BBQ: Dry Rub in Distant Lands

In an old slaughterhouse in Copenhagen’s meat-packing district stands a four-tonnes Texas smoker, the J&R Oyler Barbecue Pit, said to be the biggest of its kind in Europe. Feeding the firebox with oak wood and its ferris wheel rotisserie with slabs of brisket and spareribs is Andrew Hroza, a native Chicago chef who uprooted to Denmark to cook barbecue food at WarPigs, a brewpub collaboration between craft beer luminaries Mikkeller and 3 Floyds. Andrew opens the smoker’s stainless steel doors and pulls off glistening chunks of juicy thigh meat from chickens which sit on the rotating drip racks. “We don’t brine, we don’t marinate,” says Andrew. “All we use is our dry rub. I want that muscle structure to be exactly how it’s supposed to. If the chicken is brined, you don’t taste it as much. I want you to taste chicken, smoke and spice!”

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War Pigs is named after the Black Sabbath masterpiece. Metal trays keep it American and unpretentious.

Smoke, meat and rub. The balance between this trinity is the signature of the central Texas style that Andrew is Hroza is championing here in Denmark, a country where too many people confuse barbecue with char-grilled lumps of dry pork draped in sickly-sweet sauce. Barbecue is diligent craftsmanship, if not an exact science. Even in Texas there are several schools – from Mexican-inspired barbacoa in the south to sweet marinades and Louisiana influences in the eastern part of the state – and the meats vary. “Down south they tend to use more goat and lamb, some of the cheaper cuts,” says Andrew. “Central Texas is the beef area, north Texas is closer to Oklahoma and has that midwestern appreciation for pork. You use what you have. And now I’m here, I have to use what I got.”

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Fire in the hole

Andrew’s first brush with Texas cooking came when working as a touring chef for bands including The Eagles and Van Halen (“That keyboard sound from Jump, which they always played during soundcheck, still drives me bonkers.”). While the musicians and roadies craved meatloaf, mashed potatoes and a taste of mother’s home cooking, Andrew went on a voyage of discovery in Texas’ fabled barbecue country. He left touring to work as executive chef for the Goose Island brewery in Chicago, and when the job at WarPigs came up, he headed straight back to Austin for a reconnaissance mission. To places such as Franklin, in Austin, and Smitty’s, in Lockhart. “In 36 hours we did nine different barbecue spots,” he says. “I went home and had green smoothies for a week.”

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Coleslaw, brisket & spicy pickles. The ribs are veal.

Back home, he started work on his dry rub, the DNA of barbecue, the spice blends that separate the wheat from the chaff, and which chefs guard as if they were state secrets. Even saying the word ‘rub’, you feel as if it should be pronounced with a southern guttural reverb. Andrew’s eyes squint and his voice hesitates as we broach the subject of the spices he use. “I can’t give away any secrets. The industry would shame me. It’s totally a personal preference. We don’t use any sugar in our rubs because it creates too much of a crust that doesn’t let the meat breathe. Ours is a little spicier than some people might be used to. That comes from black pepper, chili powder and paprika. We use a couples of things that give subtle notes which you wouldn’t necessarily detect unless I told you what they are.”

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The War Pigs rub is used on everything that goes into the smoker – from ribs to chicken to brisket. Due to varying cooking times, fat content and meat texture, the rub takes on different characteristics. On the chicken, it becomes more smokey and subtle in spice; on the brisket, which they smoke for 12-14 hours, it’s caramalised into a crunchy coating. “The temperature is quite low, about 100 degrees Celsius, because we use very fatty cuts. You want to create a crust that holds all that steam and moisture inside to confit the meat. The fat needs to render like a duck breast, back into the meat without it melting away. In the Oyler Pit, you have this consistent cloud of smoke which the meat gradually travels through. If you are just directly pumping smoke onto stationary meat then one corner is going to taste burnt and the other corner is not getting the right flavours.”

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Nobody goes for the chicken, everyone goes for the pork and the brisket. But after 4-6 hours in the smoker that chicken is the best in Scandinavia; buttery and juicy and unbelievable. The overlooked gem of War PIgs.

Like the pit masters at famous Franklin in Austin, Andrew uses “post oak” logs that have rested for six to nine months. Fresh-cut green oak offers lots of smoke but not the right heat, he says. “There are a million different approaches, but because of the length of of time with which we smoke, we are going for a very mild flavour. I don’t want to just kill it with mesquite so it becomes too tangy. Some people use hickory, almond, pecan or cheery wood, and I think those are great, as long as you are not doing it the whole time.”

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An American preaching BBQ to Danes. Andrew Hroza used to go out for craft beer and barbecue when he was on tour with various rock bands that he cooked for. His passion for barbecue and beer eventually sent him top Copenhagen to head up War Pigs.

At the kitchen counter, Andrew slices the brisket, ribs and hot link sausages while customers line up holding steel trays topped with butcher’s paper. No plates, no napkins, just an industrial-size dispenser of kitchen roll to wipe away fat, sweat and beer stains. There is mac ’n’ cheese, hush puppies, dill pickles and – on the long communal dining tables – traditional barbecue sauces with a crafty twist; Texas style made with cranberries and lambic beer, Kansas City style with in-house malt syrup.

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A beer powerhouse: Constantly changing brews from Mikkeller & Three Floyds.

“We work with the brewery to get first runnings of dark beers and then reduce it to malt syrup for the sauces and pecan pie, instead of just using shitty corn syrup. We are trying to do our version. We can’t just be Texas barbecue. We have to incorporate a bit of Danish into it; a bit of War Pigs. We can’t just follow some blueprint.”

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Getting high on his own supply