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Griller Gal – Brooke Orrison-Lewis

By
Jane Ehrhardt

Every tailgate grill master dreams of tackling the holy grail of low-and-slow at some point —the whole hog. And it is indeed a mighty feat. “It’s one of the hardest things to do. There’s a lot of science and tender loving care in it. But not to deter people, you can do this in your backyard,” says Brooke Orrison-Lewis, 2018 World Grand Champion at Memphis in May with a first place in Whole Hog.

She should know. And can prove it. Along with her brother, Brad, Orrison-Lewis co-founded The Shed BBQ & Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 17 years ago while still in college. “We opened it on a shoestring budget without a shoestring,” she says. Their barbecue took off and expanded into sales of sauces and rubs on 8,000 shelves around the U.S., a competition barbecue team, plus endless national TV appearances, including a six-part TV series called “The Shed” on the Food Network.

This marks the third time The Shed team has dominated the Whole Hog championship at Memphis in May. “This competition is one of the four major staples in the Memphis Barbeque Network (MBN),” explains Orrison-Lewis. “It’s all about the hog. It’s the Super Bowl of swine.”

So for those of us pining to master the pig, Orrison-Lewis is freely sharing her trophy-winning insights on slow-smoking a whole hog. “In the grilling and barbecue world, we’re fierce competitors,” she says, “but we’re really, really fierce friends. Everybody’s an open book.”

The Shed’s 12 Tips on Smoking a Whole Hog

1. It starts with the pig. “We always use a Duroc hog—a heritage-breed,” she says. “Try to understand where your protein comes from. If you reach out to a local farmer, you end up with a happy hog. There’s a 110 percent difference in a happy hog.” Stressed commodity hogs tense up in the final days, making that meat tougher. Heritage hogs also eat better quality feed and tend to be heftier. “So you get some beautiful marbling,” she explains. “You’re going to end up with a superior product, period.”

2. Size. “Ours average about 240 pounds apiece,” she says, but suggests backyard and tailgating smokers take on a more reasonable 80-pounder.

3. Temperature. The Shed smokes at 225–250oF. “We’re using charcoal for heat, and we’re using our dampers for the air flow. That’s your heat factor,” she explains.

4. Positioning. The Shed invented and patented a device called the Robohog, which holds the pig in an upright stance in the smoker. “The hog is in essence butterflied and basically standing upright, like you’d see a pig in a field,” Orrison-Lewis says. They custom build the gadget to order, if you’d like to get one yourself. “Two of the three final hogs this year were on a Robohog,” she adds.

Most people butterfly the hog and lay it flat—belly-side down or up. Orrison-Lewis has friends in Carolina who do it belly up, then line the tenderloin area inside with bacon and sausage (released from its casing). The fatty proteins protect the loin during the long cook, keeping the moisture in. “What’s great about that is that the cavity is building up with those juices while it’s cooking. It’s a beautiful thing,” she sighs. “You can take those juices and continue to baste the inside, or strain them and use them as a secondary injection into the ham and the shoulders midway through your cook to add moisture.”

5. Prep. Split the hog down the center, clean it, shave it (if needed), and rub it.

6. Flavors. “A lot of people like to use rubs, sauces and injections,” she says. “If you’re going to use three different areas of flavor, make sure that those three complement each other, whatever flavor that may be.”

7. Moisture. Fill a pan with butter, aromatics and water. “The tenderloins sit right on top of that pan in the Robohog, keeping moisture pushed up into that tenderloin,” Orrison-Lewis says. “That’s the first piece to dry out, so we have a pan that continues to steam as the hog cooks. We like to flavor the humidity.”

Their aromatics include large chunks of onion, carrots, celery and some sage and thyme in broth water. “It’s just what you’d like have in your grandma’s soup. Who’s to say it doesn’t also add that next layer of flavor?” she says, as if to all the doubters who use plain water (and haven’t won major competitions). “It’s keeping moisture in your smoker. It’s super important,” she explains. On a smaller smoker, set the water pan next to your coals underneath your grate.

8. Smoking for color. “Wood gives you the color factor. Charcoal gives you the heat factor,” stresses Orrison-Lewis. After proteins reach 140oF, they will not accept any more internal smoke. “Once you get the smoke in there and the color right, cut back on the wood and use your charcoal for the heat.”

