How A Denver Chef Prepares For Battle At The Cochon Heritage BBQ

Over Labor Day weekend (August 31 – September 2), Brady Lowe will host the first Cochon Heritage BBQ in Memphis, Tennessee. The concept is similar to his long-running Cochon 555 events, in that heritage pigs are at the forefront. But the focus in Memphis is BBQ, requiring teams to serve dishes in a number of standardized categories (pull, muscle, bone, stew, mayo). Weekend participants include Jamie Bissonnette, Joshua Applestone, Ed Lee and Virginia ham master Allan Benton. We reached out to competing chef Jeff Bolton from Denver's Second Home Kitchen + Bar to find out how he is preparing for the big competition.

What is your experience cooking with heritage pigs? And why is it important for chefs to use them?

We have been roasting whole pigs from Innovative Farms in Colorado for around two years now. We also break down the whole pigs to make things like head cheese, porchetta, BBQ ribs, trotter stew and many other food specials you may see at our restaurant. I am a true believer in "head-to-tail" cooking. We value knowing where our products come from and feel the consumer should be able to acquire the freshest product possible with minimal processing.

We support the Heritage BBQ in Memphis event because it celebrates the heritage breed and allows us to show our passion and commitment to premium and quality product. We support the small farms that support and raise animals on a smaller scale with old-world techniques. These heritage animals are more expensive, rare, and they are more delicious.

As for competing in a BBQ competition with whole heritage pigs, what is the challenge?

For our team I think the biggest challenge is logistics since we have four chefs coming from three different cities. We are all very confident in each other's culinary abilities, and we look forward to bringing it to this competition. Other than that, the challenge for me is to really showcase how special these amazing animals, breeders and farmers are.

You are from Denver, where there isn't a real BBQ tradition. What's your favorite style?

With so many styles to choose I would have to say I prefer Kansas City–style. I love the slow-smoked meats; the saucier the better for me. I have been experimenting with BBQ for a while now, using my friends as taste testers at Sunday football game parties in my home, so I am looking forward to putting some of my discoveries into action with my team.

What about a favorite dish?

My personal favorite is smoked BBQ brisket – there is something special that happens to it when you get to business right away (around 5 a.m.) to get the coals and mesquite wood going, then start the brisket for the later football games, as it takes around 12-14 hours to get it fully cooked. As my friends arrive, the smoker is in full effect and the beer is cold. I rub the brisket with a mixture of BBQ spices and smoke it for the whole time it is cooking around 200-225 degrees. All that work pays off when I hear my friends, who are mostly chefs, say that it is the best brisket they have ever had.

What are you looking forward to most in Memphis?

I look forward to enjoying the camaraderie with all the competing chefs from around the country and my chefs coming together in one place to celebrate heritage breed pigs. We also look forward to celebrating National Bourbon Month; it is going to be one heck of a good time with some good folks!

And you're doing Korean-styled pork ribs. I'm excited about that!

The Korean pork ribs will be cut with the belly to emulate kalbi (a traditional Korean beef short rib), which are thinly sliced, crossed-cut short ribs. They are then marinated in soy, garlic and ginger for a few hours and quickly grilled until the sugars caramelize and you have a beautiful product to serve.

And describe the components of your porchetta. How do you get the pig's ears to "melt in your mouth" — as it was described in a menu somebody sent me. Is this possible for a home cook?

The porchetta is a tough one for a home cook to pull off, but not impossible. The best approach is to get yourself a Berkshire pig. Butcher down the belly, loin and one of the butts or ask your local butcher to order one for you and cut down this way. First, we start out with Berkshire belly, then we filet it until it is flat and square. Then we grind the butt and make Italian sausage with it. A simple loin marinade can be used with a combination of lemon zest, garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage and extra virgin olive oil.

We then fill the belly with a layer of the sausage, and place the loin right in the middle. Then it is rolled and tied up with butchers twine, and rub it with the remaining marinade. Then let it rest for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Then place it in the porchetta rotisserie and slow roast it for about four hours. We serve it with the natural drippings and it is off the hook. The pig ears are boiled, cleaned and slowly braised. Then it is cooled down, sliced and deep fried to make a super light chicharron that just melts in your mouth!

For the competition you are using a caja china box? What does that accomplish?

The magic of the caja china starts two days before he pig enters the "box." We brine it and inject the major muscles with a mojo, which is a mixture of freshly squeezed orange juice, lime juice, garlic, onions, cilantro and oregano. The pig hangs out in that brine for two days, and then it is air dried in the cooler to help it get the crispest skin it can. When made properly, pig skin can have the consistency of beautiful stained glass, which is where any aficionado wants it to be. The total cooking time for a 100-pound pig is 4-5 hours depending on the amount of coal and, believe it or not, the amount of wind present.

Lay it down. Why are you going to win this competition?

Besides a few of the ideas that we have already shared with you I don't want to give up all our secrets, but know that we are coming to Memphis with our fire power team of chefs and we are fierce competitors. Definitely, in it to win it, go big or go home and we will do our best with different cooking techniques, flavors and all that other great stuff chefs bring to uphold the mission of the Heritage BBQ Memphis.

Food Republic will be at the Heritage BBQ as a supportive media sponsor. We will also be hosting an after-hours brunch and midnight bourbon toast at the Court Square Center on Friday, August 31 from 10:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. You can purchase tickets here.