Like his cattle rustler namesake, Billy Dahlberg, a.k.a. Billy Kid's Bar-B-Ques, puts on a mean one-man show.
He charges in with his handmade butcher block cutting table and suitcase of knives and cleavers, his converted fuel oil tank-barbecue grills and his suckling pigs, whole baby lambs, beef whole hindquarters, standing rib roasts, racks of pork spareribs, chickens and game hens and takes center stage at every party he caters.
Dahlberg became hooked on big-time barbecuing after he attended a North Carolina pig picking party in 1978. For a long time, he served grilled mini-pigs and lambs to his friends at his own annual fall party, over the years perfecting his barbecue sauce and grilling techniques.
"I've always loved to cook for people," the tall, blond mustachioed Dahlberg explains in his gentle way. "I love to make people happy so it's not really work for me."
After urging from guests who had feasted at his Rockville home, last year he launched his traveling barbecue show and has been grilling his smoky specialties at small parties for 50 people and at bashes for 600. Just the sort of gatherings to be found all over the area during the Labor Day Weekend.
Over the years Dahlberg acquired the varied skills necessary to bring his barbecue enterprise to life: cooking from his immigrant mother, building techniques from his carpenter fa ther and engineering principles from his training as a mechanical engineer. He worked at building navigational satellites and inspecting communications hardware, then opened his own machine shop and furniture construction business. All this experience he brought to the building of the equipment he needs to barbecue oversized pieces of meat.
Five custom-built barbecue cookers mounted on trailers that hook up to trucks enable Dahlberg to do all his cooking right at a party site. He built the grills out of old fuel oil tanks cleaned up and painted shiny black. He split the tanks in half, the top half functioning as a hood counterbalanced by five-gallon buckets. For the bottom half he built burners and installed propane gas units for a fire he can control easily. A grate rests above the burners, topped with 200 pounds of lava rock. Water is sprayed onto the rocks to create steam, which keeps the meat moist and aids absorption of smoke flavor. Tractor trailer exhaust pipes function as smokestacks.
The organically grown lambs and pigs Dahlberg uses come from a Laytonsville farmer, who delivers them live to the butcher for each party. "The small ones cost more," Dahlberg says, "but the quality is better. For pigs the best is between 35 and 70 pounds. A 60- to 70-pounder is excellent, with little fat, unbelievably succulent and very tender. It takes between six and eight hours to cook."
Dahlberg uses the same secret barbecue sauce to baste the pigs during cooking that he serves heated in cauldrons for topping the meat once it is sliced. It has taken him 10 years to refine the recipe to its present "perfection." He calls it a "medium spiced" sauce and explains that it is "not thick like most commercial sauces but a thin dipping sauce. It doesn't give a thick coating but yields a nice color and flavor. Because it has expensive ingredients, people should also serve it as a table sauce."
To give the grilled meat a smoky flavor, halfway through the cooking Dahlberg adds a blend of aromatic wood chips, favoring fruitwoods such as apple, peach and pear for lamb and mesquite and hickory for pork and beef. He also likes apple wood for pig because it imparts "a nice sweet flavor and smell."
This season Dahlberg is promoting "theme" parties (Western, Cuban, Hawaiian, Greek, Jamaican) and he has developed new marinades to give his meats the flavor of the featured cuisine. To create a Jamaican jerk pork taste, he coats the pig's cavity with a paste of cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper and crushed pimento berries before smoking it with blended wood chips. For his Greek festival he marinates baby lambs in a sauce of olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, lemon juice, mint, garlic, tarragon and pepper.
Dahlberg works attired in a t-shirt emblazoned with his logo -- a dancing pig on one side, a dancing lamb on the other and him in the middle kicking up his heels. Once the meat is cooked, he dons his chef's toque and long rubber electrician's gloves and carries the dripping, smoking hot and aromatic roasts to his hand-built carving table. With wire cutters he clips off the wire cage he wrapped around the pig to make it easier to turn during cooking, uses a hacksaw to cut through the backbone and chops off the head. Then he gets down to the serious business of carving the hindquarter, offering a lesson in butchering to anyone who will listen.
