Saint Louis BBQ Society member and judge Scott Watson uses this flavor bomb when making one of his favorite comfort foods.
Barbecue plays a big role in Missouri’s food culture, thanks in large part to Kansas City. This is where in the early 20th century Henry Perry set up the city’s first commercial barbecue stand, although community barbecues are documented as early as the 1860s. By the 1930s, more than 100 barbecue joints were clustered in the African-American neighborhood of 18th & Vine.
For more than 40 years, Kansas City has hosted the largest barbecue competition in the world—the American Royal World Series of Barbecue—and the Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctions more than 500 contests worldwide. In fact, Kansas City-style barbecue is one of four prominent barbecue styles in the entire country (the others being Carolina, Memphis, and Texas).
In truth, America’s barbecue culture can get a bit hazy, and not from all the smoke. There’s a lot of history, methods, sauces, and set-ups to wade through, but in the end, what you have is amazing smoked meat, and honestly, isn’t that all the matters?
This month’s home cook, Scott Watson, is a part of St. Louis’ barbecue story. Scott, who lives in Chesterfield, Missouri, is a member of the Saint Louis BBQ Society, and has also served as a contest judge. Needless to say, he knows his way around the smoker and grill. Many tips and techniques Scott picked up during Saint Louis BBQ Society meetings.
“I’ve learned a great deal from being a member and a judge for the Saint Louis BBQ Society,” Scott said. “Pre-COVID, we would hold our meetings at various barbecue restaurants in the St. Louis area, and I love to watch how the teams in a competition prepare their dishes when I get the opportunity.”
His barbecue buddies may have influenced Scott’s grill game, but his mom and her aunt taught Scott how to cook.
“I was 17 when I started to cook,” Scott said, who grew up in Pekin, Illinois, located near Peoria. “I learned over the years by helping in the kitchen. My mom was a great cook, and her aunt was a chef in a restaurant in Chicago (Henrici’s) and ran restaurants.”
Sunday dinners at his maternal grandparents’ home are strong memories for Scott.
“Aunts, uncles, cousins gathered around good German food or an excellent roast beef, as well as chicken and noodles made from scratch,” he said.
His paternal grandparents were Depression-era farmers.
“Grandma knew how to make duck in different ways; Grandpa would shoot them over the lake on their farm when there was no other meat,” he said.
Special pies—like gooseberry or rhubarb—also were on the family table, as well as a strawberry cake with strawberry icing that Scott’s great-aunt Mahala always made for his birthday.
“My wife, Marcy, has made (the cake) for many years since Aunt Mahala’s passing,” he said.
Scott noted that Marcy is a “great self-taught cook in her own right,” and they share the task of making meals, either during the week or on the weekend.
“If I am grilling or smoking meat, I plan to have it for the following week,” he said.
Comfort food, for this barbecue aficionado includes pork steak, stuffed hamburgers, smoked pork shoulder, or Marcy’s chili. “It’s anything that I do not want to share, although I do,” he said.
Scott’s smoked pork shoulder is not spicy (in the heat sense), but “just seems to warm the soul.” He shares a recipe for Bonesmoker’s Pork Injection from Ray Lampe known as “Dr. BBQ.” Scott recommends covering the meat with plastic wrap and placing it in a large pan to avoid a mess. After injecting the meat with this mixture of fruit juices, vinegar, and spices, Scott discards the used plastic wrap, flips the shoulder over, and repeats the process. He’ll then use a dry rub on the meat before popping it into a smoker.
“My go to rub lately has been Heavy Smoke’s White Label,” he said. “Pork shoulders work best, in my opinion, on a smoker because as the time goes by, a beautiful bark forms on the surface of the meat, and it is packed with flavor. When the shoulder is pulled apart and shredded for service, that bark mixes in with the rest of the tender meat so maximum flavor is achieved.”
Smoking meat in a charcoal or gas grill can be a difficult challenge. The charcoal has to be maintained for a steady 225–250 degrees. “A gas grill may not work, but there are so many variations on grills today, a high-end grill might be able to pull it off.”
Scott also pointed out that his recipe wouldn’t work as a marinade. So, the lesson here: get the right tools for the optimum outcome. And smokers don’t have to break your budget; here’s a list, all under $100.
And for outdoor barbecue beginners, Scott recommends a good meat thermometer.
“I like the pen type for instant reads of meat temperatures,” he said. “Also, experiment with combinations of wood for a smoker. You can blend stronger woods like mesquite and hickory with pecan or oak.”
Scott, who recently retired from Guardian Life Insurance Company where he worked as a key account manager, said he and Marcy now cook for small groups of family or friends. Still, it can be a challenge to time the completion of the meat with the rest of the dinner.
But I think this backyard barbecue boss is up for the challenge.