Smoking & Drinking with Rooney Pitchford

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On a late Monday night, you may find guitarist Rooney Pitchford either playing at the One-2-One bar on South Lamar or behind a smoker in his backyard. A native Californian, Rooney has adapted to the Texas life by diving headfirst into perfecting smoking and grilling. On Smoking & Drinking, Rosso & Flynn asked Rooney how he learned to smoke, what are his essential tools and what fuels him to stay up on long, smoky nights. Check out Rooney Pitchford's music on Spotify and follow him on Instagram

What's the last thing you smoked?

Chicken thighs. They’re almost impossible to screw up since they stay totally tender. Smoking chicken is so easy, especially whole chickens on the Pit Barrel. Take a whole chicken, halve it and get it nice and doused with olive oil, salt, and pepper. It only takes an hour or two to smoke and it's so good that people will think you're the best chef in the neighborhood.

What’s your go-to seasoning for smoked chicken?

I like to keep it pretty simple. I think that the Central Texas philosophy to just use salt and pepper. If you just do a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and let them sit for a bit, then they're always delicious. Plus, they make for great tacos. I like to do it California-style with just white onion and cilantro on some good corn tortillas. See the recipe

Are you pretty hands-on when you're smoking?

Hands-on, unless I’m assisting. I consider myself more of a deputy to whichever pitmaster is around. I provide the entertainment, play the guitar and I assist with the seasonings and such.

What was your first smoker?

I started on a Pit Barrel, which is totally hands-off. You just put coals in that barrel and let things sit. You can't really get creative because it's so hands off, but that was great. 

How did you learn to smoke?

I learned by watching my roommate Nick learn. (Nick is now the pitmaster at the Gage Hotel.)

Nick learned primarily from watching and reading Aaron Franklin stuff. Franklin was great because he sort of donated all his knowledge to the world in an industry that is often marred by self-centered secrecy. He sort of just put it all out there. Nick read Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto and watched BBQ with Franklin online. You can learn to trim and everything just from that.

Then Nick needed a deputy just to hang out with him while he was doing 15-hour cooks for brisket. If the brisket is going to be served at 5:00 PM, it's got to go on at about 1:00 AM in the morning. We had lots of nights just shooting the shit and staying up all night. The problem is, you're never in a very good mood to enjoy the brisket if you've stayed up all night. Read: How to Smoke Your First Brisket

When you're up for all night smoking brisket, what are you doing?

Well, I'm a beer drinker and a guitar player. That was my contribution. But at some point, it just became a matter of convincing yourself you're going to stay awake the whole time. Then you start to slowly rationalize why you're going to sleep for a little bit. Then you oversleep.

What’s your drink of choice?

I'm a Coors Light man. You can drink a lot of it and not feel bad. If you know you're going to have to be sipping beer for 12 hours, you've got to pick something light enough that will let you do it.

Does smoking brisket fuel your songwriting?

It's one of those activities where you have sort of sentimental, "I could do this forever", sort of feelings. Definitely good song material.

What are your tools?

Tongs. A couple of platters. Nick always used a crowbar for opening and closing those metal doors. Beer boxes for fanning the fire. Ultimately, it all comes down to control of the fire, so whatever tools you can use to either kill or grow the fire, that's what you're looking for.

What’s your wood of choice?

Post oak is kind of the workhorse. We’ve used pecan and mesquite, but mesquite is tough to keep it low and slow. You don't want to allow the temperature to spike eight hours in to ruin what you've been waiting for. Post oak is the best, and it's delicious.

Who gets invited over for brisket?

There's a divide between people who are coming to the party to eat it and those people who have been awake. Everybody shows up about two hours before the food is ready and they just want to talk to you about how it's been, and you don't want to talk to them because you've been up all night. Then everybody at the party wants to come around and see when you finally unwrap it, which is a nerve-racking thing because that's when you start to hope that everything went all right.

Any final tips for brisket?

If I can offer any advice, it is that the highest stress time is when you have inevitably started the process late, and you think that you just need to build a fire and throw it on. Then the fire always takes too long to build. Trimming takes longer.

If you're doing briskets make sure you give yourself a very sharp knife and lots of time to trim, because with a dull knife or not enough time things get stressful very quickly. So lots of time, a Coors Light box to fan the flames and a sharp knife.

What is the next thing you're going to try smoking?

I really want to to a tri-tip as an ode to California. You could smoke it probably for a really long time without messing it up.

Do we get the invite if that's happening?

Absolutely. It's always tacos though. Everything ends up in a taco.

You can follow Rooney Pitchford on Instagram or his website