When you think of barbecue, probably the last thing you associate with it is kosher.
But leave it to Stu Gordon, or “Barbecue Stu,” as he’s often known, to turn the tables on the smoky culinary style.
In conjunction with the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS), he’s organized the second-ever kosher barbecue judging class on June 4 at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El. (The first was held in Kansas City last summer.)
The group of 26 participants hail from all over the country, ranging from Indiana to Rhode Island to South Carolina. Fifteen are from Philly, and will learn about barbecue cooking methods in preparation for the ultimate barbecue challenge in August — Hava NaGrilla, also at the Wynnewood synagogue.
KCBS president Randy Bigler from Alabama will lead the five-hour class, teaching students how to properly judge kosher brisket, beef ribs, chicken thighs and turkey under certain criteria.
The class — which is supervised by Keystone K — uses KCBS guidelines to judge the meats quantitatively based on texture, appearance and taste.
“The brisket is very different from the chicken and is very different from the turkey,” Gordon explained. “Each one has its particular subtleties according to texture.”
Just because meat falls right off the bone doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect, either.
“When a certified barbecue judge sees that, that’s a negative,” he said. “We look for perspiration patterns on the bone, for moistness. We look for the texture of the meat — is it too chewy, is it too tough, is it overcooked, undercooked? Does it have a texture that’s very pleasing? And we look for bite marks — when you pull off a piece of meat, does it come off easily, is it firm, too loosey goosey? All these things matter to us.”
Just as wine connoisseurs swizzle the drink in their mouths and take their time tasting, certified barbecue judges do the same.
“We take the meat, put it between our fingers, roll it between our fingers, pull it apart. We’re very, very methodical how we do that,” he said.
The meats are judged on a scale between two and nine, two being inedible or raw and nine being the “magnificent Michelangelo of meats.”
Smoking meats goes back to one of the most ancient ways of preparing meat, Gordon said, while kosher laws date 5,000 years.
“When people think of barbecue, they think of the South and Texas. They think of pork,” he said.
Barbecuing kosher meats, while not inherently different from the smoking of non-kosher foodstuffs, is a meticulous process when accounting for all of the preparation that goes into the koshering process, which includes proper slaughtering, butchering, salting and soaking of the meat. All of that is before the raw meat ends up in the market, however.
All spices have to be kosher, too — unopened and unsealed. Kosher meats are a bit saltier than non-kosher meats, so spice rubs must differentiate to balance the saltiness. The best flavors come from slow-cooking and smoking at 225 degrees.
Gordon claimed that kosher meats are healthier than non-kosher ones, more organic and a more humane process for the animals.
“People are also crazy about enjoying kosher [food] and Jewish legacy and culture. This is a way to join a Jewish culture by sharing food,” he said. “There’s no place more comfortable to be in the world than your kitchen.”
Gordon became a certified barbecue judge 15 years ago, and has since traveled the country judging contests.
“I have more cookbooks than I do orthopedic textbooks” — he’s a hip and knee surgeon — “and I love to cook. I have a huge infrared grill in my backyard. My wife will not allow me to get a smoker because she said if I get a smoker I’ll never come inside.”
As an “ex-pastrami Jew,” Gordon said he’s recently rekindled his Jewish spirit, joining Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El two years ago. He doesn’t keep kosher, but he’s considered it for the future.
Once Hava NaGrilla takes off, Gordon said winners from that contest and other regions will meet up for the ultimate kosher barbecue battle — in Jerusalem.
“Next year we barbecue in Jerusalem,” he joked, although that’s probably an event five years down the road.
The process of smoking meats is a labor of love, and Gordon is honored each time to eat the product of those long hours and hard work.
“I love barbecue — who doesn’t love barbecue?” he laughed.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737