When I was in high school I took the bus to school with a group of rowdy guys from my grade until we were old enough to have cars and then we drove together. These guys would tell dirty jokes, listen to hard core rap and often invite themselves over to my house after school to hang out, whether I wanted them there or not. The particularly frustrating part was that sometimes my mom would feed them, insuring they had no need to leave and more reason to come back. It sounds bad but these guys were also hilarious and fun and good guys at heart and I am happy to still call them my friends all these years later.
In particular, I am happy to have remained friends with Ken Hess (pictured above, perhaps you have seen him on Pitmasters or the Food Network's Unwrapped). Ken is a barbecue chef at Big Bob Gibson in Decatur, Alabama, an award-winning fourth-generation barbecue mecca known for their chicken and pork and the secret sauces they make to dress them. Unfortunately I do not find myself in Decatur, well ever, but I get a chance to sample their food at the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party where this year they had a line that stretched for nearly two city blocks. Dan and I walked along side the queue in disbelief until we reached the Big Bob Gibson tent where we spied Ken up in the rig cutting up pork shoulders with a giant knife, pork flying up in the air and for the most part landing back down on the cutting board.
Pitmasters, the rig had a huge rotisserie cooker which Ken and the team used to turn out more than 200 pork shoulders for each day of the event (see Ken's 5am photo above, these babies were going low and slow for the entire night). When he took one off to serve, it practically melted off the bone. He felt his way through the meat to remove large pieces of fat and gristle then using a large knife chopped at it like crazy. Once chopped, he mixed in a little vinegar based finishing sauce, then on it went to its potato roll to be topped with barbecue sauce and nestle next to a small compartment full of cole slaw.
I have heard Ken say he has converted vegetarians with his barbecue and after that sandwich I believe it. The pork was tender and flavorful and chopped to perfection with an out-of-this-world sauce, which you can buy online here. As the famous critic Goldilocks might say, it was juuust right. Indeed the sandwich ignited a uniform reaction: big smiles all around. And the cole slaw was no after thought. The cabbage was crisp and fresh and the dressing made it match well as a side to or a topping on the sandwich.
It is such a great feeling to see a friend doing what he loves, and even better to also be a beneficiary! Thank you, Ken, for a delicious meal and a great experience. Who knows, maybe next time in Decatur.