ITexan BBQ

In the fall of 1996 I was starting my Senior year of high school in a small 2A town just southeast of Fort Worth.  Not much excitement back in those days, but this year we had a foreign exchange student from Italy.  Of course someone new to the class in our final year of school brought instant excitement.  Marco and I hit it off pretty well and hung out at school and even outside of school. One of my best memories is the amount of hotdogs he took down at $1 dog night at the Ranger game.   Before we knew it we had graduated and I’m sure both of us thought we would never see one another again.  Marco was heading back to Italy to finish school there and I was off to Texas Tech.  Ten plus years later, and with the introduction of social media to the world, I got a surprise friend request from Marco.  About that time he and I both were getting into cooking BBQ and the best part was Marco only wanted to cook Texas style BBQ.

I got a Facebook message from Marco one afternoon to let me know he was coming back to Texas in April for a BBQ Crawl and to take a competition class!  Marco flew into DFW and his tour of Texas began the moment he stepped off the plane.  The first part of this trip was to visit an Italian friend in San Antonio.  Before leaving Italy, Marco had communicated with Texas Monthly’s Daniel Vaughn via Twitter on what places to visit on his road trip along I-35.  Marco was able to visit Miller’s BBQ in Belton, Blacks BBQ and Kreuz Market in Lockhart and Louie Mueller in Taylor, TX.  Unfortunately, he was late getting into Austin and missed out on Franklin and LaBarbecue.  After a few days in the Texas BBQ Belt, Marco made it back to Dallas.  Saturday morning I picked Marco up from his hotel at 6:30 and we started heading out to Glen Rose, TX for a private class with Jeff Wyatt of Redneck Cooker.  On the drive we caught up on what we have both been up to for the past 18 years.  With some friends from your past you never know if time will change you and if you would still get along especially with someone who was from another country.  To me it felt like we picked right up from where we left off.

We spent the day cooking brisket, spare ribs, chicken and pork butt.  I can’t remember a day I enjoyed cooking more than this one.  This to me is what BBQ is about, cooking with friends and enjoying the fruits of our “labor”.  By the time I dropped Marco off at his hotel it was 8 PM and I was exhausted.  As Marco and I shook hands I knew this time we weren’t going to go another 18 years.  It’s my turn to go to Italy and cook some BBQ.

Not long after his return to Italy I told Marco I was starting my blog and wanted to interview him about his experience in Texas and he graciously agreed.

GunsUP:  What got you into Texas BBQ?
Marco: In 1996 I spent 10 months in Venus as an exchange student. I fell in love with Texas and, as you know, I’m in touch with many Texan friends. Why should I go for Kansas or Carolina BBQ styles? lol
GunUp: When did you start cooking BBQ?
Marco:  In 2010 when me and my wife Giorgia finally moved to a house with a backyard.
GunsUp: What is your favorite cut of meat to cook?
Marco:  Brisket! But only if I can put my hands on black angus piece from National Beef of Creekstone Farms (the only two American brands we find here). Italian breeds are too lean.
GunsUp:  What was your first smoker and what do you cook on now.
Marco:  Bradley Digital Smoker was my first smoker. Right now I use the PBC (Pit Barrell Cooker) and 2 ProQ water smokers.  They are known as Napoleon Apollo 300 in the U.S.
GunsUp:  What are your favorite commercial rubs and sauces?
Marco: It’s really hard to get US stuff here so I haven’t tried many different rubs over the years. Shipping and customs kill me when it’s time to order from the States.  Last time I paid a total of $130 for 4 lbs of rubs/injections.  Anyway, so far, for ribs I definitely  go for Redneck Cooker Rib Dust, for brisket Meat Church Holy Cow Rub (I had to introduce him to my favorite brisket rub), for pork and chicken Redneck Cooker X-Factor.   Favorite US sauce Jardine’s Buckin’ Berry Rasberry Chipotle, Jardine’s 5-star, American Stockyard KC Pitmaster, Sucklebusters Honey BBQ Sauce. Again, I haven’t tried many sauces for the reasons above, and shipping sauces is even more expensive. If anyone reading wants to sponsor my team and create a European market I will do it for free in exchange of rubs, sauces and injections rubs! lol but I’m a bit serious too!
GunsUp:  So on your Texas BBQ Crawl you visited Miller’s, Black’s BBQ, Kreuz Market, Louie Muellers and Plano Lockhart.  Out of those which ones were your favorites?
Marco:  Louie Mueller, that beef rib made the whole trip.

Marco and Wayne Mueller

GunsUp:  Who was your favorite Pitmaster you met with?
Marco:  I’ve been lucky enough to have extensive talks with Dirk and Dusty Miller, Wayne Mueller and Roy Perez. They were great, I cannot pick one. They were busy but they took a lot of their time to sit around a table or stand by a pit and talk about techniques and history of their joints. I also had a great private BBQ class with Jeff Wyatt that improved a lot my cooking. I had a 4 hours class here in Italy with Jim Johnson, a great class with a top competition pitmaster.
Roy Perez

What was the biggest thing you learned about BBQ from your trip to Texas?
Marco:  I understood I was born on the wrong side of the pond. Jokes apart, making your own rubs is cool but doesn’t payoff that much when you compete unless you have a company that can make your own blend using the right spices that you don’t always find on the shelves. Also, low’n’slow is great but you can raise the temperature up to 275-300 if you know how to manage the cooking. One more thing, I really appreciate smoking with pecan, not easy to find in Italy.

Marco has taken what he learned in Texas back to Italy and in the competitions he has been in since, he has done very well.  His first competition was in the WBQA World Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden where he was invited to cook brisket for a BBQ team led by Chef Matteo Tassi.  Marco’s brisket took 22nd out of 53 teams.  In his next competition he cooked in the KCBS Italian BBQ Championship with Team Torino Ribs along with his friend Luca.  The competition consisted of 24 Italian and European teams including Miss Piggy’s BBQ from the UK.  In this competition Torino Ribs took 1st in ribs, 4thin Pork , 11th in Brisket and 5th place overall!  That is an unbelievable finish for his first competition in charge of all categories.  His most recent competition was in September with his team Barbecue’s Finest consisting of friends Luca Bini, Francesco Moretti and Andrea Garutti.  They managed to take 3rd in ribs, 4th in chicken, 5th in pork and 6thoverall!!

You can keep up with Marco and see pictures of his cooks on Twitter and on Facebook.  Be sure to tell him how much you like the name ITexan, but I sadly think I’m the only one who likes that as a BBQ team name!