Without definitive objectivity, all you have is subjectivity

Photography by Jason Stephens

I am a self-professed lover of food, a gourmand, a bon vivant, to be precise. I seek out tasty food as if it were sport. When it comes to good-tasting food, I am an expert. This is not a seasonal addiction; it is a year-round pageant of which I strut my stuff for all to admire. In the fall, as the days grow shorter, I slave over risotto laced with roasted mushrooms. In
the winter, I yearn for the comfort of a buttery baked pie to fatten me up. In spring, I look to crack into freshly harvested stone-crab claws. And, in summer, nothing beats barbecue — during midyear weekend afternoons, you can smell it in the air. I can even smell the scent of sweet smoke that has soaked into my clothes as I type.
Good barbecue usually requires two things: meat and people. Southerners, who spend much of their time outdoors, have graciously accepted the role as pioneers and innovators when it comes to cooking meat on an open fire. The past dictates that when school is out and summer is in, families and friends plan reunions and get-togethers centered around cooking outdoors. My first memories of having a sticky, barbecue-sauce–covered pig rib in one hand while holding tight to a buttery corn cob in the other coincide with childhood memories of running through fields chasing after long-lost family members at my first family reunion. Summer barbecues, to me especially, have been a long-running symbol of community, of family, and of mouth-watering, belly-filling food.
Several schools of barbecue thought debate the meaning of true barbecue. Is it a technique? A taste? A sauce? Is it a particular series of steps to achieve the perfect texture? Most die-hard meat smokers define true barbecue as a region-specific art of slowly cooking meat under indirect low heat in pits using either wood or charcoal. Others, including me, have adopted a liberal interpretation on the matter. Meat doesn’t have to be smoked for the better part of a day to achieve an acceptable flavor profile. Actually, good barbecue doesn’t even require meat in some instances (albeit very, very rare instances). As long as you have a good deal of smoke imparted throughout, a moist interior with a contrasting exterior crust, you’ve got yourself barbecue no matter how long it takes and no matter what precise end flavor is developed.
In the great barbecue debate, one statement reigns true: once you cultivate an appreciation for the craft of good barbecue, however it’s displayed, you’re hooked. The Lakelander’s staff has varying opinions as to their individual barbecue favorites just within our city limits. While one place has stellar ribs, they might be lacking when it comes to brisket. Another restaurant might make the very best smoked chicken but completely drop the ball with the sauce or side items. No one ever agrees entirely, proving that great barbecue can be had virtually everywhere. According to the unofficial Poet Laureate David Lowery,

Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum. What might be right for you may not be right for some.

When it comes to barbecue, truer words have not been spoken.
While the South, including Florida, is certainly known for its love of good Southern food, many other regions are far more famous for their styles of smoked-meat cookery. Memphis, Austin, the Carolinas, and Kansas City reign as masters of the art of barbecue.
Until recently, Central Florida — including Lakeland — has been overlooked as a potential barbecue Valhalla. However, Florida’s barbecue reputation is on the rise. According to Trip Advisor, Florida is ranked as seventh on the list of Top 10 U.S. states for barbecue. In fact, Florida is home to three of the best barbecue restaurants in the entire country: Captain’s Barbecue in Palm Coast, Poppa’s Barbecue in Clearwater, and Madd Jack’s Grillin’ Shack in Cape Canaveral. The fact that these amazing places exist so close to home makes me want to jump in my car and drive to one of those heralded smoke shacks. Closer to home, Lakeland proper is now host to a nationally recognized barbecue competition, the Lakeland Pig Fest, which attracts tens of thousands of die-hard barbecue fans from across the country. Additionally, a growing number of award-winning pit masters now call Lakeland home.
No matter what style you fancy, the finished product of true barbecue should bring forth rich depth, a ring of smoky flavor, and an immeasurable amount of moistness. The amount of time required to achieve these results, however, isn’t a luxury many of us have. So, we make a quarter-turn in a different direction: grilling.
A functional grill can be a valuable asset if used properly. It can be used to mimic the key components that make barbecue so special. A good grill can be heated quickly, attain a high temperature, and reduce cooking times to just a few minutes for certain proteins. We love to see grill marks on a good cut of meat; they are, without question, aesthetically pleasing. But, why are they pleasing to the palate? Because those lines and that charred color equal flavor. Don’t be fooled by perfect uniformity, though. Sure, it looks pretty; but seemingly ugly, uneven marks can produce a more consistent and even charred-flavor crust. With barbecue, as in life, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Substance always trumps style.
I am admittedly not an expert on grilling out, barbecuing, or meat-smoking, for that matter. I am however, hovering roughly at a savant-level expert at eating all that is good and smoky. Thankfully, for all of the amateur home cooks and general barbecue enthusiasts in Lakeland, Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply is here to guide us through the process. Whiskey Bent has received countless accolades and trophies for their work in the world of barbecue. What started out as a hobby has recently morphed into a full-fledged Lakeland storefront. Within the walls of Whiskey Bent, you will find everything you need for all your barbecue requirements, including hand-forged cookers that are produced right here in our own city limits. The following are some of Whiskey Bent’s ideas on how to tastefully mesh the art of barbecue with the ease of grilling for an ultimate outdoor get-together.


