It’s impossible to imagine that the first Saturday in May is just days away when the memories from our Kentucky Derby Party last year seems just like yesterday. To catch everyone else up who didn’t read my posts last year, I’m originally from Kentucky and grew up amidst the wonderful bluegrass rite of spring tradition of the pomp and circumstance behind the annual Run for the Roses, which is more famously known as the Kentucky Derby.
For our guests, this year’s menu will be similar to last, with one major difference… instead of Keene’s Country Ham from Bardstown, KY on Derby Breakfast biscuits, I’ve made the family recipe of slow smoked pork bbq which spent all of yesterday on my firebox grill cooking slowly on heated waves of hickory, white oak, apricot, peach and apple wood smoke. Additionally, I’ve kicked the family bbq sauce recipe up a number of notches to create three variations: A sweet and smokey bourbon sauce, the regular sauce and a little hot-and-spicy wonder which I will simply refer to as “Sucker Punch” sauce. Sucker Punch is one of those fun bbq sauces that taste zesty and benign at first, but within a couple of seconds the beads of sweat begin to form.
When I say “family bbq recipe” it is not only a recipe I grew up on but also one which set my father’s restaurant venture in motion many years ago in the late 1970s. A place simply called “The Barbecue Pit”. The space was literally built from the ground up and I still have memories of dropping by the building after school as it was being built. The Barbecue Pit was simple and bare with picnic tables on concrete floors assembled near an old pot-belly stove. Across the counter was an enormous smoker pit, which I recall looking almost sinister from my vantage point as a young child. Like many restaurants, The Barbecue Pit ran into its share of business problems demonstrating the truth that it takes more than a great food product to succeed in the business. Nonetheless, the recipe has survived and for my part, this generation continues to retain the fundamentals while at the same time welcoming some slight innovations.
My dad passed away in 2001, yet every time I fire up my own barbecue pit, working the fire, smelling the wood aroma, making the mop sauce, the bbq sauce, basting every hour, feeding in soaked wood chunks and sneaking a little piece of the outer layer bark toward the end from one of the 6-7 lb. Boston Butts (better known as Pork Shoulder), it’s not only a tribute to one of his lifelong passions, but I almost feel as though he is standing there right next to me with that satisfying smile on his face. While some see bbq simply as food, I come from a place where it is both a conversation-drenched pastime and proud tradition.
Maybe one day we can throw this party for all of Naperville for charity. Until then, we look forward to greeting our invited guests on Saturday and sharing in a Mint Julep, a BBQ sandwich and, of course, a few horse races along the way.