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Southern Kitchens An art fired by passion My dad was never too fond of barbecue. As a result, I really never experienced smoked foods until well beyond my youth. In fact, it wasn’t until I was well into my third decade of life that I not only learned to love barbecue, but also learned there was more to it than I ever knew — all because of an invitation to judge one of the most esteemed of all barbecue competitions, the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational. In accepting the invitation, I also took classes to become a certified judge. I went back several years to judge this event and came to discover that barbecue is an art. It’s a sixth sense in many barbecuers who are born to the flame, it seems. As years go on, they become adept at putting on the heat to produce just the right amount of smoke to marry with the juices flowing through the meats. These sons — and daughters — of the South have smoke in their veins. It’s an all-consuming passion, and one shared by many now that it’s gone beyond the back yard to become a global cuisine. Just take a look at Eric Stephenson’s recipes in the adjoining story and see if you don’t become addicted to his fiery passion… if you’re not already.

Smoke runs in his blood


ric Stephenson was just 16 years old when he learned that a little bit of flame, a smoker filled with wood and a careful eye produces incredibly good meat. It was then that his dad, James, opened a barbecue restaurant in Geraldine, Ala., and employed his son to work after school and during his summers off. Soon, Eric became a master of the flame under his father’s watchful eye. Now 32, Eric owns his own barbecue restaurant, Stephenson’s Bar-B-Que in Stephenson Rainsville, Ala. It has a take-out drive learned the art through, as well as a covered front porch of barbecue with a handful of picnic tables where from his father. folks can “eat-in.” “I loved working with my dad growing up,” Eric says. "I was able to see first-hand the pride he took in his work. Before his death, he laid out a blueprint for me through multiple conversations. That’s where the idea for Stephenson’s Bar-B-Que began. It’s in my blood.” His first barbecue hut was a Saturday-only business located next to his house. When that building was destroyed by a tornado in April of 2011, he reopened in a new location along Highway 35 in downtown Rainsville. Now folks can smell the smoke from the hickory pit five days a week. From pork sandwiches to rib plates, Stephenson’s Bar-B-Que reigns in Rainsville. Eric took time out from smoking to answer a few barbecue questions: Q: Do you prefer using gas or charcoal? A: Neither. The best method is to use all wood when smoking meat. It gives it a whole lot better flavor. Q: What are the best woods to use? A: Most all hardwoods are good — pecan, hickory, oak, cherry. Q: How do you get juicy meat? A: Don’t pierce the meat; it creates holes that let the juices escape. Brining the meat is a better option. I brine all of mine, from the chickens and turkeys to pork butts and ribs. Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when smoking meat? A: Allowing the flame to touch the meat or cooking it at too high a temperature. That scorches the meat, and the smoke won’t have time to penetrate the inside of the meat. Q: How do you know when the meat is done? A: I can tell just by touch. But people who are new to smoking meats should use a meat thermometer. I cook my pork butts to at least 175° F. Makes them more tender, too. 

FOLLOW THE SMOKE TO... Anne P. Braly Food Editor Email Anne Braly at 14 | May/June 2013

Stephenson’s Bar-B-Que H 832 Main St. East H Rainsville, Ala. Hours: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. H Tuesday – Saturday Phone: 256-717-4080 House special: Pulled pork barbecue plate with coleslaw and baked beans ($6.25-$7.75)