Christopher Prieto, Pitmaster contributor for the Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ: The Complete Year-Round Guide to Grilling and Smoking, is a BBQ addict.
No, seriously. He’s obsessive about BBQ in a way that I’m not sure many others in the world are. Like, Alton Brown meets Bill Nye obsessive. What’s more? He wants you to be obsessive about it too, or at least learn absolutely as much as you would ever care to know about “meat science” and the art of cooking meat as possible.
This element of Prieto’s personality dates all the way back to his early childhood living just outside the Houston, Texas area. It was there on a visit to a BBQ joint tacked on to the back of a gas station where he first fell in love with low and slow cooked Texas style brisket carved up in front of his 5-year-old eyes on some paper with a well honed butchers knife atop an even more well-worn chopping block.
This story of Prieto’s first BBQ memory came to me via a phone conversation I had with Chris a few weeks back. What started out as a standard phone interview in preparation for a book review here on The BBQ Beat turned into more than an hour-long conversation about Prieto’s background in BBQ, from his decision to follow his passion for BBQ rather than embark on a family tradition of practicing medicine to the hard-won knowledge of cooking real BBQ that involved – at least on the outset – ruining much more meat than most of us will ever cook in a lifetime.
I first learned about Christopher Prieto and his PRIME Barbecue business via the last season of BBQ Pitmasters. Mention this to him, and he’ll thank you graciously for having watched his North Carolina feature episode. He’ll then emit a little bit of a groan, and if prompted, will explain that the guy many of us saw preening and slicking it up on screen isn’t exactly who or what he’s all about. He told me… because I asked him. And here’s what I came away with.
BBQ Pitmasters is a great show. It’s a great show because the producers and contributors all know that it’s a SHOW! Destination America knows how to get what it needs out of the folks who compete on the show. They don’t ask folks to be who they’re not. Quite the contrary, I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things from the BBQ Pitmasters competitors about the show’s staff and directors. This said, there is a certain flare to Prieto’s character that he’ll tell you the producers liked, and they encouraged him to play to that.
PRIME Barbecue Wounded Warrior Cooking Class Photos
What we didn’t see tons of were the segments shot but subsequently cut out that relay that above all else, Chris Prieto is a family man who puts God and family at the forefront of all he does. I’ve shared on the BBQ Beat Facebook page a few stories of what Chris does to support wounded war veterans and the Wounded Warrior Project. This is just another way Prieto puts forth a servant first leadership vibe, and any in competition BBQ – where charities are at the heart of what you do – can appreciate.
As I mentioned before, Christopher Prieto grew up as a kid outside of Houston, TX. He is of Puerto Rican heritage, and his Dad came to Texas to study for his advanced degree in medicine. In fact, nearly all of Prieto’s family hold advanced degrees in either Math or Science, some teaching at the college level in Texas even today. All through school, Prieto pursued studies that prepared him for what he calls a “Daywalker” job role (he presently works in and enjoys a role as a clinical trials manager for a pharmaceutical company). However, his love of BBQ and cooking BBQ never subsided.
Chris told me a great story of his first brisket flat cook ever, where he used a stick burner with lit with just a few coals and jammed full of wood. Always supportive, Prieto’s Father agreed to join him in enjoying the brisket once it was done. The brisket flat was Texas sized, I seem to recall Chris said it was around 8 lbs, and the thing took forever to cook. The total cook time was around 14 hours or more, and it was nearly 10:30 PM by the time it was ready to eat. Chris’ Dad sat patiently, on the living room couch, watching his son work that smoker, during the entirety of the cook.
When the whole thing was said and done, Prieto says that was the toughest, driest brisket he’s ever cooked – holding true to his mantra of having ruined more meat than anyone he ever teaches has cooked in a lifetime.
Needless to say, things improved over time, but not without a lot of trial and error. Chris took classes, asked a lot of questions, volunteered to do KP Duty in many, many, BBQ restaurants in exchange for some tips or little nuggets of info from well accomplished Pitmasters, you name it. Note taking became an obsession. He would record the grade of meat, weight (untrimmed and trimmed), spices and sauces uses (amounts and type), charcoal used and how much, ambient temperature outside, smoker type and set up used, and finished product observations each and every time he cooked anything – pork, beef, chicken, etc.
