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East County Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018 10 months ago

Pitmaster fires up smoke signals

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Nevin Hofing's labor of love is smoked barbecue.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

In 1989, Greenbrook’s Nevin Hofing first encountered what he considers real barbecue in the basement of Manhattan’s Hard Rock Cafe.

From a prep cook, Hofing learned to work a smoker and cook ribs, chicken and, most importantly, a pig for the restaurant’s famed pulled pork sandwich.

“I thought it was ‘yuck’ having to separate the meat from the fat on the shoulder,” Hofing said. “But it was

incredibly popular. They called it the pig sandwich.

“It was different to pick up the smoky taste to it. I loved it,” he said. “It was the first time I ever saw a smoker. That’s when I first learned about barbecue and how to cook it.”

He’s spent the years since perfecting recipes and technique and Aug. 16 launched a catering business, Blue Smoke Q, in Lakewood Ranch. It’s a side business he had in Chicago, before moving to the area in January.

“It’s a labor of love,” Hofing said of smoking barbecue. “I enjoy it, but what I really like is the compliments. It’s like being an artist and creating something. This is my concept. These are my recipes.”

Hofing, 58, started in the hospitality industry in 1977 during his freshman year of college after dormmates at Syracuse came back from the cafeteria with bags of hot dogs and popcorn. Free leftovers lured Hofing to the Food Services Department, where he worked his way into a supervisory role.

In 1979, when his parents sold the family auto business — one he had trained to eventually take over — Hofing wasn’t sure what to do. He transferred to Rider College in New Jersey and began a full-time job at McDonald’s to pay for his education.

“I started on buns for Filet-O-Fish sandwiches,” he said.

After graduating, he began a career in restaurant management — first at TGI Fridays Restaurant and Bar, then the Hard Rock Cafe before going to the Rain Forest Cafe.

“With these corporate positions, you have to be efficient in every position in the restaurant,” Hofing said. “That’s where I learned to cook.”

But it was when Hofing went to manage the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City he said he really experienced barbecue. The restaurant’s then-owner, Isaac Tigrett, was from Nashville and insisted the restaurant smoke its meats, despite the logistical challenge of venting smoke out of the building.

“That was the first barbecue in New York City,” Hofing said, noting that Hard Rock location opened in 1984. “Hard Rock introduced true barbecue to New York City and to me. Nobody realized that.”

In 1999, Hofing switched to a career in sales, focusing on businesses that utilized his restaurant experience. He was lured back into restaurant management from 2004 to 2007, but then found a job at Edward Don & Co., in North Riverside, Ill., in August 2007. As a sales manager with a 15-state territory, Hofing spent much of his time on the road.

“I was making a lot of trips to the Kansas City area,” Hofing said. “I started hitting a lot of barbecue places.”

 Hofing was determined to learn. He hunted for a mentor, but without success. Instead, wherever he ate, he talked with barbecue chefs.

In January 2008, he bought a Weber 18-inch Smokey Mountain smoker.

“I just started practicing,” he said. “It was just trial and error. I practiced with brisket. It’s the hardest meat to cook.”

He developed his own recipes and uses little sauce on his barbecue.

“My belief is I want to taste the meat and I want to taste the smoke,” he said. “Sauces cover up the flavor.”

His family loved his smoked barbecue, and so did his friends.

“I like his brisket and his cole slaw,” said his 12-year-old daughter, Eliana, with a grin. “It’s not too dry or too moist. It’s just right.”

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