Meet & Eat: Patrick Martin, Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint Pit Master

"Whole hog barbecue is a dying art."

20090610-babbqbp-meeteat.jpgThis weekend, New York City might seem meat-scented when Madison Square Park turns into one big cook-out for the seventh annual Big Apple BBQ Block Party. Only the most elite of grillers can compete in this Super Bowl of barbecue, and for the first time this year, a Tennessean is involved. Patrick Martin, a former bonds trader that switched career paths a few years ago, will join 13 other pit masters from across the country. He's bringing his 32-foot smoker to represent whole hog barbecue, a time-intensive art that's as Tennessee as Memphis Blues and whiskey.

Name: Patrick Martin
Location: Nolensville, Tennessee (just outside Nashville)
Occupation: Owner and pitmaster, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint


Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville, Tennessee

1. How does it feel to be the first pit master from Tennessee to be in the Big Apple BBQ Block Party? Are you kidding me? Man, it's unreal. A big honor! Tennessee, as we all know, is so steeped in barbecue tradition and there are so many legendary joints and pitmasters in and around the state. To be the first to represent Tennessee means a lot to me!

2. Educate the non-Tennessee natives on West Tennessee's whole hog barbecue culture. The culture is very, very deep. Whole hog is all they cook over there, for the most part, because that’s all they have ever done and it’s all they have ever known.

Folks have their favorite joints and their favorite sandwich. What I mean by that is how they choose to build their sandwich—shoulder/ham meat, ham/belly meat, all shoulder—whatever it is. Twenty-four or more hours cooking with no temperature gauges, only by "feel," in cinder block pits using coals burned down from hickory slats.

That’s some hard, hard work you know? And they do that every night. That’s why it’s a dying art. Because the work-to-reward ratio ain't very enticing.

3. When did you realize you needed to leave the finance gigs for the grill full-time? I didn’t really choose between the two. Leaving the "business" (fixed income capital markets) had more to do with where I was in life. At the time, my wife was a songwriter and we chose to geographically follow her career instead of mine, which would have placed me in New York City, London, etc. Instead, I went to work with a regional firm in Memphis and eventually Nashville so she could be there. We eventually got divorced after 5 years.

Opening a joint was something I really wanted to do but always found a reason not to do it. When I got remarried to my wife Martha, she was like, "You have to do this, period!” That support and belief in me was what eventually led me to do it. I still follow and miss the markets though!

4. What makes a good barbecue sauce? Like any other recipe, it all comes down to the balance of the ingredients. It’s really that simple.

5. What's the biggest mistake grillers make? Using lighter fluid. It’s terrible! You can have a better fire in the same amount of time using a chimney starter.

6. Barbecue is a very time-honored tradition. What older, wiser griller passed the torch down to you? Mr. Harold Thomas in Henderson, Tennessee. I was a freshman in college at Freed-Hardeman University and started hanging around his joint. He taught me a lot about barbecue, but the biggest thing he passed on to me was to pass that knowledge on to somebody else. As I said before, whole hog barbecue is a dying art, so it’s very important to me that any of us who care about barbecue—the skills, lore, whatever—pass it on down.

7. How come so many barbecue joints are just open on weekends? You see this a lot in smaller, more rural communities that are not large enough for an operator to make a living on that alone. They may be a dairy farmer, a Church of Christ preacher, or whatever Sunday through Thursday, and then cook barbecue on Thursday nights, Fridays, and Saturday—usually with the help of the wife, kids, family.

8. Favorite comfort food (besides barbecue)? Fried chicken, pinto beans, and cornbread.

9. Guilty pleasures? Whole buttermilk. I could drink a gallon a day!

10. Describe your perfect meal. Now, y'all know that question cant really be answered! But I say a pulled pork sandwich, my grandmother’s breakfast, a grilled porterhouse (rare), veal osso bucco, fried catfish. Should I go on?

11. Nah, that'll do. What would you like to try but haven't yet? Iberico ham.

12. Favorite food person? Victor Arguinzoniz. Chef and owner of Asador Extebarri in Axpe, Spain. He has revolutionized live fire cooking.

13. When did you first realize you were a serious eater? Real young, eating my grandmother’s biscuits in Mississippi.

14. What do your family and friends think of your food obsessions? That it’s been a very expensive, yet fun, obsession!

15. Favorite food sites or blogs (other than Serious Eats, naturally)? eGullet and Nashville Scene’s Bites.

16. Who is your go-to person for restaurant recommendations? Right now it’s Nick "M.P." Pihakis of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Que in Birmingham, Alabama.

17. And what's the best recommendation he's ever given you? Recently, it was the Hot and Hot Fish Club, also in Birmingham. WOW!!!

18. What is your favorite meal of the day and where do you get it? When my wife, Martha, cooks breakfast for me and the kids. Food just tastes better with your wife and kids, you know?

19. And when your wife's not wearing the apron, what's the best dish you make? I cook on Sundays, my day off. A simple steak Florentine is my favorite. Medium rare, of course!

The Big Apple Barbecue Block Party will take place in Madison Square Park on June 13 to 14 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free. Plates of food are $8 each. FastPasses tickets, which allow you to legally cut in front of lines, are no longer available.