Left to right: Whiskey Bent’s Jared Hatcher, Adam Norman, and Chad Ward



[item title=”Turkey Wings”]Generously inject 3 pounds turkey wings (approximately 8 wings) with a syringe of Butcher BBQ Bird Booster Herb Solution. Follow directions on the package to create the liquid for the injection. Make sure to place the syringe under the skin, deep into the muscle, and close to the bone until no further liquid can be retained. The wings should increase in volume at least 25 percent and retain much of their moisture even after cooking. If you think about the science of it, injections make sense, as you’re adding liquid
into proteins. Muscle starts off being about 75 percent water in the first place. However, you lose much of that through processing. This way, you’re trying to get back a better consistency while at the same time adding a concentration of flavors for a better final product.
Let sit for 1-2 hours refrigerated and rub with Oakridge Secret Weapon Chicken Rub. Place in an aluminum pan with 1/2 stick unsalted butter. Smoke at 250 degrees for at least 1 hour, then flip wings over and cook for another hour or until the turkey reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove from pan and place on direct heat at about 350-450 degrees for 5 minutes on each side until the skin is crispy.
[item title=”Beef short ribs with Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce”]Place three pounds of bone-in (optional, but preferable) beef short ribs in a high-lidded aluminum pan. Insert a syringe
of Butcher Beef Injection into short ribs. Follow directions on package to ensure proper ratios per pound. Let marinate for 1-3 hours, refrigerated and covered. Pat dry, then rub with
Texas Beef seasoning mixture. Smoke at 250 degrees for 2 hours. Flip over and add Hot Wauchula’s Grilling Sauce about 1/4 way up on the ribs. Smoke at 250 degrees for another 4-5
hours until tender. Use au jus to cover meat until just before serving. Then, remove from juice and slather with a generous amount of Dr Pepper BBQ Sauce. Place on a hot grill to form
a final finishing glaze.
Dr. Pepper Sauce

16 oz Dr Pepper
1/2 sweet onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz tomato sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
3/4 tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp chili powder
1 Tbsp grape seed oil
Pour Dr Pepper into a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat and let reduce by at least half. This will take a good amount of time, possibly 30 minutes or so. In a separate sauté pan on low-med temperature, heat oil. Cook onions and garlic until softened, about 20 minutes. Once the soda has reduced, place the onion-garlic mélange into the liquid along with all other ingredients. Simmer for at least 1 hour or until the sauce has reached your preferred thickness. Remove from heat and let cool; then transfer to a glass storage canister and place in refrigerator for future use.
[item title=”Skirt steak with grilled green onions, eggplant, & nuta barbecue sauce”]Marinate 1-1/2 to 2 pounds of skirt steak with 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce for 1 hour. Pat dry, then rub with Texas Beef seasoning blend. Grill on direct heat at 400 degrees for 2 minutes per side; then remove and let rest for 7-10 minutes. In the meantime, place 1 bunch of green onions that have been cleaned and trimmed, along with 2 small eggplants that have been sliced into 1/4-inch-thick planks onto grill over direct heat for about 3 minutes per side. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper before turning. Serve with nuta barbecue sauce on the side.
Nuta is a traditional side dish with a fish and green-onion base, miso and mustard pushing the flavors forward. It’s as classic as they come, originating in Japan somewhere around the 17th century. To create a rightly distinctive barbecue sauce that’s sweet, salty, and sour, and that also pairs flawlessly with grilled beef, we removed the main components and centered the attention on the sauce itself which is technically called a “sumiso.”
Nuta Barbecue Sauce

4 Tbsp miso paste
2 Tbsp Chinese mustard
2 Tbsp ponzu sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Combine all ingredients in a sealable container. Stir vigorously until sugar has dissolved. Reserve an optional 3 Tbsp for smoked fish dip.
[item title=”Smoked fish spread, nuta style”]
_MG_1193(2) 1/2-pound yellowtail snapper filets
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup daikon radish, small dice
1/4 cup English cucumber, peeled then small dice
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
3 Tbsp nuta sauce (see recipe for nuta barbecue sauce)
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 tsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp togarashi (or crushed red pepper), plus more for garnish
Leave on the skin and generously rub Wicked Que Tangerine Pepper Seasoning Blend Rub onto the fish. Smoke skin-side down at 250 degrees for 15-20 minutes until flaky. Set aside and let cool (about 15 minutes) until it’s cool enough to handle. Remove skin and check for pin bones before gently flaking into small pieces.
In a deep serving bowl, incorporate smoked fish with the garlic, radish, cucumber, onion, and jalapeño. Gently stir in nuta sauce, mayonnaise, sesame seeds, and togarashi. Sprinkle additional togarashi over the top. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Serve with crackers as a supplemental addition.
While meat reigns sovereign in the barbecue world, the sides serve as an accompaniment to the main event and usually make up more than 50 percent of the plate. Poorly prepared sides can distract from deliciously barbecued meat. Conversely, good sides can make the meat taste better.