Smoke Rings

 

Smoke Rings is an award-winning barbecue series that I wrote for Phoenix New Times. The project was a yearlong dive into metro Phoenix's barbecue culture. Here, you’ll find highlights. The best stories have not only meats that melt like custard, but great characters.

 
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Silvana Dreams of bbq

I hung out at an experimental barbecue session in a lot filled with old cars, iced beers, and Johnny Cash tunes in Phoenix, one that bridged Mexican and American styles. Silvana Salcida Esparza, a pioneering Mexican chef, led the way. A year later, I wrote part two.

 

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Southern Comfort

A man who grew up on an Alabama mountain, one whose grandmother made "one heck of a squirrel stew," gets a reverse-offset smoker going in San Tan Valley. “The wood and the smoke and the meat — you’ve got to listen to it," he says. "The way it sounds, the way it looks, the way it feels, the way the smoke smells.”

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Brisket in an Orange Grove

What is barbecue? What is Arizona barbecue? Why is barbecue different from place to place? Where do the boundaries between cuisines stand?  And how do they and should they move to hug the contours of food's slow, steady, constant evolution?

 

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Eating the Best in Town

"He takes some wildly novel positions despite claiming no barbecue weirdness. He has a fine-tuned sense of when to stick with custom and when to split, and that’s what makes Little Miss BBQ the best I’ve eaten in Phoenix. If I had infinite hunger and time, I could sit at Little Miss eating fatty brisket forever." 

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High and Fast

In South Phoenix, barbecue's old spirit lives. “Lewis ate rib tips in his sharecropping days. Throwaway cuts like rib tips were tossed to poorer folks like him. Through barbecue, through the alchemy of smoke and fire, talented cooks made tough meats melt.”

 

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Smoking Wagyu Brisket

"Finally, the class ends. Four smokers. Four meats. People full of knowledge and upscale barbecue head for the doors. And all that’s left is a barbecue maestro cleaning up, and bones, flecks of char, and brown slurry filming over in the bottom of an empty aluminum pan."