If your summer entertaining dreams involve learning to smoke the perfect brisket for your backyard barbecue, a new series of classes could turn those dreams into a reality. Bonus: Beer is involved.
Texas-based Backyard Pitmasters is set to launch Feb. 25 with a three-hour class at Second Self Beer Co. in West Midtown. Subsequent classes will be offered almost every Saturday and Sunday at metro Atlanta breweries including Three Taverns in Decatur, Wild Heaven in West End, Social Fox Brewing in Norcross and Variant Brewing in Roswell.
The business was launched in 2017 in Houston by casual barbecue and grilling enthusiasts Jonathan Kane and Michael Albrecht, who worked together at an advertising agency and realized there weren’t a lot of resources for barbecue hobbyists like themselves who wanted to step up their game.
The pair didn’t have a background in food, so they sought out an instructor who did, and began holding classes. The idea caught on, eventually allowing Kane and Albrecht to quit their day jobs and expand Backyard Pitmasters to other cities in Texas, then Tennessee and now Georgia. Classes in Colorado are set to launch soon. The company also built its own broadcast studio in 2020 to offer virtual barbecue classes; the facility also serves as a training area for instructors and other employees.
In the Atlanta market, the company plans to start with its signature class, BrisketU, and will eventually roll out its full roster with classes focusing on making ribs, turkey, chicken, pork and seafood, as well as a Backyard Pitmasters class that offers instruction for cooking beef and pork.
Credit: Backyard Pitmasters
Credit: Backyard Pitmasters
Each three-hour class is taught by pitmasters who demonstrate techniques and tips in areas including how to choose, trim, rub, smoke, cut and serve meats; tool and wood selection and smoke profiles; and fire ignition and heat management.
But don’t show up looking for local pitmasters like Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin BBQ or Jonathan or Justin Fox of Fox Bros. B-B-Q to be at the head of the class. In keeping with Backyard Pitmasters’ casual and low-pressure ethos, the emphasis is less on the instructor and more on the curriculum.
“A lot of times in the barbecue world, there tends to be a little bit of a cult following of celebrity, and our brand is absolutely not that,” Kane said. “We are really education and fun first. It’s really about getting better at cooking.”
The instructors come from several different areas of the food industry. Though the curriculum is standardized, each instructor can put their own spin on what they teach; in the RibsU class, an instructor with Iranian heritage taught how to make lamb ribs, while another teacher incorporated Mexican fusion into one of the preparations.
The classes have been refined over the years as more students have come through, with culinary director Sydney Bankston helping to standardize the curriculum, Kane said.
Bankston helped the company compile a 60-page book sent home with each participant that touches on many of the things covered in class and techniques that work across different types of grills, from Big Green Eggs to $100 Weber charcoal grills.
The most popular Backyard Pitmasters class, BrisketU, recognizes that brisket is not only a challenging cut of meat to cook, but also involves a big commitment of time, so part of the class focuses on entertaining and planning the right amount of meat to serve guests (what Kane calls “meaty math”). And, of course, participants get to sample the food being prepared throughout the class.
Credit: JENN DUNCAN
Credit: JENN DUNCAN
“A big part of the reason Mike and I got into this, is we like having people over, we like entertaining,” Kane said. “Cooking for other people is fun, and we based the entire class on that. That’s part of why we do classes at breweries. We want people to come in as strangers and leave as friends.”
To that end, Backyard Pitmasters employs a brewery liaison to partner with craft breweries and distilleries in each city to host classes.
“Barbecue and beer are a marriage made in heaven,” Kane said. “Craft beer has gone through the same kind of resurgence that craft barbecue has. There’s a big crossover. If we made Venn diagrams of craft beer drinkers and the types of people who make barbecue, the circles would sit pretty closely on top of each other.”
He also pointed out the mutually beneficial relationship between the barbecue classes and breweries and distilleries, with Backyard Pitmasters attracting at least 20 people per class to breweries in the mornings and early afternoons, when breweries either aren’t normally open or don’t attract a lot of customers. The breweries also get exposure to a potential new client base, and beers from host breweries often make their way into recipes incorporated into classes.
For Kane, who has upped his barbecue prowess over the past few years, one of his biggest thrills is continuing to learn tips and techniques as he researches and works with instructors.
“Every instructor has tips and techniques and tricks they introduce along the way, and that’s the stuff we want people to share,” he said.
IF YOU GO
Saturdays and Sundays. Backyard Pitmasters’ BrisketU classes are $119 per person. Various locations. brisketu.com/atlanta-ga.
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