Nobody knows how grilled meats entered the food chain. Like coffee, anthropologists can only guess. The following is adapted from a posting of the history of barbecue from Amazing Ribs, a site dedicated to all things grilled (by permission of the author).
Ancient man probably happened upon a cooked carcass after a forest fire and liked what they tasted. In good time, it was understood that meats tasted better held over or to the side of their cooking source. Eventually it was common practice for ancient societies to “spit roast”, or use meats suspended by wood racks above a heat source. This progressed to the Iron Age, where “gridirons” or the progenitors of grill “grates” were used in ancient Greece. It was eventually realized that smoked meats were an excellent method of preservation, like salting or drying. There have been other influences from Asia (Tandoor ovens) and Japan (Kamado urns), both ceramic cooking ovens heated by an open flame.
In the middle ages spit roasting was widely used in Europe, but the explorations of the “New World” by Spain really brought barbecue to the United States. The introduction of pigs into the “New World” in addition to Native Indian migration brought barbecue, originally called barbacoa through a misunderstanding of Native Indian language by the Spaniards, into North America. Further colonization by the Spanish and Indians brought barbecue into the Gulf States and the lower Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Migration up the Mississippi River brought this technology northward. Smoke houses and pit barbecues started to proliferate, the latter becoming a popular social gathering in the middle to late 19th century.
The home barbecue cook really took off with the mass marketing of charcoal by the Kingsford Company in the early part of the 20th century. In the middle of the 20th century, portable barbecues like Hibachis and Weber kettle grills started to be mass marketed bringing portable charcoal barbecue to the home cook. Gas barbecues followed, and the rest is history! For those interested in a more complete accounting of the history of barbecue, go Here.
In Southwest Florida, there are many purveyors of barbecued meats. I have not sampled all of them but here are three I thought noteworthy. Lots of mouth watering pictures at the end.
Herb’s Best BBQ
Herb Small has been cooking in Naples for 40 years. Starting off as a dishwasher at age 14 in St. Pete, he moved to Naples and has cooked at venues from Morrison’s Cafeteria in the mid 1970’s to private clubs and commercial venues, both personally owning the latter and/or working for them. Most noteworthy were his days at The Shore Club, the sole restaurant for a time in Venetian Village, The Port Royal Club and La Playa. He presently cooks for the schoolchildren at First Baptist Church of Naples. Saturdays, he cooks barbecue at Fogg’s Nursery, East of Collier Blvd. on Immokalee Rd. He has been religiously cooking weekly barbecue along with his wife Ellen going on 6 years,
His barbecue features pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken and even sometimes fish. Sides, such as baked beans, slaw and collards are also available. Homemade breads and sweets, in addition to Herb’s homemade barbecue sauces are also served. This is good solid food, and is what I would call more “traditional” barbecue. Give yourself a little time when ordering at Herb’s on Saturdays. This is a very popular event, and the wait can be up to 15 minutes for your order. Most patrons get food to go though there is limited outdoor seating.
Herb’s Best BBQ (Roadside BBQ) Located at: Fogg’s Nursery & Mulch Supply 10270 Immokalee Rd. Naples, FL 34120 (239)821-6902
ONLY OPEN SATURDAYS (11am – 6:30pm)
All major credit cards accepted; pet and kid friendly
The proprietor of Porker BBQ, Chris Jones, is an accomplished chef and has been known in town for more sophisticated cooking methods such as molecular gastronomy. With Porker BBQ, Chris had told me he was tired of plating out dishes with a tweezers and wanted to go back to more culinary roots. I can not think of any other better way to do this than with seminal cooking methods such as barbecue. Make no mistake, though perhaps simple on the surface, this project was close to 3 years in the making, and it shows.
Partially prompted by a visit to Kansas City, his style reflects Kansas City style BBQ, which centers on slowly smoked meats combined with BBQ sauces.
Chris’s menu has evolved a bit, and though more traditional barbecue is served off menu, the present iteration of Porker BBQ adds a bit of culinary flair. When there recently, my dining companion ordered the pig tacos and the nachos texicanos. Both items were delicious. The tacos (3) were made up of barbecued carnitas, cilantro-chipotle crema, pineapple and cotija cheese. The nachos were even better; the serving almost enough to feed 4 people. Layer upon layer of corn tortilla chips, barbecued carnitas, pinto and black beans seasoned with barbecued meats (frijoles gordo), pickled red onion, cilantro and queso blanco.
We even sampled a side of in house made “porker tots”, home made chorizo-cheddar potato tots covered with chipotle crema and cotija cheese. Another interesting and very delicious dish.
A variety of barbecue sandwiches are available, as well as a more traditional barbecue offering known as the “meatfest plate” (inquire as it is served off menu).
Chris serves out of his mobile kitchen at Naples Beach Brewery. The food and craft beer pairings are an almost unbeatable combination; highly recommended,
Fridays and Saturdays, from 530 and 1 PM, respectively, at Naples Beach Brewery; All major credit cards accepted; Kid and pet friendly
Pit Commander BBQ
Pit Commander BBQ is a Central Texas import to the area that has been here since November of 2016. Stephan had been flirting with barbecue for many years in between other endeavors and decided to jump in with both feet about 3 years ago. He had told me it’s much too cold to cook outdoors during Central Texas winters. Having relatives in the area, he decided to set up shop here for the winter months.
His barbecue methods are unique in Southwest Florida, and are in the style of contemporary “gods” of Central Texas barbecue such as Aaron Franklin and John Mueller. Central Texas barbecue draws heavily on rubs, lots of smoke and low and slow cooking. Barbecue sauces are just gravy or condiments used on the finished product.
Mr. Nedwetzky has seemingly perfected his craft, even bringing 2 cords (i.e., a lot of wood) of Texas post oak with him so as not to “taint” his smoker with foreign flavors. He also sources his meats, which are USDA prime, from a Texas supplier.
He prefers to cook beef, such as brisket and beef ribs, though pork items are also served. These include baby back ribs and pulled pork. A “Texas tornado” may appear from time to time. These are a tasty twist on a “jalapeno popper”. Jalapeno peppers are filled with brisket and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and smoked. Very nice.
Nothing is forever; in this case 2 cords of Texas post oak and a smoker. Unfortunately, once the wood is gone so is Stephan. He anticipates being here until the latter part of March. He emphasized to me that he is “a barbecue cook and not a chef”. That he very much is.