Moving to North Carolina at the age of 18, Prieto’s appreciation for other styles of BBQ developed greater complexity, as did his desire to test his best against others on the professional BBQ circuit. His first foray into competition BBQ started around 2008 cooking as Buccaneers Better-B-Q.
The name itself refers back to the origins of BBQ where Buccaneers discovered the method of cooking wood fire smoke infused meats. A quick search over at Wikipedia states: “The first known use of the word as a noun was in 1697 by the British buccaneer William Dampier. In his New Voyage Round the World, Dampier writes: And lay there all night, upon our Borbecu’s, or frames of Sticks, raised about 3-foot (0.91 m) from the Ground.” (See full article here.)
Being in his early 20s at the time, Prieto noticed one other cook team member his age, Nelson Colwell, of Chesapeake, VA cooking using a Stumps smoker. Prieto asked him if his Dad was around so he could ask to check out the smoker, and Colwell explained that it was he who was the Pitmaster. The two hit it off immediately and soon began cooking together off and on under Colwell’s team name, Old Dominion Smokehouse.
In 2009, Prieto began competing as PRIME Barbecue, and his team has done very well against some of the steepest competition out there.
Most recently, PRIME BBQ took 3rd place overall at the 2015 Kannapolis, NC Jiggy with the Piggy KCBS competition with a 2nd place rib entry and a 4th place brisket entry.
Having won Grand Champion, Reserve Grand Champion, and category honors with PRIME, he continues competing, but spends time catering, hosting classes, and is presently planning to open a brick and mortar location that incorporates space for classes, corporate seminars, and celebrations.
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ: The Complete Year-Round Guide to Grilling and Smoking Review
OK. So now that you have some back story on who and what Christopher Prieto is all about, let’s move on to taking a look at his recent cookbook effort: Ultimate Book of BBQ: The Complete Year-Round Guide to Grilling and Smoking.
Publisher: Oxmoor House
Pages Total: 368
Were to buy: Amazon.com
First off, you should know that this book contains equal parts legitimate BBQ history and authenticity as well as grilling with new and exciting flavor components, and most importantly… recipes even the most limited cook can use to achieve delicious food. All throughout the Ultimate Book of BBQ, I see an effort to do what Chris loves to do most – educate and share his love of food in ways that people can embrace, use, and enjoy.
The 365 page text starts off with a great forward from noted Southern Food Historian and author Robert Moss and rolls right into a lesson in “Bona Fide BBQ” – the cuts, the methods, some regional history, etc.
I like that he’s up front about how tastes in BBQ have changed over time, and that while regional favorites still play center stage for most BBQ lovers, as a culture of modern food lovers – we’re likely to enjoy styles of BBQ from all over the nation. I know that I surely enjoy Texas style brisket when I can get it expertly prepared. I also love Kansas City style spare ribs and Carolina style chopped pork with red slaw on the side. With so much great food out there to enjoy, why someone would relegate themselves to only one style of BBQ based on some sort of regional pride is beyond me. But hey – to each her or his own.
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Fueling the Fire
After the history lesson, the Ultimate Book of BBQ moves into a great breakdown of the different fuel sources and cooking styles for smoking meats and grilling alike.
This section begins with a mantra I see flowing throughout the book – something like what we see in the movie Ratatouille… “Everyone Can Cook!” By this, I mean that Prieto makes a point of stating that “Whether you have a charcoal grill or a gas grill, you can still make barbecue like a pro.” While this is technically true, I know that for some words like “can” represent a chasm they’ll just never be able to cross. But, to be fair – throughout the Ultimate Book of BBQ, Prieto does a near fool-proof job of explaining the steps required to achieve good results no matter what equipment one has at their disposal.
