in the South, but you can be damn sure he’s the only Yankee in Flushing cooking whole hog in his driveway. When it comes to Carolina barbecue, the man is no slouch. He learned the art of cooking the entire animal slowly over hardwood embers and then chopping it up, including the crispy skin so that every bite contains a little bit of the entire pig, at the hands of the master, Ed Mitchell. He’s got big plans for New York City including the Hog Days of Summer. He and I are taking a short trip to North Carolina later this week to pick up his new hog cooker. Before we hit the road he was kind enough to answer Seven Questions
What made you get into Carolina whole hog barbecue? Why not brisket?
I actually expected to hate Carolina whole hog the first time I tried it in the middle-of-nowhere town of Ayden. Seriously who wants to eat pork drenched in vinegar? The first bite was a message from God, by the last bite my mandate was set. I have seen the path of righteousness, now it’s just matter of converting everyone else.
Back when I got into barbecue, no one [in New York] was really doing brisket and all the restaurants serving brisket sucked. I also tried my hand cooking brisket and it came out horrible. Thus I concluded that brisket intrinsically sucked for barbecue. Obviously I’ve been proven wrong, but by the time Hill Country, Bowen, Mangum, and Delaney came to town I was already too deep in this whole hog thing to hop on the trend.
Tell me a little bit about the Hog Days of Summer?
The Hog Days of Summer is series of pop-up events that John Brown Smokehouse and I are throwing in Long Island City and Greenpoint. It will be a true North Carolina pig picking with whole hog slowly smoked all night over hardwood embers, all the proper Carolina side dishes and a boozy dessert.
But this is New York, and if we’re throwing a pig picking we’re gonna do one that makes our Carolina brethren jealous. So we’re getting the most expensive pigs money can buy, all heritage breeds all pasture raised. We’ll be serving all you can drink amazing craft beers, and there’ll be live bluegrass music!
Sounds stupendously good. Tell me where did you learn to use chopsticks?
I can’t say I have learned. My chopstick skills, like my Chinese speaking skills, are those of an eight year old child.
What’s your favorite way to eat bone marrow?
Lightly poached in milk and water, sitting on top of a hanger steak with sauce Bordelaise.
Ah yes, I forgot that in your misspent youth you worked as a stagiaire in some of the New York City’s best kitchens. What was the worst experience you’ve ever had working a stage? The best?
The worst was at Chanterelle and not because they were bad but because I was so immature that I completely squandered my opportunity to really learn from the Waltucks. Also my very, very, very brief time learning chocolate over at Payard, where I discovered chocolate work is as exciting as watching paint dry.
The best was working pastry at Le Bernardin because I was working at Judson Grill at the time as well. So my “commute” between my stage and my real job was short as we were in the same building. When I did my stage at La Caravelle, I needed to leave Midtown and travel all the way to Tribeca to work my paid line cook shift.
How do you feel about the state of barbecue in New York City versus the South?
The future of barbecue in this country will come from New York City.The very reason is that we are willing to pay for it. We’re willing to use the best meats possible. We’re willing put in the toil and expense of cooking with all wood. Down South people expect a pitmaster to stand there all night shoveling wood coal under shoulders and expect to pay $4 for a sandwich.This might be the Yankee in me but that’s utter garbage in my book. This is why so many have switched over to using gas cookers. I’ve eaten at several North Carolina barbecue joints, legendary joints, historically significant joints, where the pigs have seen no smoke. You might as well have cooked them in my microwave and called it barbecue. There are some in the South who believe they have better barbecue because of geographic genetics, we are getting better at barbecue in New York City because we value it.
Is there a common misconception or myth about BBQ you’d like to dispel?
A common misconception is that barbecue was invented to convert economy cuts into something more palatable, e.g. brisket. North Carolina whole hog is the oldest still practiced barbecue style in this country and it was not born of necessity but celebrations. The pitmasters were all African-American slaves. At the end of the tobacco harvest, the slaves would be given a pig to cook, feast, and enjoy the day off. Imagine the magnitude of the party and what the abundant feasting must have been like for one living a life deprived of dignity and filled with toil. On that day slaves did the exact same thing we free citizens do when presented with a whole pig specially smoked for us. For that one day, they smiled.