BBQ School at Urban Farmer

It’s refreshing to see restaurants make an effort to develop relationships with customers beyond their dinner plates. As Cleveland’s dining scene continues to explode, and we constantly turn our gaze to the newest culinary entrants, there are some establishments fostering stronger relationships with their customers, like Urban Farmer.

Urban Farmer is offering classes to connect their culinary talent with home cooks. I recently was invited to participate in their Carolina vs. Texas BBQ class. 

Executive Chef Vishu Nath and Chef de Cuisine Anthony Bernal provided a tour of their in-house butchery operation and introduced participants to different barbecue styles as part of the class.

Barbecue is essentially cooking low and slow over indirect heat such as charcoal or burning embers, and is not something unique to America—you will find barbecued meats in Japanese, Greek, and Mongolian cuisines.

 “Barbecue is really a generic term. Depending on where you live, there are different ideas of what it is,” Anthony said. “Carolina barbecue is all about the pork, while Texas is known for the beef brisket.”

Within regions such as the Carolinas, there are even differences in the sauces. The northeast prefers pulled pork or ribs with a vinegar and pepper sauce, while in the northwest you find the more familiar tomato-based sauce that’s common to grocery store shelves. Texas is cattle country, so variations on slow-smoked spice-rubbed brisket are prevalent—with the traditional sides of white bread, onions, and pickles.

I inhaled a variety of woods used for smoking meats in a side-by-side comparison.  Hickory, oak, pecan, and mesquite are some of the most popular. Urban Farmer also uses bourbon-infused white oak smoker chips from Cleveland Whiskey. We made some dry and wet rubs while exploring all the regional variations of slaw, BBQ’s ubiquitous side dish.

The best part of the event was the patio grilling! Urban Farmer had an array of spices, herbs, and flavorings from which we could craft our own rubs and sauces. 

Handouts provided some guidelines on flavor profiles.  I made a spicy rub with a classic barbecue flavor profile for my salmon and grilled it as Vishu supervised. I made a second rub to take home to use for an Asian-inspired preparation by substituting the cumin with Chinese Five Spice seasoning. We were encouraged to taste our creations and make adjustments. I found that adding brown sugar and salt balanced any heavy-handedness of the more pungent spices I had selected. This class allowed all of us to experiment, and the chefs provided tips along the way.

 We sat down to meals we prepared ourselves and ate them with some brisket and pork barbecue, cornbread, and slaw. Masthead Brewing witbier was tapped. A group of strangers bonded over our barbecue mastery.

While not locally owned, the restaurant is managed and operated as if it is. They purchase the majority of items from local or regional farmers and growers like New Creation FarmOhio Wagyu Beef, Red Run Bison Farm, and Ohio City Farm.

Restaurant general manager Andy Hata shared that while primal cuts are always the most popular, Urban Farmer’s whole animal butchery program means they will find creative ways to use other parts for charcuterie, stocks, soups or the tallow candles used in the restaurant. “We’ll help out our small farm partners by taking cuts off their hands,” he says.  

 Visit Urban Farmer at 1325 East Sixth Street in the Westin Downtown and follow their social channels for updates on future classes and themed dinner events.

— Story and Photos by Lisa Sands