GORDON HUMAN spent 22 years making sure we all got our glass of refreshing Coca Cola. Retired two years ago from running the Coke fleet, he’s been teaching history in Orlando, Florida, at the high school he graduated from 40 years ago. “It’s what I originally went to college to do,” he says. “I just never did it.” Come fall, though, he also mans the grill for his tailgate crew at every University of Central Florida football game.
AS A TAILGATE PIT MASTER, YOU’VE GOT SOME MASSIVE, TRAIL-HITCHED RIG? We tailgate with about 15 people, so the grill I take is about two feet by two feet. Gas, because we don’t want to worry about getting rid of charcoal. And we can set it up under the tent. It’s 95 degrees all day here.
IS THERE A BIG BROTHER TO YOUR LITTLE TAILGATE GRILL? Oh, sure. I have a Char-Griller Akorn, it’s an imitation Egg. The interior is a metal basket instead of being ceramic. A year ago, I got a Big Green Egg (BGE). It was like going from a Yugo to a Rolls Royce. It can do everything. I can cook pies on it.
PIES? I saw a recipe for a blackberry and apple pie. On your BGE, you set the same temperature for the pie that you would use in an oven. You put all the pie mixture into a cast-iron skillet and put it on the grill. I cooked it till it was done. Funky-looking pie, but it turned out great. Haven’t done it since, though. It was just one of things you do on a whim.
ANY OTHER WHIMS YOU FOLLOWED? I smoke my own paprika and my own salt. That adds a layer of smoke flavor, especially to my rubs and sauces. You can smell the smoke in it when you open up the jar.
HOW DO YOU SMOKE PAPRIKA? Take a little aluminum bread pan, like a meatloaf pan. Take a sewing pin and poke really little holes in the bottom. I pour the paprika in that pan and throw it onto the grill with whatever wood I decide at the time. Let it smoke for a few hours at 85 degrees. It’s a cold smoke, not a hot smoke. You don’t want to cook it, you just want to flavor it. I do it with kosher salt too. My wife uses that on everything.
HOW COME NOT OTHER SPICES THEN? Oh, I’ve done it with coffee and with pepper too. I made a coffee rub with smoked coffee beans. It tasted really good on ribs. For the pepper, I soaked whole peppercorns in Jack Daniels for a couple of hours, then put them on for a cold smoke, then put them in a jar. I grind it up when I want to use it. It adds a little sweet smokiness.
BIGGEST MISTAKE YOU’VE MADE ON THE GRILL? Never try and light a gas grill with the lid down. Well, you know if you have a gas grill with an electronic starter, and you turn the gas on, and you start hitting the igniter and the lid is down, then all that gas builds up and when it lights, flames shoot out and burn off your eyebrows. So don’t do that. It taught me a valuable lesson.
FAVORITE CUT OF MEAT? Favorite thing to smoke is probably pork butt, because it was hard to master. For straight out grilling, it’s steak.
WHAT’S SO HARD ABOUT PORK BUTT? It takes time and patience, because a five-pound, bone-in pork butt is going to take ten to twelve hours to do and you have to get them just right so it will pull apart. Too low and you’ve got just chunks of meat. Too high and you just dry it out. It took a lot of practice.
SO ONCE YOU MASTER A BUTT, YOU’VE REACHED THE PINNACLE? Now it’s brisket. Once I’ve got the brisket mastered, I’ve got the three big things down if you ever go into a barbecue restaurant: the brisket, the butt and the ribs.
AND CHICKEN? Chicken’s really easy. There’s no real big science for smoking chicken.
Gordon’s Smoked Baby Back Ribs
3 slabs baby back ribs (about 4 to 5 lbs)
6 tablespoons yellow mustard (I use French’s)
Gordon’s Front Porch Rub (recipe below)
Hickory or oak wood for 2 1/2-hour smoke
Gordon’s Front Porch Rub
1/4 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark
3 tablespoons fresh ground pepper
4 tablespoons smoked kosher salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
MIX rub ingredients together by hand in a medium-sized mixing bowl.
PREP. Rinse and pat dry the ribs. Lightly rub with yellow mustard. Generously coat the whole rack of ribs with Gordon’s Front Porch Rub. Let the smoker get to 225 degrees and add enough hickory or oak wood for about 2 1/2-hour smoke. Place a pan of water under the grill grate to add moisture to the ribs while they smoke.
SMOKE. Put the ribs bone-side down on the grill grate for 1 1/2 hours. Then wrap the ribs in aluminum foil and continue smoking 1 1/2 hours. Then unwrap and smoke a final 1/2 hour. The ribs are done when the bones on the sides start to show. Cooking time can vary a lot depending on grill temps.
WHY’S BRISKET SO TRICKY? If I’m gonna do a steak, I’m going to do it rare. If I’m gonna eat a roast, I’m going to do it rare. So with a brisket, I tend to take it off before it’s really done. If you don’t cook a brisket enough, it’s really chewy and tough. You want to cook it long enough that a little bit of a tug and it pulls apart. But it looks really dry to me when I see people cooking it. I just haven’t had the patience to pull it off. I haven’t trusted it yet.
MOST IRRITATING THING YOU SEE AMATEUR GRILLERS DO? They use lighter fluid to start their charcoal. You can taste lighter fluid in your food. I use either a chimney or, on the BGE, I use an electric ring that heats up and starts the charcoal. Then all you’ve got is the flavor of the wood and charcoal.