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Photos by Megan Leigh Barnard

A Song of Fire and Swine

Before molecular gastronomy, before sous vide, before fusion—hell, even before spices…there was the kill and grill. A band of men, sitting around a fire, charring whatever was so unfortunate as to find itself under their spear that day.

Wood.

Fire.

Meat.

Add a small amount of technology and a little bit of artistry, and you have the beginnings of barbecue. Flavors are imparted by smoke. Texture is achieved through heat control, and the result is a second-to-none, melt-on-your-tongue, flavorsplosion. And there’s a group in town that aims to maintain these time-honored traditions: ManBQue.

“One of my personal pet peeves are people that say ‘You gotta come over to my house on the Fourth ofMEATing-132 July for some awesome barbecue,’ so you go thinking you’ll have ribs and pulled pork, and it’s all hamburgers and hotdogs,” says Ed Kowalski, chef for the Delaware North Company and leader of Columbus’s local ManBQue chapter. “Nothing wrong with that, but that’s grilling. Barbecue is a more lengthy process. It takes hours—sometimes days. It’s done at a lower temperature with less expensive cuts of meat. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to barbecue a beef tenderloin. That wouldn’t turn out good for anybody.”

ManBQue “MEATings” take place monthly, when men from all walks of life come together under the shared banner of fire and flesh. The organization was started in Chicago by one Jesse “The Godfather” Valenciana, as a kind of social grilling club designed to let men get together on a mini-vacation from the bustle of family life. ManBQue now has international reach and is in the process of publishing its second cookbook.

“We brought the Columbus chapter here back in 2013, so we’re coming up on our second birthday,” explained Kowalski. “Ironically, the reason for ManBQue is that, generally, guys are terrible at maintaining relationships over time and distance. I actually looked up an old friend that I hadn’t seen in 25 years. That’s how I was introduced to it. He lived in Chicago, and he told me about this group. I decided I wanted to look into bringing a chapter to Columbus. So in January of 2013, we had our first MEATing. Some of the Chicago guys were in town, passing through to sign the book contracts in Philadelphia.”

“The reason for ManBQue is
that, generally, guys are terrible
at maintaining relationships
over time and distance.”

Social clubs are all about ritual, and ManBQue Columbus is no different. For one, it’s guys only (sorry ladies). Kowalski says only two women have ever been in attendance—one of which was our photographer. Membership is contingent on being brought by a current member in good standing. MEATing locations are rotated between members with adequate equipment. Kowalski himself is the proud owner of seven grills and three smokers.

“Surprisingly, my wife is fine with that,” he joked. “My personal draw is that I’ve always been a chef that likes simple foods. Rustic foods. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Just going back to when I was single and didn’t have a whole lot of disposable income. I’d want to buy cheap cuts of meat and see what I could do with them. I really got into smoking and barbecuing seriously about five years ago. Everybody likes a good slab of ribs or a good pulled pork sandwich, and the simplicity of those flavors is what really attracted me. And as I’ve gotten more and more involved in that avenue, my tastes have evolved a little bit. My technique has evolved. My tools have definitely evolved.”

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Due to time limitations, the monthly MEATings are usually pretty heavy on grilled rather than barbecued items, however, the smoked fare is really rolled out at satellite events. According to Kowalski, ManBQue is the “official provider of smoked meats” for the Grandview Craft Beer Alliance’s Hullabaloo event, and for the past three years, their team has served up cuisine for a charity hosted by Specialty Gas House—where MEATings frequently take place. At its core, though, ManBQue is as much about camarederie as it is about what’s on the fire. Along with the beer and music, which always accompanies the food, members have nicknames bestowed on them upon induction to symbolize that they’re one of the gang.

“Baby Meat,” said Kowalski, referencing his own nickname. “At our inaugural MEATing, the guys from Chicago who issued the names were convinced that the pork shanks I served were, in fact, the flesh of small children.”

For more information about ManBQue Columbus, visit the Facebook page, follow them on Twitter at @ManBQueColumbus, or email at Columbus@ManBQue.com.

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