The King of the grill

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    AUGUSTA-To borrow a line from Duke Ellington, when it comes to barbecue, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that ring." Barbecue aficionados call it the "smoke ring," a purplish halo that surrounds a cut of brisket or pork butt that's spent hours steeping in wood smoke. On ribs, the purple haze goes all the way through. When you see it on a plate in front of you, you know you're about to take a bite out of culinary paradise. But, as Jarrod Cofrancesco, this year's grand champion at the Sussex County Champion of the Grill competition, there's more to good "Q" than just smoke. Cofrancesco is an attorney with the Laddey, Clard & Ryan law firm. With his two brothers, Peter and Jason, he's also the owner of the Homestead Rest, a Route 94 restaurant and bar in Sparta. But until early this year, he had never taken up slow-smoked barbecue. That changed in March, when his mother, Peggy Cofrancesco, went to an auction in Texas and, as a birthday present, bought him a barbecue pit. It's a big trailer-mounted barrel with a separate fire box and steer-horn handles on the lids. "I started playing around," he said, "trying some different woods and meats. I experimented with sauces and rubs, different cooking times and temperatures." By the end of summer, he felt confident enough not just to enter the county Chamber of Commerce's Champion of the Grill contest, but also to commit $500 of his restaurant's money to augment the $250 first prize for best professional chef. Despite his amateur standing, he entered as a professional - not once, but twice. With one chef's hat, he smoked baby back ribs for his law firm. With the other, he smoked a pork butt and chicken for the Homestead. Helping him were teammates, Jeff McCarrick, the head chef at the Homestead, Robert Lombardo, and brother Peter, while his other brother, Jason, "was kind of overlooking everything." True barbecue is not for the impatient. Competitors were at the country fairgrounds before 1 p.m. Saturday, when the judges inspected the meat, making sure that no one had pre-cooked or pre-annointed the raw materials. After inspection, Cofrancesco rubbed down everything with a liberal application of dry rub, a mixture of herbs and spices. Rubs are highly individualistic.Confrancesco makes his with celery salt, onion salt, seasoned salt, cayenne, dry mustard, paprika, brown sugar and "a couple of other things." He didn't get specific, saying only that, "It's not totally equal parts. I do like the hot. I make my sauces a little sweet, so that's a nice contrast." The ribs and chicken didn't have to go on the grill until Sunday morning, but he started the seven-pound pork butt at 7 that evening and tending it until noon Sunday - 19 hours later. The critical factor in barbecuing is to cook "low and slow." Cofrancesco uses oak and hickory for heat and smoke, adjusting the draft and dampers to keep the temperature at grill level at 225 degrees. Every two hours, he "sops" the meat with a sprayer filled with apple cider vinegar and red pepper flakes. When it's done, he anoints it with a ketchup-and-vinegar-based sauce of his own invention. The judges thought enough of his efforts to make Laddey, Clark & Ryan the winner in the professional rib category, and the Homestead grand champion and winner in professional pork butt. Laddey, Clark & Ryan won the people's choice award. He also won a personal challenge with another attorney, Elenora Benz. Confrancesco won the $250 grand prize plus the $500 he had put up, as well