Matt Harris started up BBQ Lab on the back of a passionate cooking hobby, which he says got a little out of hand. Whilst living and travelling around the US, Harris sampled differing styles of BBQ, enjoying the varying tastes and textures that can be found across America’s south.
As an engineer, the thought process that he puts into BBQ Lab is one of technique, precision and method. Catch BBQ Lab around street markets in London or hire them for your own event, to get a taste of this delicious American BBQ. We approached BBQ Lab and asked what makes them tick.
Q: Have you always had a love of American BBQ, or is it a relatively new obsession?
A: I first came across BBQ while living in North Carolina. I was living there while competing as a racing driver, trying to break into NASCAR. I travelled the Deep South going to tracks, and eating at amazing little independent restaurants on the way.
Q: How did you first start creating American BBQ, for it to develop into a career?
A: I ran out of sponsorship in the US due to the recession and had to return home to the same predicament with the worsening economy here. I got a degree and a rubbish job, then moved in with some friends and started cooking. That’s when I started to apply my love of engineering to recipes and trying to make them better. It’s the same theory as with a racing car. Everything can be improved, so I use a lot of fine dining techniques to improve ordinary recipes like wings and ribs.
‘The more love and time you put into things, the better.’
Q: Your story of combining your love of engineering and food is fascinating, what’s your favourite food combination that you’ve come up with so far?
A: Probably the best thing I’ve done was nitro fried short ribs. We cooked off big fat beef short ribs for two days at 57 degrees Celsius in a water bath, to perfect medium rare, achieving insane tenderness. To caramelise the surface of the meat you need extremely high temperatures, but want to preserve the medium rare core inside.
To prevent the fryer from cooking anything but the outer surface of the meat, we dunk the ribs in liquid nitrogen at -200 degrees Celsius, freezing them solid. Next, the ribs were thrown into a fryer. The surface of the meat instantly caramelises, goes crunchy, and tastes like bacon. The core gently thaws out perfect medium rare edge to edge. They were pretty awesome.
Q: What’s your favourite regional style of BBQ from the US, and why?
A: Texan. I like huge chunks of beef. But each region does their own thing very well. Sharp and tangy tastes in North Carolina, mustardy in South Carolina, and sweet in Kansas. I spent a long time working out how to define what BBQ is, but eventually realised that it’s really defined by where you come from – cooking styles change as often in the US as accents change in the UK.
‘…chefs in the UK are coming up with some incredible stuff, the likes of which haven’t really been seen in the US.’
Q: You say that you’re always changing your menu and improving it, which is great, but are there any dishes that we’re sure to see?
A: For Dinerama in Shoreditch we’re not changing things up much. You’ll definitely be able to get our wings (which recently won an award for best Buffalo wings in the UK at Wing Fest). From the truck we’ll always have our 53-hour pulled pork on the menu, but beyond that, it’ll be changing regularly.
Q: If you had to eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
A: Probably a Sunday roast. I imagine I’d get sick of it, but a Sunday roast is truly the king of meals… It’s all about the side dishes.
Q: Do you have any insider secrets to creating delicious American BBQ?
A: Take your time. This is true of all cooking. The more love and time you put into things, the better.
Q: Why do you think American BBQ has become so popular in the UK?
A: Because it’s awesome.
Q: Has American food evolved during its journey to the UK?
A: Yes. We’re not rooted in tradition, whereas in the US they’re much more bound to regional styles, so the menus aren’t massively diverse. This means chefs in the UK are coming up with some incredible stuff, the likes of which haven’t really been seen in the US.
Craving some Texan BBQ? Hire BBQ Lab for your own event, and follow them on Twitter to keep updated on where they’re serving.
Now, head over to our interactive State of Food hub to discover the signature foods of all 50 US states and plan the tastiest road trip ever!