9. Wood choice. Use hardwoods for smoke, for flavor and for color. “We always start with pecan. It’s native to our area, and it’s a white, sweet smoke. Then we start building,” she says. After pecan, comes maple, maybe a little bit of hickory, “but we prefer the fruit woods—peach, apple. All those flavors just build.” For a much quicker, darker color, try black cherry. “Color is a visual thing,” she says. “When you get to the color you like, tent it.”

10. Now wrap it. “If you don’t want it to continue to get darker, tent it or wrap it with foil and cut back on your smoke,” she says. “We like that mahogany color, and that all depends on the amount of smoke you’re putting out and understanding your wood.”

11. Timing. “It just depends. We’re talking a 16 to 20-hour cook,” estimates Orrison-Lewis. Use a multiple probe thermometer. Put one in the shoulder and one in the ham. “Those are the largest cuts, so that’s typically what you’re temping. When those are done, it’s done,” she says. “We pull at a bit higher temp, around 198o to 205o. That’s when you know that shoulder and that ham are going to fall apart.”

12. Rest. “When baby is complete, cut the heat off. Sit back and have another cold beer, and let her rest,” sums up Orrison-Lewis. “That rest is going to hold heat for hours. The big girls we cook, we let be for two or three hours. For a smaller hog, maybe an hour.” She shakes her head at people who pull any meat off the grill and immediately cut it. “They say, ‘Look how juicy it is?’ But by bite three or four, it’s not juicy anymore.”

Orrison-Lewis’ latest mega-win at the Memphis in May competition—“the Super Bowl of swine,” she adds—qualifies her for this September’s Cowboy Charcoal Fire & Ice Women’s Championship Barbeque Series. Last year, the elite event was held at Memphis in May, and Orrison-Lewis’ curiosity drove her to sneak away from her own competition to have a quick peek. “I stayed an hour! It’s good grilling drama. It was holding its own within this massive event,” she says with surprise. “I watched the entire thing.”

Those wanting to see the ten lady pitmasters in heated, head-to-head action this year should head to the 2018 World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama, right on the Gulf coast. The Fire & Ice challenge will be held there from November 9–11.

The Shed BBQ Bacon-Lovers Pork-on-Pork Tenderloin

Prep: 1.5 hours Cook: 1.5–2 hours Serves: 8–10
  • 1 6–8 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 shaker of The Shed Rack Attack Rib Rub
  • 1 bottle of The Shed BBQ Southern Sweet BBQ Sauce
  • ½ pounds boudin sausage
  • 1.5 pounds triple cream brie cheese
  • 2 pounds bacon
  • 1 small jar pickled jalapenos
  • wax paper
  • 4–6 toothpicks

BUTTERFLY the pork tenderloin “flat” by slicing it at an angle while rotating the loin. Your goal is to flatten the loin with consistent thickness all the way across for even cooking. You will stuff the loin and roll it tight to get a pinwheel effect.

COVER the loin generously on both sides with the rub. Let rest at room temperature.

PREPARE the boudin by removing the meat from its casing. Slice the brie into 1-inch strips. Lay wax paper on the counter and make your bacon weave (YouTube has great tutorials).

STARTING a quarter of the way into your flat butterflied loin, make a layer of boudin meat, sliced brie and pickled jalapenos over the rest of the loin. Using both hands, roll the loin tightly around the stuffing.

PLACE the rolled loin on top of one end of the bacon weave and begin rolling the weave over the stuffed loin, utilizing the wax paper to help. Remove the wax paper. Season with rub. Use toothpicks where the bacon weave meets end-to-end to secure it nicely to the loin.

PREPARE grill for indirect heat and preheat to 325–350oF. Grill loin over indirect heat (to reduce flare ups from bacon drippings) approximately 1.5 hours or until internal temperature reaches 155 oF. TIP: Do not rotate the loin until the bacon that is grill-side down has rendered and cooked down some. The goal is to rotate every 20 minutes. Times will vary.

ONCE the bacon is cooked through and crisp on all sides and the loin goal temperature is almost reached, baste with the barbecue sauce. Allow to cook another 15 minutes to marry meat and sauce. Remove from heat. Let rest 20–30 minutes. Slice and serve with additional barbecue sauce.

For more about Brooke Orrison-Lewis, The Shed, their sauces and insights, head to theshedbbq.com.