A little over year ago New York City’s very own Chinese-American Yankee whole hog cooker, Tyson Ho, and I journeyed to the heart of North Carolina barbecue. With the Big Apple BBQ Block Party just two weeks away and Ho’s Arrogant Swine restaurant beginning to take shape in Bushwick, I thought it would be a good time for us to sit down and chat.
What’s this I hear about you trying to get a Thai pitmaster? You’re not going to turn Northeastern Carolina ’cue into Southeast Asian ’cue are you?
I figured I’d put an ad out there in the Thai community. Southeast Asians have been cooking North Carolina barbecue for generations. In fact the single largest diaspora community of Degars, natives of the central Highlands of Vietnam, live in Greensboro N.C. The pits of Stamey’s Barbecue in Greensboro, which is historically the most significant and influential western Carolina barbecue spot in the region, are run by a pitmaster by the name of Pon, a Degar immigrant. Several decades of traditional North Carolina barbecue has been served [and cooked] by a Southeast Asian American.
I’m not sure I’ll find a Southeast Asian pitmaster but if I do, we would be continuing a long standing tradition.
So where are you going to be getting your hogs from and how will they be smoked?
I am working with a farm in Seven Springs, N.C., a town with a whooping population of 85 persons. We’re still working out the logistics of getting them up here but I’m optimistic. They’re a special breed called Chester Whites which have extensive marbling and amazing flavor. I’m also in the process of building my own hog smokers. After years of dealing with the good and ugly (mainly ugly), I have a general idea of what makes for a great hog smoker.
I seem to recall reading on your blog about a wonderful pork product called outside brown. What’s that all about?
Outside brown is the smoky crusty part of the pork shoulder that is native to the Western Carolina region in what’s known as the Piedmont Triangle. It is served with tomato based red sauce and red slaw. At the Swine we’ll be butchering pork shoulder in a way that will maximize exposure to the smoke, thus making the entire cut “outside brown.” This also a way to showcase the nuances of real North Carolina BBQ and to educate the public that pulled pork is a crude oversimplification of our tradition.
What made you settle on Brooklyn instead of Queens? Have you forsaken your home borough?
I wouldn’t call it forsaking Queens as much as put my plans on temporary hiatus. While residential rental rates are significantly lower than Brooklyn, commercial leases are the opposite. In industrial North Brooklyn, my competition for space is small fry speculators like me. In Queens I’m fighting for spaces against Starbucks, Foot Locker etc. Spots in Ridgewood, Astoria, Sunnyside are a fraction of my current space and yet almost at twice the cost per month. So let’s see how things work out in Brooklyn and if I get a few more pennies in my pocket I can try Queens again.
What can folks expect from the menu at Arrogant Swine?
I have a few items I’m putting up there, but still deciding if they’ll stay. The core of everything is the whole hog. Any menu item can go or change. This is largely why I haven’t really published a menu of sorts yet. In North Carolina, barbecue is whole hog, everything else is optional. We will serve up our smoked hog with slaw and cornpone. It will be dressed with the traditional vinegar pepper sauce. We can be playful in seasoning different things like chicken or turkey but never the hog.
What about your artisanal ham?
Given that North Carolina BBQ doesn’t have a very diverse menu set, I figured I’d dig deeper into the whole hog philosophy. To really make ourselves a church of pork, I decided that we were going to import in the Iberian tradition of serving long cured hams. These will be American hams curated from Virginia to Georgia, and like our BBQ, have been long vetted by the palate of history. There is no amount of chefy creativity that could make a better appetizer than these hams. We can take the greatest culinary minds of our generation. Pit them against the traditions of salt, smoke and time. The fight wouldn’t even be remotely fair, ham will win every time.
How will it be different from a Carolina whole hog barbecue joint, besides the graffiti?
We are the only Carolina BBQ joint housed inside a Munich-style beer hall. The issue with most joints in North Carolina is that they’re restaurants. I’m not interested in importing in Carolina cuisine, but rather the tradition of the Carolina pig picking. Pig pickings strengthen communities and ties us to our history. A beer hall is the perfect place to host a pig picking.
Actually tell me about the graffiti. What does street art legend Adam Cost have to do with barbecue anyway?
Our walls are curated by the Bushwick Collective, a syndicate of globally famous street artists doing murals in Bushwick. Street art has everything to do with barbecue. Barbecue, especially whole hog, is a gathering of the community. Here in Bushwick, the community is progressive and artistic. So rather than outfit ourselves with faux Southern kitsch and look like some overpriced Cracker Barrel, we are a Bushwick joint. As a proper Bushwick joint, we dress ourselves accordingly.
You seem to have developed an obsession with doughnuts over the past year. Are you moonlighting as a cop?
There might be something in the works. I might just be messing with folks on social media. Or I’m simply on a slow march towards obesity. Folks will simply have to stay tuned to see which.
Will you assisting your mentor Ed Mitchell at this year’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party?
I’m probably gonna stop in and greet some old friends. But building the Swine up has taken away any opportunities for extra-curricular activities.
What do you think of this year’s lineup?
From a whole hog point of view it’s amazing how many we have. Rodney Scott, Sam Jones, Pat Martin and of course Ed. Hopefully this upswing in hoggers means that folks finally see an appreciation of nose to tail eating. And in good timing too! My rent is due soon ….