You never know when your calling will hit you. For Slab Barbeque's Burt Bakman, it happened on a trip to Texas where he found himself in love with the whole state of mind of barbecue. He recently shared his journey to learn the art of the pitmaster with 24 other chefs who were in town for our ChefsFeed Indie Week Los Angeles event, courtesy of our friends at Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner. on behalf of the Beef Checkoff. Here's a peek behind the scenes.

 

"I had no intention of opening up a restaurant," says Bakman. "I just wanted to learn to cook with smoke, and fell in this rabbit hole of central Texas history. It’s an experience I get to share with all these pitmasters I admire. We are all starting with the same basic ingredients–brisket, salt, and pepper–and it’s kinda like time travel to do this 100-year-old tradition."

 

While he insists he doesn't feel he's ready to wear the title of pitmaster, Bakman is unrestrained with his smoking know-how and shared it freely with the visiting chefs. One of the keys: "Clean smoke, using smaller pieces of wood and adjusting the fire constantly," he says. As for when it's done, it's less tangible, more instinctual. "We look for a certain sparkle in the brisket, and take our time. The brisket has a lot of collagen and fat that needs to be broken down and render properly. It comes down to the relationship between the cook and the brisket, but smoking gives it this love that you can’t get anywhere else."

 

In addition to  brisket, Bakman loves the art of smoking the mighty beef rib. "It's hard to find, it’s a sexy dish, it’s a sexy plate. It’s a beautiful cut, you cut open the rack of beef ribs, there’s just this glow. It’s the first thing that sells out when we carry it."

 

 
Feeling inspired to get more brisket in your life? Hit up the Beef. It's What's For Dinner. brisket hub for nutrition facts, cooking tips, and more.