The people at The Smiddy BBQ couldn’t do it without Bronson and Helga.
They aren’t the bouncers at this takeaway, which is situated in Edinburgh’s Broughton area, inside a former blacksmith’s shop down Dunedin Street. (Just follow the smell of meat cooked over kiln dried ash or seasoned oak, and you’ll find it).
However, they are the muscle behind the operation, since this pair of offset smokers – barbecues that use smoke rather than fire to cook the meat - ensure that this takeaway’s wares are as tasty as they can possibly be.
Now you can meet Helga and Bronson, and learn how to be a pitmaster (or pitperson), as The Smiddy BBQ has launched their first Night School, which runs on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, from 6-9pm, and Sundays from 10am-1pm.
For those who have enjoyed ordering from this business, which was launched during lockdown by Cameron Bell - a former IT consultant - this might be a chance to glean some of their secrets. It only takes three pupils at a time, to suit social distancing rules, and covers subjects including wood selection and fire management, as well as how to cook classic US bbq food - brisket, ribs and burnt ends (brisket cubes), cuts, rubs and the rather delicious sounding butter glazes.
There aren’t many, if any, restaurants in Edinburgh who are already serving up St Louis-style pork ribs, baby back ribs, Jalapeno sausage, and a dream selection of sides, from cowboy beans to cornbread and mac ‘n’ cheese, as well as a peach cobbler dessert.
You’d imagine that openly sharing their recipes and techniques might worry them slightly.
“At first it did, just because of how much time we’ve put into the development of each rub, sauce etc”, says Bell. “Also, most Texan offset smoking is done with grain-fed rather than grass-fed meats. We started The Smiddy to use US techniques on Scottish beef so we had to begin again in terms of cook times and techniques. However, once Covid eased and we met our customers in person, we saw their shared passion for offset BBQ. Now we try to encourage more people to get into the craft, and we need more people to talk to about it”.
According to Bell, this cooking technique isn’t as macho as we might imagine. Around half of their customers, for the takeaways and lessons, are women.
Also, their mentor is world champion pitmaster and television presenter, US-based Danielle Bennett, aka Diva Q, who has given The Smiddy BBQ advice on “how to get our pork candy dialled in” and offered support with the new Night School.
They have other influences too.
“Aaron Franklin at Franklin BBQ was our first BBQ bromance for sure”, says Bell. “He has popularised offset BBQ, where the fire is not directly under the food, and the smoke of the fire is used to cook and impart flavour. Malcolm Reed is also an amazing US BBQ chef and he has great YouTube videos which really helped us at first”.
What all The Smiddy’s potential pupils have in common is a desire to do it like these chefs do, rather than in the usual UK-style – ie. piddling about with a few supermarket sausages over a disposable tray, then giving up and phoning for a chippie instead.
This kind of enthusiasm may sound particularly alien to Scottish people, who know that barbecue weather can be cruel and, thus, only do it once a year.
Still, maybe we can handle a bit of rain, and getting into craft bbq doesn’t have to involve a huge outlay (though you will need a garden). As Bell explains, they learnt the basic principles on a cinder block smoker, made from concrete blocks, and Helga was built for a couple of hundred pounds.
“Obviously a better kit makes your cooks more consistent”, he says. “And it depends on how much you like your eyebrows”.
For those who are sold on the idea, there is definitely a measure of geekery involved. (If you’re doing it yourself, you also have to be able to handle delayed gratification. The Smiddy BBQ cooks their offerings for 24 hours, over wood smoke, before the hatch opens from Thursday to Sunday, noon until 7pm).
“We had hoped that people would recognise the difference between what we do and a lot of the food sold as ‘BBQ’ but we never realised how many dedicated Meatheads there are out there”, says Bell, who runs the business along with his wife Emma Roeder and head chef, Darren Lim. “Just the number of Texans that live in Edinburgh was a big surprise”.
At these classes, wannabe Meatheads will learn how important the fundamentals are. Once you’ve got the hang of them, the world is your (barbecued) oyster.
“Most of what we teach is detail orientated. How to build a clean fire, and how to ensure your meats will do justice to the work you’ll put into them over 12 plus hours”, says Bell. “Sourcing of ingredients and ratios for rubs are also boring but important elements. Getting the same flavour each time is hard. Sadly nothing we cook is ready in three hours but in the classes, we start some baby backs which the students glaze and wrap and get to take home. We always like to ensure there are some extras as well, like cornbread making or rubs to take away. The ideal thing for us is when we hear students say they are going home now to get cooking. That's what really keeps us motivated”.
Night School is £120pp, to book, see www.smiddybbq.com