Slammin’ Salmon: Recipe and Interview with Yeti Ambassador Matt Pittman

Words by Matthew Vanatta

Matt Pittman is a man about his meat. The Texas-based BBQ master is a Yeti Barbecue Ambassador and world-renowned wood fire cook. Pittman has become one of the foremost Texas BBQ cooks in the country appearing on BBQ Pitmasters and finding a loyal following amongst smoked meat enthusiasts.

Pittman travels the world spreading the holy gospel of BBQ, appearing on television, and slanging his proprietary meat spices via his brand Meat Church. While born in Tennessee, Pittman considers himself a Texan having moved to the Lone Star state in his early teens and dedicating his life to purveying the culture and style of Texas BBQ.

We caught up with Pittman to talk about his formative years, his foray into the BBQ world, how food might be the one thing that can unite the masses, and how to grill the perfect Salmon this summer.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but I moved to Texas when I was 13. I’m 43 now, so I’m pretty well Texan at this point.

Is where you’re from an important distinction in the BBQ world?

Not really where you’re from, it’s more where you’re at. People say I’m from Texas now and don’t really talk about where I was born. I think it’s important to understand where someone is from though. My style is Texas BBQ and everyone is trying to emulate Texas BBQ, so I think it’s important to know the history from that perspective.

What is Texas style BBQ?

There are five major regions for BBQ and Texas is well known for its beef and the seasoning is generally very simple, so it’s usually just salt and pepper. It really originates in central Texas near Austin and down by Lockhart. If you go there and order brisket or ribs it’s traditionally going to be extremely simple. It’s going to be smoked with post oak and seasoned with coarsely cracked pepper and kosher salt. It’s really straightforward, you’re trying to let the meat speak for its self and not doing anything too crazy to it.

How did you get into BBQ, was this a family tradition?

Man, I wish. I always joke that my Dad would have taught me to BBQ, but the reality is that I taught him how to BBQ. I’ve always been an outdoor cook and wannabe chef, all though I never wanted to work the hours of a chef. My curiosity for cooking definitely comes from watching my Grandma cook in her kitchen in Alabama as a young man and eating Southern comfort food. When I was a teenager in Texas I discovered BBQ and just loved the taste of smoked meat. I ended up taking a trip to Lockhart, Texas, had a bite of a beef rib and was just blown away. I’ve always been a guy that grilled and cooked outside, but after I had that beef rib I knew that’s the style of cooking I wanted to do. It started out from a self-taught perspective, but I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people in the BBQ community and a lot of people have been willing to help me along the way.

How do you go from a guy BBQing in his backyard to getting so much recognition for your craft?

It was kind of an accident, I was competing in BBQ competitions and got selected to be on the TV show BBQ Pit Masters and that obviously gives you credibility. I was also mixing my own rubs at the time and I learned that if you have your own rubs you can take them on the show, so by the time the show aired I launched my brand Meat Church with three seasonings, two shirts, and two hats.

How did you come up with the name Meat Church, what’s the significance behind that?

Well we wanted to come up with a new name for our competition BBQ team and there’s this really funny food writer in Dallas and she went to a BBQ restaurant on a Sunday morning and Tweeted out “I’m about to sit down and have my meat church.” I thought it was clever and when I was trying to decide what to name the brand I wanted to avoid the cliche BBQ names so I thought I would stand out. It’s not religious but it is aligned with my belief that my BBQ is going to bring people around to hang out and have a good time, so the fellowship of hanging out with your friends and being together is really significant.

The communal and ceremonial aspect of BBQ seems like a really important element to you. Is that a big part of the magic of BBQ or open fire cooking?

Yeah, I think our lives center around food, no matter what type of food you’re talking about from celebration to family dinners. BBQ usually consist of cooking a piece of meat that can feed anywhere between eight and twenty people, so it’s often something you’re sharing with other people. There’s nothing better than having a pool party and a having a bunch of buddies tell you that your ribs are the best ribs they’ve ever had in their lives.

There’s a lot of divisiveness and polarization in the world right now, but I feel like food might be the one thing that can bring people together, do you feel like there’s a unifying element to food?

Yeah for sure, I heard the other day that Texan’s have three passion points food, music, and sports so that reiterates my perspective about how passionate people are about food. People love to say they are foodies are into trying new chefs and restaurants. I think it’s really important and brings people together.

Are there any new projects or anything we should be on the lookout for from Meat Church?

I get a lot of requests to teach and I teach classes in my backyard. I’ve had 15 classes in my backyard so far this year. I also travel and teach, this year I taught at both Traeger Grills and Nike this year and will be traveling to Sweden in August to teach BBQ for the third year in a row and in October I’m going to teach in Australia. I’ve also got about 15 events scheduled for the rest of the year including some BBQ festivals and schools. We’re also releasing a new product in the next month, we try to release a few new spices and seasonings a few times a year to keep people excited.

Teriyaki Smoked Salmon

Ingredients

(2) full salmon filets
Meat Church Honey Hog Seasoning
1/2 stick of butter
1 C Grade A Maple Syrup
4 Cedar or Alder grilling planks

Brine-

2 bottles or your favorite Teriyaki Marinade (I use Veri Veri Teriyaki Marinade & Sauce)

Prepare your Egg-

Prepare your Traeger to a temperature of 275.

We recommend lighter smoking pellets for this smoke. Pecan, Alder wood or fruitwood will pair nicely with fish while not being too overpowering.

Brine the Salmon-

Pour the brine over the filets and let them sit for two hours in the refrigerator. It’s ok if the fish floats.

Prepare the Salmon-

After 2 hours remove the fish from the brine, rinse off and thoroughly pat dry.

Season with Meat Church Honey Hog moderately on the flesh side. All to sit for 10 minutes.

Cook the Salmon-

Place the filets on the grilling planks. A full filet will require 2 planks.

While the fish is smoking, melt the butter and mix with the maple syrup.

Pour the butter and syrup mixture over the filets when the filets are 115 – 120 degrees internal temperature.

Continue cooking the fish until it reaches an internal temperature of 125 – 130 degrees depending on your taste preference. This smoke will take around 35 minutes at 275.

Remove the fish carefully with a spatula. Place it on a plate to rest for 10 minutes. Eat and enjoy!!

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