I rarely blog about bloggers. Partly, that’s because there are just so many of them. Partly, it’s because most either have great ideas but can’t write or can write but have few great ideas.
There are exceptions.
One of them goes by the name of Meathead. (“I am like Cher or Madonna, except hairier.”) Craig Goldwyn, a.k.a. Meathead, has a Web site called AmazingRibs.com.
For anyone into barbecue, it is a destination site. Google the words “ribs,” “Texas brisket” or “smoked turkey” and Meathead’s Web site is among the top five hits. The writing is sharp, tinged with humor, laced with insight and nearly always grammatically correct.
Started in April 2006 as a site about pork ribs, amazingribs.com has grown to encompass recipes on all sorts of meats and vegetables. But it also includes product reviews and well-researched essays on everything from the history of barbecue to food safety. Meathead says he does not accept advertising from firms whose products he reviews, a rarity on the Web.
The blog is so successful that it has become Meathead’s sole source of income. Last year, it grossed more than six figures. He now has a recipe tester, and he recently hired his first full-time employee.
Last week, Meathead inked a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (home to Jacques Pepin and the Gourmet magazine books) to publish, “The Science of Great Barbecue & Grilling, How to Use the Latest Mythbusting Research to Become an Outdoor Hero, With 200 Traditional All-American Recipes Modernized.”
Scheduled for publication in spring 2014, the book differs from the scads of other barbecue cookbooks in two ways: First, it comes not from the competition circuit (Meathead has never competed professionally) or the restaurant world (he doesn’t run a barbecue joint), but from the blogosphere, period. Second, the book will add a decidedly modernist sensibility to this primitive cooking form, as it brings the exacting science behind molecular gastronomy and applies it to barbecue.
Quite a project for a
college dropout guy named Meathead. (*)
The nickname comes from his father who, in a nod to “All in the Family,” half-jokingly labeled his long-haired, bead-wearing son after conservative Archie Bunker’s liberal son-in-law character. Meathead, 62, owes not only his moniker but also his interest in food to his father, who owned a butcher shop and ultimately worked as a USDA inspector.
Even though he was in ROTC, Meathead quit school in his senior year at the University of Florida, where he majored in journalism and frequented a now-defunct shack called Y. T. Parker’s Bar-B-Que, then went on the lam to avoid the draft. “Like Muhammad Ali said, ‘I didn’t have anything against the Vietnamese,’” he says.
He ended up surfacing in Detroit, then Chicago, where he worked at liquor stores. (“Somehow, I got an honorable discharge,” he says.) Learning about wine, he parlayed his knowledge into a wine column for the Chicago Tribune, from 1978-1981, then the Washington Post, from 1982-1985. In the 1990s, he oversaw the food and wine coverage for AOL. He shares his interest in food with his microbiologist wife, a top-ranking food safety inspector at the FDA.
Meathead’s interest in food chemistry led him to change the description of his Web site from “The Zen” to “The Science of Barbecue, Grilling & Outdoor Cooking.” Recently, he conferred with Greg Blonder, former chief technical advisor at Bell Labs, on the vexing barbecue question: Why do “big meats,” such as briskets and pork shoulders, “stall” or stay at the same temperature for a long period of time, rather than show a rise in internal temperature, as a pitman would expect? After experimenting, Blonder concluded that the cause was “evaporative cooling.” (Read the article here.)
Meathead now uses Blonder as his science adviser; Blonder will help explore such issues in the book as whether it really is necessary to allow a steak to rest after cooking; the impact, if any, of sticking a fork into meat while cooking; and the way brining works. “I’m interested in what happens when heat hits meat,” Meathead says.
There is a lot more to say about this project, and, for that matter, about Meathead, but this blog has a word count and I’ve already exceeded it. Suffice to say that this is likely not the last I’ll write about this unorthodox blogger.
* Correction: The story on Craig Goldwyn, a.k.a. Meathead, said that he was a college dropout. He did leave the University of Florida in his senior year, but later earned his MFA at The Art Institute of Chicago.
There’s a new sauce in town: Hill Country Barbecue Market has joined the ranks of other local sauce bottlers who sell their sauce in retail outlets. The New York City-based ’cue restaurant, with an outpost in Penn Quarter, will sell its vinegar-peach-chipotle “If You Gotta Have It” sauce and its tangy hot “If You Can Stand It” sauce at Harris-Teeter stores throughout the area and into North Carolina. The former won a silver medal and the latter a bronze from the National Barbecue Association.