Cooking with wood on an open flame connects us to a past beyond memory and experience to a tradition that predates recorded history. As a species we all share a tradition of cooking with an open flame, no matter where you’re from. This is why we at Pit Fiend Barbecue want to expand on what we consider “barbecue” to include traditions from all over the world. Live-fire cooking also has the distinction of imparting flavor into the food in a way that no other cooking does. It is a vital part of the dish. Using wood to cook introduces a beautifully complex and savory flavor to the food, something not really replicable with any other method. The quality of the smoke that the food is cooked with requires a high-quality fire. To consistently produce quality fires takes knowledge, experience and patience.
The signature smoky flavor of the food from Pit Fiend Barbecue is produced from using all-wood fires from logs that are openly combusting which produce the finest quality smoke, and cooking solely on wood fires is what sets great barbecue apart from the bad or the merely good. Gas, electricity and charcoal are popular in most modern barbecue restaurants because they are more convenient and efficient. Big, hulking machines with rotisseries that move the food around automatically and temperatures kept consistent by the controlled flow of gas make for a more consistent product. The smoke that comes from wood not combusting properly or being helped along by gas often has a bitter or acrid taste to it. You may notice that the taste of smoke sits more on the exterior of the meat rather than inside it. The particles of smoke that might attach themselves to the surface of the food can contribute some flavor and texture to the food’s exterior. But it’s the gaseous elements of smoke that actually penetrate into the meat itself, giving it the deep, rich flavor that you want in every bite.
Many of the machines that modern barbecue restaurants use require one to put wood into a gas chamber where it is lit, but often sits without proper airflow, smoldering as a gas flame is applied to it. If the wood being used to cook is not properly combusting, it can lead to other undesirable substances and flavors being introduced into the food. About 90 percent of the smoky flavor that is tasted in the food comes from the smoke vapor, which is colorless and present when the combustion of the wood is optimal. When wood is burning well, the smoke produced is mostly clear with a slight bluish hue. This is the famous blue smoke often touted in barbecue.
You can have good smoke, bad smoke and too much smoke. Much of the craft of barbecue depends on making sure that only good smoke in the correct amount comes in contact with the meat. It is our understanding of this balance that makes Pit Fiend Barbecue stand out amongst the barbecue that Colorado has to offer. The next time you find yourself in RiNo, let your nose guide you to Pit Fiend Barbecue, because there will be no billowing white clouds of dirty smoke in the air - just fragrant, clear blue whisps produced by the complete combustion of Colorado-grown white oak, tantilizing Denver with the promise of tomorrow's brisket.