On my 12th birthday, I was gifted an album that had dropped a few months earlier. It was called Nevermind and would usher in a rock wave from the Pacific Northwest that still resonates to this day. Long story short, Dave Grohl has been part of my musical life since I hit puberty. Nirvana gave way to Foo Fighters for Grohl, which eventually led to the drummer-guitarist-lyricist becoming the king of rock ‘n roll and its greatest champion.
Meanwhile, I devoted my life to travel, food, booze, and writing. Turns out Grohl likes a few of these things too. So I wasn’t too shocked when — 27 years after Nevermind changed everything for me — our worlds finally collided in real life over some barbecue a few weeks back.
“You take that pulled pork,” Grohl says before we’re even introduced.”Put it on a white bun with some coleslaw and it’s the best fucking thing you’ve ever had in your entire life.”
His wrists mimic chopping meat the way a drummer rips into a jam and his eyes roll back in his head. Clearly, the man has a passion for Carolina barbecue.
As far as passion points go, pulled pork is a good one. The succulence of the low-and-slow pig, with smoke meeting salty, fatty, unctuous flesh is a delight… when done right. Standing next to Grohl’s huge, custom-made smoker — full of about 20 pork butts — it seems like he’s doing it right. The smell is downright heavenly.
Grohl had been in New York for the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame vote the day before our lunch. He hopped a plane back to Los Angeles and arrived just in time to start smoking some pork around midnight. Ten hours later, he was still in the parking lot of the Sportsmen’s Lodge in sunny Studio City, California. The moving truck Grohl and his buddies use as a base of operations is a testament to the time and effort it takes to live the low-and-slow life. An empty handle of Seagram’s vodka sits next to empty Domino’s pizza boxes and wings containers — a good night was definitely had in that parking lot as they worked the vents and stoked the fires.
All of this was part of the opening of the Valley Urban Market — a weekly food bazaar held in the parking lot of the famed hotel. The market was co-founded by Grohl’s wife, Jordyn, as a chance to celebrate craft food, artisans, and people coming together. On September 20, the day of the market’s grand opening, a few journalists got to hang with Grohl as the first set of pork butts came out of his smoker. Grohl, literally the nicest man in showbiz, started holding court immediately, rattling off stories about how he got into the barbecue scene.
“So when Nirvana became popular, the first thing I did was buy a beach house in North Carolina and I just spent years there,” he tells us like we’re all old drinking buddies. “I ate pulled pork fuckin’ from the time I was 22 ’til about 25-years-old.”
Like many of us, he’d found a food he loved and gotten hooked. But it wasn’t until an about three years ago that Grohl really got into cooking the stuff for himself. He tells the story of when he broke his leg on stage and the downtime that injury forced him to have. He’d sit in his backyard with a Big Green Egg, figuring out how to make one of his favorite meals.
“You’re basically sitting there staring at these fucking thermometers all day long,” Grohl says. “I’d just sit there for nine to 12 hours at a time just … oooommmmm … meditating and watching these temperature gauges.”
So, how good is Grohl at smoking pork? Well, let’s just say that if he’d decided to leave music behind and become a Carolina pitmaster, he’d have a solid name for himself by now. Once it came out of the smoker, Grohl’s pulled pork was being dished up by chef Billy Terrell, out of his much-lauded The Beached Pig food truck. The soft, salty, and fatty pork is so delicate you barely need to chew. Chef Terrell piles it on a pillowy, slightly sweet white bun with a sharp barbecue sauce, a little bit of red onion, funky pickle, and a svelte slaw finish it off. All together and it’s one fine pulled pork sandwich — nuanced but amazingly succinct. It shouldn’t come as a shock that The Beached Pig had the longest line at the Valley Urban Market’s opening.
After sampling the goods, I gravitate back to Grohl and his smoker. I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with a legend and talk smoking meats in a parking lot all day? Almost poetically, Grohl takes me through his process of barbecue: “You know, you work all day long and then you present it to someone and it’s almost like making a song.” As Grohl explains this he mimes playing guitar with his left-hand fingers wildly hitting invisible frets and his right hand strumming up a storm. “You have your specific recipe or your specific rub. And, you know, the best feeling is when you have those big barbecues and I’m dolin’ out food for everyone and then they start coming back for seconds, it’s almost like performance in a way.”
I nod along. I’ve spent enough time in kitchens to know that all chefs think of themselves as rock stars.
After my second sandwich, I ask for some protips, but before Grohl can dive in the public is welcomed to the event and his fans start streaming over. Fathers are passing their babies to Grohl for pictures. People come up — one after another — calling Grohl their hero and reminiscing about their first Foo Fighters concerts. A few have tattoos of his face. Grohl, to his credit, is amazingly amiable to every single fan. He takes time, looks them in the eye, listens, poses for photos, shakes hands, and doles out hugs. His patience is astounding and translates to his ability to execute a perfectly smoked piece of meat.
The fans taper off for a moment and Grohl dives back into smoking meat. “Everybody does it their own way,” he says, thoughtfully. “When it gets into slow cooking, anything with a wood fire, it’s really just about holding that constant temperature and simple seasonings so you taste the meat.”
I ask what mistake he’s seen the most when it comes to low-and-slow. He thinks for a moment then says, “One mistake a lot of people make is that they over season their stuff. Pork loves salt. Salt loves pork. You get a nice big piece of pork and let the smoke hit it right and it’s fucking delicious.” Just then Chef Terrell comes by looking for more pork butts for the ever-growing line at the food truck and Grohl snaps into action. He puts on his reading glasses and pulls out a thermometer to check for ready hunks of pork. As he pulls open the huge smoker doors he leans over and says with a shit-eating grin, “dude, all of that being said, I don’t know what the fuck I’m talkin’ about.”
With that, he starts stabbing beautifully smoked pork butts with his thermometer. Having tasted his food, I want to tell him I beg to differ. But I let him focus on his work. The rock god has fans to feed.