I find Chris’ take on the minion method interesting, as it presents a particular challenge people might face when trying to employ this method of charcoal cooking/smoking. Here’s what he says:
There is one disadvantage to using the Minion Method: cooking over unlit charcoal. Since the Minion Method goes against the idea that charcoal briquettes should be completely lit and white before cooked over, those with sensitive palates could detect an off flavor.
He does continue on by noting that many winning Competition BBQ teams fire their BBQ Smokers using the Minion Method.
In the remainder of this section, the book details specifics about various types of smoking wood and discusses indirect, direct, and combination cooking (what you might use when doing a reverse sear) – though he doesn’t specifically discuss the reverse sear per se.
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Low and Slow
Now we get to what I consider the “does he know his BBQ or not” section of the book… the Low and Slow section. Covered here are the categories of:
Low and Slow Beef Cuts
- Beef Brisket – with tips from Harrison Sapp of Southern Soul Barbeque
- Beef Chuck Roll – with tips from Skip Steele of Pappy’s Smokehouse
- Beef Short Ribs
Low and Slow Pork Cuts
- Pork Spareribs
- Baby Back Ribs
- Pork Butt – with tips from Harrison Sapp of Southern Soul Barbeque
Low and Slow Chicken
- Smoked Chicken
- Beer Can Chicken
- Chicken Wings – with tips from Skip Steele of Bogart’s Smokehouse
- Spatchcock Smoked Turkey
What I like most about this section of low and slow “how to” recipes is that Chris does a good job of taking things step by step. He uses great photos – explaining his rationale behind the steps he takes. After each big meat breakdown, you’re presented with answers to the one question anyone who has ever smoked a brisket or multiple pork butts always asks…. what do I do with all of this leftover meat?
This section covers brisket, pork, and chicken… and luckily you have an answer to what you can do with extra portions for each of these proteins.
Prieto comes in to save the day by offering up recipes that not only put the leftovers to use, but do so in ways that are innovative, fresh, and flavorful. I mean, we know you love those brisket sammiches…. but a little variety never hurt nobody!
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Hot & Fast
Direct heat grilling is the name of the game, so the meals tend to be quicker prep ones that you could pull off just about any night of the week. The photos in this section are really well done… in fact, they’re beautiful. We Homo sapiens eat with our eyes first (well, it’s a close tie with our noses) – and the pictures presented in the Ultimate Book of BBQ do not disappoint.
What’s covered in this section protein wise? Great question. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find:
- Coffee-rubbed Skirt Steak with Fruit Salsa
- Grilled Tri-Tip with Citrus-Chile Butter
- Smoked Beef Tenderloin (15 min smoke)
- Grilled Molasses Flank Steak with Watermelon Salsa
- Korean Bulgogi Flank Steak
- Grilled Balsamic-Molases Bacon
- Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Strawberries
- Serrano Pepper Burgers
- Shrimp Burgers
- Lamb Sliders with Lemony Pickles & Herb-Caper Mayo
- Grilled Apple-Smoked Striped Bass
- Mango Sea Bass with Mango Salsa
- Grilled Salt-Crusted Red Snapper
- Grilled Oysters with Horseradish-Garlic Panko Topping
- Firecracker Grilled Salmon
The rest of the section does a nice job varying the ways you can prep vegetables – like grilled Mexican-style street corn, grilled squash and salsa-verde, grilled beet kabobs and goat cheese, and grilled balsamic Brussels sprouts with bacon.
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Rainy Day BBQ
In this section, Prieto provides recipes that employ the use of indoor cooking appliances – namely the slow cooker, stove top, and oven. Now before you go all “Slow Cooker BBQ Isn’t BBQ!!!” and pop a cranial vein, relax. The one thing I enjoy about this book is that it’s a book for the masses, not the hard core purist.
For some, firing up a BBQ Smoker or grill for indirect low and slow or even direct hot and fast cooking is a daunting task. In cases where folks are in poor weather (snowed in like folks were in the Winter of 2015) or simply don’t have the capacity to use live fire – condos, etc. – this section offers some nice options.
