If you've never heard of Erik Black's small batch BBQ outfit, Ugly Drum, check out its Facebook page. There, you'll see close-ups of big peppery slabs of ribs or Ugly Drum partner Joe Marcos standing sentry over pieces of slow cooking chicken; in one photo, long ropes of hot links are shot as lovingly as a '40s movie star.
Want to know how Black's and Marcos' long-cooked meats get their finely articulated smoky flavor? Check out the orange-topped Ugly Drums: two gleaming 55-gallon steel barrels outfitted with 22-inch Weber replacement grills that Black assembled after watching "like, fifty You Tube videos of people showing off their drums and saying, 'This is how I built mine...'"
The rest, says Black, was about honing instinct. "The only thing that's special about the process is knowing when to pull [the meat] off and when to let it go a little bit longer," says Black. "Just trying to manage it. Not fuck it up."
It was during a 5-day road trip circa 2009 during which he hit every important smoked meats joint in Central Texas that Black learned the Lone Star State's simple dry rub approach to long-smoked brisket. As for the sauce that Ugly Drum serves with BBQ and incorporates into its baked beans, it is strictly Chicago-style -- spicy, slightly vinegary and tomato-based.
In the past, Black has kept Ugly Drum on the hush-hush, sticking to small gigs like helping a chef-daughter throw a tiny BBQ dinner in honor of her 88-year-old father's birthday, or catering an opening at the downtown gallery The Box.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
One Tuesday night a couple of months ago, Ugly Drum took over chef-owner Bryant Ng's downtown restaurant The Spice Table. Black, Ng and Marcos are like a supergroup that can't stop reuniting: They became pals while working at Campanile and Mozza; Marcos had his own pop-up at The Spice Table called Bar Plancha where he cooked Spanish tapas at the bar.
Now three consecutive Ugly Drum evenings have been planned -- Tuesday September 17th, September 24th and October 1st. For $27, expect a menu of brisket -- smoked with a mix of charcoal, hickory and apple wood for up to 19 hours -- and Black's all-pork homemade hot links that are flavored with paprika, cayenne and garlic, smoked in the drum then finished up on The Spice Table's special customized wood fire grill. There will be some sides: cole slaw, beans, maybe potato salad. For dessert, you get a seasonal fruit cobbler. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Service ends when they run out of meat.
Follow the author @MargyRochlin. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.