The Times, touching on a story Grub Street broke in October, had a big feature on the dearth of experienced pitmasters Sunday, pegged on GS pal Big Lou Elrose of Wildwood. The piece marvels at the quick ascent of Big Lou from working an Ozone Park lunch wagon to his current post, but in fact, Elrose’s bones were made as Adam Perry Lang’s right-hand man in competition; the lunch wagon was just a lark. Still, the city’s top pitmasters are as baffling to food writers as they are to the general public. Their job is hard to understand, because nothing they do happens while customers are present to observe. There is one factor that never changes, though, and will always separate real pitmasters from merely titular ones.
The best, like Robbie Richter of Hill Country and Scotty Smith of RUB, are present at all times, overseeing each rib rack and brisket with the watchful eye of a school crossing guard, and constantly adjusting time and temperature to make sure that the product comes out right. That’s one reason it’s hard to make a great barbecue restaurant, despite the many barbecue experts and consultants out there.