The One True Pitmaster
Ricky Parker couldn’t say for sure how many hogs he’d prepped since 1976, when he began tending the pits at Scott’s Barbecue, the year Early Scott took the thirteen-year-old boy on as an apprentice and, eventually, son. It was immediately clear to Scott that no one could smoke hogs like Ricky. He was a pitmaster, body and soul, born to the rough trade. He would master pit, fire, and hog. Shovel, sauce, and spice. He would master barbecue. The young Ricky could remain on his feet for twenty hours straight: cleaning the pits, stoking the fire, shoveling coals, smoking hogs, serving customers. And the customers liked Ricky: courteous, handsome, a bit wild. Dedicated to finishing the job and doing it well, Ricky would eat standing up—“I eat on the run,” he liked to say—and rarely if ever slept for more than three hours a night. Sleep didn’t come easy when you were cooking with live flame. He’d close his eyes and experience terror-filled dreams of his pit catching fire, his hogs rendered inedible, the Henderson County Fire Department arriving too late to save his smokehouse, which now lay a conflagrated heap of charred timbers and sheet metal. Ricky would rather stay awake to watch the fire.
Excerpt from the book The One True Barbecue: Fire, Smoke and the Pitmasters Who Cook the Whole Hog by Rien Fertel; Photo by Denny Culbert; Excerpted in Gravy by the Southern Foodways Alliance (@southernfoodways), 2016
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