Vegetarians are generally not encouraged to attend Meatopia, the colossal barbecue event I host each year. Everywhere you look are steaks and chops, which would be disturbing enough to them. But woe to those that wander into the event's Full Carcass Courtyard, where whole animals are to be seen, spitted and roasting, an image of destruction bound to haunt their dreams. And of all the terrible sights of Meatopia, by far the most dreadful was the Deathmobile.
The Deathmobile is a long black mobile cooker, built by Nick Pihakis of Jim 'n Nick's BBQ, a small but superb chain centered in Birmingham, Alabama. It was operated by members of the Fatback Collective, a supergroup of Southern chefs including Rodney Scott of Scott's BBQ in Hemingway, South Carolina; Sam Jones of Skyline BBQ of Ayden, North Carolina; Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats in San Francisco, and Drew Robinson of Jim n' Nicks, among others. It is twenty feet long and eight feed wide, and it holds ten spits, all of which turn simultaneously, creating the fearsome but arousing spectacle of almost fifty whole animals cooking at once. At Meatopia, these included lambs, goats, hogs, ducks, rabbits, sausages, and chickens. Not all the meat was spitted; On the ends of the Deathmobile are vast grills on which whole beef shoulder clods were grilled. In one afternoon it used up eighty bags of charcoal and two whole pallets of hickory wood, and cooked over two thousand pounds of meat.
Today's Tip : Maintaining hygiene while grilling outdoors is as important as you do for cooking indoor inside the kitchen. Please ensure that each and every equipment that comes in touch with raw meat is cleaned thoroughly, like knives, spatula, cutting boards, etc. and even your bare hands.
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I (Josh Ozersky) spoke, reverently, to Pihakis recently.
(Josh Ozersky was Esquire's Food Correspondent and a regular contributor to Esquire.com.)
Esquire: The Deathmobile beggared the imagination. I still can't believe it. Where did it come from?
We built it. From scratch. We made a steel bed, and then welded big L-shaped pieces of angle iron to support spits. There's ten of them, and each one can hold five spits. We created it originally for a benefit we did for Jones Valley Teaching Farm. We educate kids about where their food comes from. So we wanted to make a multi-species cooker.
How can you cook so many different animals, a veritable petting zoo, at the same time?
You have to know how to stagger them. we loaded all the large carcasses on first, and then we loaded each species until we got all of them on, knowing the cooking time was going to be different. So the last thing we put on was the sausage. We had what we were calling porchetta, but really, they were just whole deboned stuff hogs. Plus we had a whole hog as well. That went on last. It took some great chefs to make it all work, but that's why we brought the Fatback Collective.
What a feat. And you drove this monster all the way from Birmingham to Miami?
We did. We mounted it on a trailer and then we drove it down and it took two days. Like every road trip we ever made, it was an adventure of its own. We drank a lot of whiskey, and had a lot of fun. Parking it was hard.
It took some doing but it was worth it. You call it the deathmobile. But to me, it's just a way to do a kind of cooking that is as old as the world. To me, it's one of the most primitive, primal machines ever built. You take steel and you take wood and you take some of the best meat in the world, and you add that method of rotisserie cooking. I think it makes the best food in the world. I do.
Special Thanks To Josh Ozersky & Esquire.com