He slides off the delicious crisp-blackened skin -- called crackling -- and puts it to one side. "Not everyone likes it," he points out. "This isn't North Carolina, you know." Then he cuts off thick slices, which he cuts up into serving size pieces. "Here's a little of the tenderloin, the best part," he offers to those who seem particularly curious."
Do-It-Yourself Barbecued Suckling Pig In 1822 when he penned "A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig," Charles Lamb wrote of how Bo-bo, a lubberly Chinese boy fond of playing with fire, accidentally discovered the art of roasting when he burned down his hut along with "a fine litter of new-farrowed pigs." The scent emanating from the burned cottage impelled him to touch one of the pigs. He put his burned fingers to his mouth and tasted the pig's scorched skin and flesh. "There is no flavor comparable, I will contend," Lamb wrote, "to that of the crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted crackling, as it is well called -- the very teeth are invited to their share of the pleasure at this banquet in overcoming the coy, brittle resistance ... of ... fat and lean ... blended and running into each other, that both together make but one ambrosian result ... ."
Billy Dahlberg of Billy Kid's Bar-B-Ques does not recommend burning down the house or even digging a pit in the backyard to roast a suckling pig. "It's too hard to develop the right heat in a pit," he cautions. "If it's under 250 degrees, it takes too long and if it's over 350, it's too hot and the fat drips out and causes fires."
The first step is to measure your oven and grill to be sure they are large enough to hold a 25- to 30-pound pig, which is enough for 15 people. Figure on 1 1/2 pounds per person. Have the butcher clean the pig. Season the inside with salt and pepper. Prepare a mixture of half dark beer, half honey and add lemon juice to taste. Beer gives the pig flavor and honey makes it crisp. Coat the pig with the mixture.
Place the pig, split side down, on a rack in a pan deep enough to catch the fat, add just enough water to cover the bottom and cover with heavy duty aluminum foil. Roast in a 275-degree oven 4 hours, draining fat and basting occasionally with beer mixture. Uncover and drain the fat. Baste the pig with Billy Kid's Bar-B-Que sauce and continue cooking in the oven, basting occasionally, 1 1/2 hours or until meat reaches between 180-185 degrees on a meat thermometer. Or move pig to a covered barbecue grill over medium hot coals. Place it back side down, add soaked aromatic wood chips, close grill and continue cooking until done, occasionally flipping pig from one side to the other and basting. If a gas grill is used, put pre-cooked pig in a 275-300-degree covered grill. Do not try to rush cooking.
If you have questions, call Billy Kid's Bar-B-Ques at 424-OINK.
BILLY'S BAR-B-QUE SAUCE (Makes approximately 1 gallon)
Billy Dahlberg was persuaded to part with his secret barbecue sauce recipe and cut it down from the 35-gallon batch size he usually prepares.
2 1/2 cups catsup
1 1/4 cups chili sauce
6 tablespoons prepared mustard
4 tablespoons molasses
1/2 pound honey
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 1/3 cups vinegar
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 of a 6-ounce can orange juice concentrate
1 1/2 cups apple cider
3/4 cup steak sauce
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 bottle dark Lowenbrau beer
1 bottle Guiness Stout
3/4 cup spice rum
3 tablespoons Galliano liqueur
3/4 cup scotch
1 teaspoon dry mustard
12 bay leaves
6 whole cloves
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning
6 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 jalapenåo peppers, finely minced
1 yellow banana pepper, finely minced
1 small onion, finely minced
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, at least 1 hour. Allow to cool, covered. When at room temperature, strain into bottles, cover and refrigerate. Sauce will be thin.
Use as a marinade and basting sauce for fish, poultry, pork and beef. Heat and serve as a table dipping sauce. Use in tomato juice for a Virgin Mary.