Ultimate Book of BBQ Slow Cooker Recipes
A sampling of recipes using a crock pot / slow cooker include:
- Slow Cooker Pork Butt
- Brunswick Stew
- Pork Carnitas Nachos
- Slow-Cooker Pork Tacos Al Pastor
- Texas-Style Barbecue Beef Brisket
Ultimate Book of BBQ Oven Recipes
A sampling of recipes using the oven include:
- Honey & Soy-Lacquered Spareribs
- Bourbon BBQ Baby Back Ribs
- Beef Ribs with Sorghum Glaze (Sorghum?)
- Braised Beef Short Ribs
Again, I have zero problem with these recipes and frankly think they’re pretty good – at least as good if not better than what I have seen elsewhere for non-live fire cooking. The one thing I am not sure is gonna fly wording wise is the “Texas Style Brisket” cooked in a crock pot. That might invite some down right vitriol! Like “Don’t Mess with Texas, Son!” kind of stuff.
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Sides, Sauces, Brines, and Injections
The Ultimate Book of BBQ finishes strong with what I think is a very solid lineup of sides and sauces. Some people take sides for granted, and that’s just wrong. In my book, nothing wrecks a BBQ or grill out session like crappy sides. Look, in a pinch, I’m down with some store-bought tater salad or baked beans. But if I’m putting effort into the affair, we gotta step it up a bit.
Ultimate Book of BBQ Must Try Sides
Among my favorite sides and ones I’ll surely be trying my hand at this summer include:
- Arugula with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
- Slaw Variations: South Carolina, Memphis, Western North Carolina, Eastern North Carolina, and Texas
- Bacon Potato Salad (Hot, Casserole Style)
Ultimate Book of BBQ Sauces and Rubs to Try
- North Cackalacky Barbecue Sauce – Vinegar Based
- El Sancho Barbecue Sauce – Texas inspired
- Rib Apple Glaze
- Sauce Variations: Lexington NC, Sweet Mustard, White BBQ Sauce
There are also a few rub combinations. While I normally buy a few trusted retail BBQ Rubs, these may be fun to work with:
- Smoky Dry Rub – All Purpose
- Hill Country Rub – Tribute to Texas Style Dalmatian Style Rub (Salt/Pepper Based)
- Pork Butt Dry Rub
This section finishes up with a selection of marinades, braising liquids, and brines, and injection recipes that might be interesting to test out on some weekend soon as well.
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Pickles Galore
I’m a pickle freak. I mean I really, really, really love ’em. I can still remember the cool air and musty smell of my Granddaddy’s cellar in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Grandma would ask me to go down and grab a jar of this or that, and needed or not, I’d always carry up a jar or two of whatever pickles she had down there. Watermelon rind and bread-n-butter were my favorites, and she always had some on hand. Pretty sure she knew I’d be grabbing some, so she made sure they were always down there. Amazing woman. I spent a few weeks on that 200 acre farm every summer as a kid – coming up from Central Florida – and am a better man for having done so.
In any case, as you can tell I’m a believer that homemade pickles are best, and if you’re anything like me – these easy to make yet innovative pickle recipes are going to be right up your alley. These few are tops on the list to get rolling soon in our house.
- Bread-&-Butter Pickles
- Zucchini & Squash Pickles
- Sweet-Hot Cukes and Peppers
- Peppery Texas Pickles
- Candied Jalapeños
- Quick Confetti Pickles
Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ Review – Final Thoughts
Having now spent a good deal of time reading through the Southern Living Ultimate Book of BBQ, I can confidently say that it’s clearly and accurately written, contains superior photography that really gives you an idea of where you can go with your food given enough practice and patience, and represents an authentic approach to traditional and new approaches to BBQ with balance and insight. There’s something in this book for every level of BBQ lover, and if that makes good food more accessible to folks who want to try their hand at creating delicious BBQ and grilled food and more – then I’m all for it.
Sources Used for this article:
Local Barbecue Master Releases Cookbook – Kara Bettis, The News Observer
Some mages from the Ultimate Book of BBQ are reproduced here courtesy and with the express permission of photographer Greg DuPree – www.gregdupree.com
Note: Product was provided for free however the review is my honest opinion and includes affiliate links.