Behind the Scenes at Barbecue University
It’s 6 a.m. and the sun is rising on the Cheyenne Mountain Lodge. In two hours, its huge patio will be overrun with people eager to survey the impressive collection of grills and smokers amassed for Day 1 of Barbecue University with Steven Raichlen at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
There is much to be done before the students arrive. Chef Roland LaCroix, already running on caffeine and adrenalin, makes the long trek from the kitchen to the burn area to check on the prime rib he’s smoking; the prime rib will be cut into bible-thick steaks and then direct grilled during class. This is just one of many tasks on his lengthy “to do” list. Long-cooking foods like pork shoulder or Ham Ribs with Mustard “Caviar”—personally, one of my favorite recipes from Steven’s latest book, Project Smoke—require swap-outs from the kitchen staff as they just can’t be cooked in time. If you watch food-related shows on TV, you’ll understand.
Assisting Chef LaCroix in the back kitchen is a team he hand-picked. Two of the young chefs-in-training, Katie and Hannah, are veterans of BBQ U and are up to the task; the third, he knows, (also named Katie) is in for an experience. For weeks, LaCroix has been preparing for the class, now in its 9th year at the Broadmoor. (Two 3-day back-to-back sessions accommodate 55 students each.) He has studied the menus and recipes, completed the massive job of ordering, tracking, and checking in the food required, and choreographed its preparation. For while the students themselves prepare 8 to 10 recipes per day (plus several bonus dishes), it is Chef LaCroix and his staff who translate the menus into a daily banquet-style feast for as many as 75 people. For a fee, family members or friends can join BBQ U attendees for lunch each day; many take advantage of the arrangement.
Honoring Steven’s request, Chef has acquired the best products he can find: extra-large wild prawns from South Africa; grass-fed beef; organic chickens; heritage breed pork; locally-raised Colorado lamb; wild-caught Copper River salmon, and so on. Because, as he so often emphasizes during class and on his show, also called Project Smoke, how your food was raised and where it comes from is as important as how you prepare it.
Meanwhile, I make sure all the work stations are set up properly—Steven’s as well as those for the students—and periodically orbit outside to make sure the needed equipment’s all there and the grills and smokers are ready to go. If I know it will be needed (such as for Wood Grilled Lobster Mac and Cheese), I build a fire in our wood-burning oven so it will have time to burn down to glowing embers.
Usually, there’s time to snag an on-the-go breakfast before class starts. This year, Steven fortified the kitchen crew with shirred eggs cooked in a cast iron skillet on one of the grills.
I always station myself in the burn area when the first shuttle bus of students arrives at 8:15 a.m. Some make a beeline to the coffee station, while others purposefully march outside to survey the grills. I love to watch them take in all the hardware—everything from the modestly-priced Pit Barrel Cooker to a Brazilian-style rotisserie to a stunning ceramic-tiled Komodo Kamado to Weber’s new Summit Charcoal Grill to stainless steel supergrills. There were at least 40 models on display. (Grill and smoker companies report a surge of interest and sales during BBQ U, with some students ordering units on the spot from their smartphones!)
At 9 a.m. sharp, our video/soundman starts blasting Bruce Springsteen’s music (usually “Born in the U.S.A.”) from the deck. Steven is just getting started. By Day 3, students started showing up at the Lodge by 7:30 a.m., too excited, they said, to wait for the 8:15 a.m. shuttle.
Firm dates for Barbecue University, 2017, will be announced soon. Stay tuned for details.