Learning recipes and cooking techniques was much different for Alfonso Contrisciani when he was an up-and-coming chef.
“A lot of the old techniques I have, they were honors,” Contrisciani said. “I earned them. I had to work 90 to 100 hours a week for a chef to give me a recipe or a formula. … Nowadays the information is all there (online).”
Contrisciani, who is the executive director of food and beverage operations at Hocking College and a certified master chef, is involved in the process of creating almost any meat dish from start to end — he raises pigs and then butchers, brines, cures, smokes and grills the meat. He learned the best from training under master chefs who are no longer in the industry. Now, passing on his skills to a younger generation is more than just a way for him to make a living — it comes from a drive to teach others.
“We can’t take anything with us (when we die),” Contrisciani said. “The only thing that’s really important in a man or a woman’s life is the legacy that they leave behind. And I think it’s my duty to teach and to pass the information on.”
Many people who have a passion for meat start out of curiosity for creating their own food. As technology advances and there is more of a need to be sustainable, barbecuers are experimenting now more than ever with what kinds of food to put on the grill.
John Gambill and Tony Bunce first got into smoking meat out of a general interest in cooking on a regular Weber Smokey Mountain grill. The owners of Historic BBQ in Lebanon, Ohio, Gambill and Bruce opened their business in 2010, and they have competed in numerous competitions cooking on many different kinds of grills and smokers. They said there is not one cooker that is superior, as different smokers that use different fuels — such as wood, pellets or charcoal — create diverse flavor profiles in the food.
“There’s no right way or wrong way to do it," Gambill said. "That’s the great thing that we love about barbecue."
Sean Kiser, a co-owner of Kiser’s Barbeque, started barbecuing on the side while attending OU, and his interest developed into a full-blown business plan. Kiser’s is the only barbecue place in Athens that actually smokes their meat, Kiser said.
“People here in Athens … didn’t really know what barbecue was. It’s not just putting barbecue sauce on something and calling it barbecue,” he said.
The big trend among chefs now is sustainability and using every part of the animal in cooking. Also, buying fresh produce and food staples can help a person live a healthier life. Contrisciani strongly urges everyone to evaluate what they are consuming and know from where it is coming.
“When you go out to eat at a restaurant, you put your health into the hands of whoever is in the back of that kitchen,” Contrisciani said. “When you go to a grocery store and you select a product off the shelf, you’re putting your health into that manufacturer’s hands.”
Because Kiser started experimenting with smoking without extensive training, he knows the importance of trial and error for amateur smokers. However, he encourages people who are interested to keep trying, because the finished product is so rewarding, even after a person masters the craft.
“I’ve had the business open for almost eight years, and each time I pull the car up and get out of the car and smell the smoke … it never gets old,” Kiser said. “It’s always like, ‘Man, that smells good.’ ”
Gambill and Bunce also encourage barbecue enthusiasts to experiment with what they are putting on the grill. In the past, they have smoked burgers and meatballs, but said you can really try to smoke anything.
“A lot of young people are bringing different experience, too … (and) they’re not afraid to try,” Gambill said. “I’m a big fan of anybody that’s trying to (experiment with smoking.)”
However, it is hard to beat the classic flavor of traditional beef on a smoker.
“I’m a brisket fan. I like eating brisket so I would say that’s probably one of my favorites to cook,” Bunce said. “It’s hard to beat a well-cooked brisket and burnt ends.”