Barbecue champion Christopher Prieto says he learned his craft by competing against the nation’s finest pit masters.
Traveling the competitive barbecue circuit led Prieto, 31, who owns Wendell catering company Prime Barbecue, to appear on Destination America’s series, “BBQ Pitmasters.” That led to his writing a cookbook for Southern Living.
“Ultimate Book of Barbecue,” which came out this spring, is a 360-plus page grilling and smoking cookbook filled with glossy – and realistically messy – pages. Prieto, whose day job is as a clinical trials manager for a pharmaceutical company, wanted it to reflect his favorite cookbooks, ones marked with wrinkly rings from a glass of water, smudged with sauce-covered fingerprints and a smoky aroma.
“I don’t like (barbecue) books that are too clean, with perfectly glazed ribs .... That’s not barbecue. It seems easy and too polished,” Prieto said. “Barbecue is a very hardcore, dirty, aggressive art form.”
Prieto grew up in Texas, but his family moved to Wake Forest when he was 15 years old. He eventually moved to Wendell, where his brother-in-law is a police officer. (He prefers eastern Wake County, saying: “If you have ever met a Texan before, we need land and we need flat.”)
Prieto came from a family of food lovers. He remembers the first time he ate brisket at Dozier’s Grocery & Market in Fulshear, Texas, about 30 miles west of Houston. After that, Prieto said, “I became infatuated with the craft of barbecue.”
He and his father would cook barbecue at home. In his early 20s, Prieto competed at his first competition in Lumberton and won sixth place for his chicken. He was hooked and was soon competing at contests all over the country, including Memphis in May.
Prieto now organizes the third annual Pork Out at Lafayette Village, a barbecue competition and tasting event on July 18, which raises money for the Raleigh Rescue Mission. (Details: nando.com/porkout.)
Prieto shared a recipe from his cookbook for Baby Back Ribs, saying, “It was the one that hurts the most giving away. It has won me a lot of money.”
Enter to win a cookbook
We’re giving away two copies of “Southern Living’s Ultimate Book of BBQ,” with pitmaster Christopher Prieto. Go to the N&O Lifestyles’s Facebook page and leave a comment under the post about the giveaway by noon Friday. You also must “Like” our page to enter the giveaway because it makes it easier for us to notify you if you win. We’ll choose a winner at random.
Baby Back Ribs
The cookbook’s recipe testers noted they used Parkay Squeeze margarine. From “Southern Living’s Ultimate Book of BBQ,” with Chris Prieto (Oxmoor House, 2015).
3 slabs pork baby back ribs, trimmed (about 9 pounds)
1/2 cup peanut oil
3/4 cup paprika
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup seasoned salt
1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
4 tablespoons granulated onion, divided
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon chipotle powder
Heavy duty aluminum foil
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar, divided
1 (12-ounce) bottle squeeze margarine, divided
3 cups honey, divided
1 cup applesauce
1 cup smoky barbecue sauce
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons hot sauce
Rinse and pat ribs dry. Remove thick membrane from back of ribs by pulling it off using a paper towel.
Brush or rub ribs generously with peanut oil. Make spice rub: Combine paprika, turbinado sugar, seasoned salt, 1/4 cup black pepper, granulated garlic, 1 tablespoon granulated onion, oregano and chipotle powder. Coat each rack of ribs with 1/2 cup seasoning mix and let stand for 1 hour.
Prepare charcoal fire in smoker. Place water pan in smoker; add water to depth of fill line. Regulate temperature with a thermometer to 275 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.
Place ribs, bone side down, on upper food grate; close smoker. Smoke 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking periodically to prevent excess charring.
While ribs are smoking, prepare three sets of double-layered, heavy duty aluminum foil packets (about 20 inches long but large enough to tightly wrap each rack of ribs individually). Cover bottom of each packet with 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup squeeze margarine and 1/3 cup honey.
Remove ribs from smoker, and set one rack, meat side down, in each foil packet atop the brown sugar and honey mixture. Sprinkle both sides of ribs with 1/2 tablespoon spice mix and 1/2 tablespoon granulated onion. Coat rib side of each rack with 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup squeeze margarine and 1/3 cup honey. Wrap ribs tightly with foil, return to smoker, bone side down. Cook 1 1/2 more hours.
Remove ribs from smoker; open foil, and allow steam to escape for 2 to 4 minutes. Drain and discard liquid and aluminum foil.
Make glaze: Stir together applesauce, smoky barbecue sauce, 1 cup honey, salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and hot sauce until well blended.
Brush each rib with 1/2 cup glaze. Carefully return ribs to smoker, bone side down, close smoker. Cook 10 minutes or until glaze is set. Remove ribs from smoker, and cut between bones to separate ribs. Serve immediately with remaining 1/2 cup glaze.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.