One of the few pitmasters still carrying the torch of West Tennessee whole-hog barbecue, Nashville’s Pat Martin has studied and taught this craft for years. Now he reveals all he knows about the art of barbecue and live fire cooking.
Through beautiful photography and detailed instruction, the lessons start with how to prepare and feed a fire—what wood to use, how to build a pit or a grill, how to position it to account for the weather—then move into cooking through all the stages of that fire’s life. You’ll sear tomatoes for sandwiches and infuse creamed corn with the flavor of char from the temperamental, adolescent fire. Next, you’ll grill chicken with Alabama white sauce over the grown-up fire, and, of course, you’ll master pit-cooked whole hog, barbecue ribs, turkey, pork belly, and pork shoulder over the smoldering heat of mature coals. Finally, you’ll roast vegetables buried in white ash, and you’ll smoke bacon and country hams in the dying embers of the winter fire.
For Pat Martin, grilling, barbecuing, and smoking is a whole lifetime’s worth of practice and pleasure—a life of fire that will transform the way you cook.
Martha’s Open-Faced Grilled Tomato Sandwiches
I first made this sandwich for my wife, Martha, years ago, and she frequently asks for it whenever our tomato plants come into season. I can’t blame her: Tomatoes on toast with Duke’s mayonnaise (and please use Duke’s, even if you have to order it from Amazon… it’s just the best). Over a hot grill, tomatoes will quickly take on a lot of char and smoky flavour before they start to get mushy. This extra step turns this Southern staple into something really savoury, really special. Just be sure to use ripe, in-season local tomatoes (preferably heirloom varieties). Those grainy ass, rock-hard tomatoes they pick green on the other side of the country and spray with nitrogen or whatever are an absolute sin. Tomatoes should only be eaten fresh when they’re in season-3 to 4 months out of the year for us-and that’s it!
For a bit of nutty crunch, I top the sandwich with a sprinkle of toasted hemp hearts, which are the hulled seeds of the hemp plant. If you can’t find them, you can substitute toasted barley, pumpkin seeds, or another crunchy topping-the texture is the most important thing.
Do me a favour too and eat this sandwich with your significant other over a bottle of nice Champagne. I don’t care how big and tough you think you are, your ass will thank me later. So pop the Champagne and eat!
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches
1 large heirloom tomato (use a meaty, sweet variety, like Cherokee Purple or Brandywine)
2 tablespoons hemp hearts or pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons olive oil
Fleur de sel or other flaky salts
2 thick slices of sourdough or country white bread
Mayonnaise (Duke’s brand strongly preferred), to taste
Cut the tomato into ¾-inch-thick slices. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 30 minutes.
In a small skillet, heat the hemp hearts over medium heat, tossing constantly, until the hearts start to turn brown and smell nutty, 2 to 3 minutes, but trust your eyes and nose more than a timer. Remove from the heat and toss the hearts for another 30 seconds, then transfer to a bowl and set aside. Prepare a medium-high grill (4 to 5 seconds using the Hand Test). Clean and oil the grill grates well.
Brush both sides of each tomato slice with the olive oil and season with fleur de sel. Grill the tomatoes until lightly charred on one side, about 3 minutes, then flip and grill until the other side is lightly charred, about 3 minutes longer. Meanwhile, brush both sides of the bread with mayonnaise and grill until toasted, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
To assemble, spread more mayonnaise on one side of each piece of toast. Top with a tomato slice and sprinkle with toasted hemp seeds and fleur de sel. Serve.
Reprinted with permission from Life of Fire by Pat Martin copyright © 2022. Photographs by Andrew Thomas Lee. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.