Ben McCrea is a gentle-giant of a man, but don't let his warm, friendly facade fool you. Underneath that kind-hearted shell is a mean, Auss-een, grilling machine.
In the WAY back of the lot on
Fairfield Ave in Bridgeport
Walrus + Carpenter
calls home, is the perch where Ben keeps watch. His job... smoking all types of meat to perfection. But what makes the man that makes the meat?
Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Ben gained his skills from watching his grandfather grill on the "barbie," but becoming a grill master wasn't his first passion. Ben came to the States as a boxer and did very well in that 'arena.' However, boxing is a short career and Ben knew something more awaited. What he didn't know was that it would be a smoker with a 500 gallon propane tank, commissioned by
Walrus co-owner Joe Farrell (along with Adam Roytman.)
Back when Walrus + Carpenter was poised to open their doors, instead of waiting indefinitely for a commercial smoker to be manufactured, Joe commissioned a friend and boiler-maker by trade (another Ben, hence the smoker's name "Better 'n Bens") to do the job. Hence the creation of the wild, colossal, smoke-vessel that Master McCrea tames. If you haven't been out back to check this baby out, you should. The rest is smoked-meat history.
Ben explains that the secret to superior smoked meat is the "reverse-flow" element to the smoker.
"Reverse-flow" means that the heat drafts from the firebox into the cooking cylinder and draws down under a baffled-flue to the end. Then it reverses the flow and drafts back over the top of the heated baffle-flue. This process keeps the meat moist and tender and allows for the most even cooking experience. As the meat cooks, the fat is rendered out and moisture is locked in.
Ben tends to the massive fire, kept between 220 and 250 at all times and adds a log or two - oak, cherry or maple, every 45 minutes or so to keep the temperature even.
This is the secret to burning a clean fire - adding just the right amount of wood.
And as politically incorrect as it is -all meats are not created equal in the eyes of the Pit Master.
The fattier the cut, the better the result for smoking.
Brisket is nearly perfect as the fat cap keeps the meat moist. Here
at Walrus, Ben is tending to a brisket for approximately 12 -14 hours
before it has met his standards. Pork shoulder is also an excellent candidate. Ribs, donned with the Walrus "rub" are delectable as the fat renders and mixes with the rub, creating a tender bark that gives just the right amount of resistance as your teeth tug from the bone.
McCrea is the creator of the Bourbon/Maple rib sauce
in which he adds just enough savory (the part that constitutes the "secret" in his "secret ingredient" recipe) to the sweet maple so as not to make it cloying. And as Ben is Australian, I asked him about Kangaroo... "Nah," he replied. "'Kangaroo is way too lean." Personally, I thought his answer that rather "Rood" :).
So next time you are at Walrus and Carpenter, stop and think for a moment about how many hours and how much care goes into the meat that takes you about 3 minutes to devour.
Imagine the heat of the fire. Think about the Pit Master and how he guards the flames, for hours on end, like Cerebus at the gates of Hell. And enjoy, as your taste-buds are treated to just a little bit of heaven. Thank you, Mr. McCrea.
Walrus + Carpenter is located at 2895 Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport (203) 333-2733