About Time You Met: Brad McDonaldBy Alicia Grimshaw
Mississippi-born chef Brad McDonald is the mastermind behind Shotgun BBQ – a meaty restaurant in Soho like none other and the home of the best beef brisket in London. Bringing Southern dishes to the masses, Brad is a true craftsman when it comes to knocking up smoked cooked meats and banging barbecue sauces. Naturally, we discussed barbecue tips for amateurs like me, Tabasco and his cookbook (over shrimp and grits, and pulled pork sandwiches, of course):
So Brad, can you tell me about your partnership with Tabasco?
Tabasco is the biggest hot sauce brand; it’s on every shelf and available in every supermarket. It’s always been natural for me to reach for it and use it. I wasn’t introduced to the Green Sauce and the Chipotle, or the Habanero until much, much later on. What resonates with me with the red sauce is that you can taste the vinegar in it – that acidity in foods is really important. It’s a great way to add acidity with an extra flavour component into the dishes that we cook. Acidity really opens up the flavour on your palette and really helps to taste more, essentially. It always good to use and the sauces brighten things up when they taste dull. Lemon juice is a perfect example. I couldn’t cook without lemon juice. But, the Tabasco sauces provide another way to cook, and allows me to put acidity in, with an extra depth of warmth and heat.
What can people expect from your Better BBQ campaign with Tabasco?
It was all about creating dishes that people could cook at home, and to get them excited about. It’s about integrating Tabasco into those dishes, and a lot of the dishes could be considered classics. Or standard dishes that you might cook at home already – with some Tabasco variations in there. My primary objective was to get people to cook at home in a cool and calm state of mind, and they’re not worried about putting it all together. Cooking at home in small kitchens in London can be challenging. It’s all about weaving Tabasco into the dishes.
What’s your favourite BBQ dish to make?
I’m obsessed with goat shoulder right now. Putting goat onto the smoker, and watching that transform. I appreciate the challenge of cooking as much as the finished product. The approach to technique and the approach to the cut is much about the experience for me, as it is eating it.
What’s your best three tips for barbecue beginners?
First thing is to notice the difference between what barbecue you’re actually talking about. If you’re talking about grilling – ones that you kind of do in the park with coals and having a really a hot fire, or barbecue as what I refer to which is smoking. And that is, still the same coals, but indirect heat and you’re cooking at a much, much lower temperature for a longer period of time. Once you established that, that let’s you know what kind of cuts you can cook.
So, if you’re cooking a steak, you’re going to want to grill that, so that’s BBQ grill. But if you’re cooking a brisket, then that is, smoking – so that’s slow and low. Tip number one: know you’re cut and style. Two, is to know your rub, to know the sauces that you’re going to use to enhance the meat. You can follow the classic lines of – here we take a Texas style approach with the beef. For instance, it’s salt, sugar and pepper and then we have an accompanying sauce that brings the whole dish together. Pork, is brown sugar, salt and then we add in some paprika, onion powder and oregano. I guess, try and keep it simple. With the goat I try and use a treacle, with lamb we even do curry before it goes into the smoker. Try and let the meat speak for itself as much as possible, just give it a little outside coating for a nice bark. That bitterness that comes from the bark when it’s cooked for so long and has taken on that black colouring, for me, that adds a lot into the final taste of the dish.
Hot sauce directly onto meat is not something I would do, but you’ll find in all of our sauces there is a Tabasco element and again, that was before we had a relationship with Tabasco. BBQ sauces are naturally high in acidities, so it allows me to replace the vinegar with the Tabasco. I use Tabasco red sauce in all of our BBQ sauces so it’s specific to the original Tabasco sauce. I really do think that BBQ sauces adds flavour to the meat – the mustard sauce, or the classic spicy sauce, or our Carolina sauce which is a complete takeover from the Tabasco Red Sauce. My third would be pick a decent hot sauce.
Why do you think American BBQ has become so popular in London?
That’s a good question. I honestly think it’s because this type of meat, and this type of cooking appeals to everyone’s senses. I think the rise of the American South has had its fair share of the press in the last decade or so. The culture of food follows that. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of people, British people that I speak to who tell me how much they’ve enjoyed their recent trip to the South, their road trip, and I think the industry has picked up on that. They’re trend setters and they’re trend followers, and I would like to see myself as a person who sits outside of that. It’s my heritage cuisine – cooking it for me is natural, not because it felt trendy. I don’t think anyone was cooking the meat the way we’re cooking the meat, and that’s when I decided to step into the arena of barbecue in London. It’s only just reached its fever pitch in the last year or so, and it probably feels stronger than ever because you’ve got brands like KFC and Subway who are picking up on pulled pork, with other chains following suit.
What’s the best barbecue dish you’ve ever had?
I don’t know if I can pick a best, because there’s so many, and I have so many special memories about BBQ in my life. I would end with where I started, and that’s my hometown barbecue joint which is a place called Clancy’s who do the most fantastic pulled pork sandwich. They slow smoke the shoulder and then it’s pulled. Their sauce is a really thick, molasse-y ketchup sauce and they have a really nice coleslaw. For me, every time I go home that’s my first stop. I don’t think I can pick one – I have so many places that are the best.
Do you go anywhere else in London for barbecue?
No. I have been, but I don’t. What really changed in the last two years or so, was that folks started to use whole wood logs, whereas before they were just using wood chips to smoke. When you use wood chips you burn off real fast all the oils and that gives off a bad smoke, actually. Looking at what has been available in London and people saying ‘it doesn’t really taste authentic’ or ‘it’s not really hitting the spot for me’ that’s your first problem. I would say that Smokestack use traditional methods, and it’s authentic. Even if they don’t have a bricks and mortar restaurant right now, if I had to rate any other barbecue meat in London, it would be Dave’s brisket at Smokestack.
What’s your favourite place for breakfast in London?
It would have to be Dishoom. It’s really good. I can’t get away from the naan.
What’s your top three places for a coffee in London?
Just because it’s close to my house, I’d say Pavilion Bakery. But, Lyle’s also. The thing about coffee now is that you can get a very sound, quality cup, everywhere. Literally anywhere in any neighbourhood. Allpress in our neighbourhood is fantastic. I think the cool thing about coffee shops now is that they’re not just sticking necessarily to one roaster, or one bag of beans. They’re having residencies where they’re offering different styles of espresso – the knowledge around coffee has just exploded. I drink espresso primarily, and I don’t like milky coffee drinks as I get older, they just make me feel bloated. I like a good espresso, and anywhere that pulls a really short, intense ristretto is good with me. I seek out that almost, balsamic thickness of coffee.
How has the process of writing your book been?
You go from that process of working with your hands and being able to just put things together. Then sitting down and sitting still and putting your thoughts on paper is challenging. But I appreciated the challenge, and I really enjoyed it. And now writing is something that I think about doing more, and I desire to do more of. I want to develop not so much as a writer, but more of a storyteller. Being a Southerner and having the trait of being a storyteller is a great accomplishment – there are some fantastic Southern storytellers. To be able to take a little bit of that and own it is something that I’d like to achieve.
Do you think you’ll write more books?
I’d definitely like to write more books, 100%. Although the process was a challenge, I think I was very fortunate, as the guy, Dave Lane, who designed my book ad such a unique vision on how it should look. It was fun working with him because he works in really fine art and high-end design. He hit it exactly on the head with being able to visually tell the story in the book, in the same way as I wanted to narrate it.
Brad is working with TABASCO® on the Better BBQ Campaign this summer. Visit here for more information.