Michael Strauss, Co-owner of Taproom on 19th, Eyes A Barbecue Dream On The Horizon

You mean with a sauce?
Sauce or even with just a little bit of water. Pork butts are really easy to rehydrate. The brisket is easy. Ribs are impossible. I’ve tried different ways to brings ribs back to life the next day. The flavor is still good, but it loses all that moisture.

How are you rehydrating pork butt, for example?
First of all, you have to let the pork shoulder cool completely. Put it in the refrigerator and not cut into it until it is absolutely cold—41° or lower. And that’s when you chop it up. So when you take that and throw it onto the flat top and squirt a little bit of water on it, the fat starts melting again and the pork starts rehydrating. It tastes 99.9% as good as on the day that I cooked it.

And you could have some long hots going in that same juice, with a little bit of oil added.
You can do whatever you want with it. We’ve added some BBQ sauce, put it on a sandwich with some coleslaw. It tastes great. We’ve put it on mac ‘n cheese [laughs]. It tastes great.

Any other BBQ specials recently?
We’ve done a brisket cheesesteak. Right now, we have the brisket mac ‘n cheese sandwich. We’ve done numerous taco Tuesdays with the pork that I’ve smoked. Sandwiches, chilis. We did ribs once, but like I said, couldn’t really bring that back to life the next day. That’s something when I experiment with those, whatever guests are at the bar are the ones that get to eat them for free. I just pass them around and ask peoples’ opinions. I only do one or two racks at a time so I’m not really spending a lot of money experimenting.

What are you getting by eating barbeque right off the smoker?
When you cook it that day and you let it rest and you start cutting into it and it’s only an hour or two old, it’s so moist, it’s so tender. You can taste the smoke coming off of it. There’s nothing like that. You can’t replicate that the next day. It’s going to taste good the next day. It’s not going to taste the same as on the day that you took it off the smoker. Cause you can literally smell it. It’s like it’s still smoking and it’s sitting right there in front of you—whether it’s on a sandwich or atop a burger, or it’s just a couple slices on a platter.

What else has informed the way you BBQ?
I’ve read through Aaron Franklin’s BBQ book. It’s interesting because it’s not about recipes. As he explains, it’s more about technique and about practicing. That’s his key. That was a huge influence. I’ve eaten barbecue from here to there, to everywhere. Constantly eating it. Philadelphia has some good barbecue spots. I just think the way that I’m gonna cook it and serve it, guests are really going to benefit from it. It may be a little more hard work on my side because I have to get everything to finish cooking at the same time. Brisket takes 8-10 hours. Ribs take 4 hours. In the GoFundMe I put up there…I can cook ribs, brisket, chicken wings, chicken thighs, fatties, pulled pork—I can cook all these different things, but I’m never going to do all of them in the same day. I’m probably just going to focus on two meats a day. That way, all the focus and the effort is going to be on the results for those meats. That will benefit the guest, rather than cooking all this stuff and trying to hold it, trying to keep it fresh and keep it nice—it’s just too complicated [having lot of options]. I think when I open, I may not even have that many sides. Probably something very simple so I can focus on the meat and get that exactly where I want it. Once things are running smoothly, then I can add some other things.

What else are you doing to improves your BBQ skills?
I’m going up to Brooklyn just after the New Year to work and help out this gentleman Nestor Laracuente —he was the opening pit master for Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn. It’s rated the best BBQ. He left there [he was recently the pit master at Hoodoo Brown BBQ in Connecticut] But now, he’s back in Brooklyn [at Beast of Bourbon]. Told me that I could come up and spend a few days with him. He does it the old school way with a stick smoker.

But you’re going up there as somebody who knows how to cook.
I’m not a trained chef or anything like that, but I’ve learned a lot from the other people that have come through here. I know what’s right. I know what’s wrong. I know when people are bullshitting me and when they’re not bullshitting me [laughs].

Michael Strauss (r) with Nestor Laracuente in September at Hoodoo Brown BBQ where Laracuente was pit master.

Michael Strauss (r) with Nestor Laracuente in September at Hoodoo Brown BBQ where Laracuente was pit master. courtesy of Michael Strauss.

How long did you spend staging at different places throughout the city?
Over the course of a year, I staged at five or six places. Some places I was there three or four days. Some places just one—or even a half a day. I talk to chefs. I know a lot of chefs in the city. I’ll ask them, does this sound right to you. Does this make sense to you. [In regard to managing staff] If someone told you this….and they’re like, that’s bullshit…and I’m like, that’s what I thought [laughs]. But I get it. The business is very ego driven and no wants the owner hovering over top of them 24hrs a day and I try not to, but for me when these people are sitting over there [referring to customers at the bar] it’s like they’re sitting at my dining room table. I want to make sure they leave happy.

My other passion is pizza and yeast and dough but I’m nowhere near where I’d need to be to do something with that. There are people that can do that a thousand times better all over the city. Owning a restaurant with 15 employees and not having more control over what comes out—I think I’d like to have 100% control over the product, whether it’s good or bad. It’s all on me. It’s not ego driven. I like feeding people. When they take a bite of something and they smile and they’re like, wow, I really like that—that gets me off more than anything else.

One response to “Michael Strauss, Co-owner of Taproom on 19th, Eyes A Barbecue Dream On The Horizon

  1. Pingback: Owner of Taproom on 19th aims to open a BBQ spot in South Philly | Passyunk Post·

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