Sonoma chef shares secrets to Southern barbecue
For Brannon Fetzer of Q Craft in Sonoma, barbecue is more than a summer fling. It’s a deep love that calls to him all year ‘round.
The Texas native graduated from the New England Culinary Institute and worked his way up through a wide range of fine-dining kitchens, including Angele and La Toque in Napa, before returning to his roots two years ago with the purchase of a custom, 21-foot barbecue trailer with 72 square feet of smoking space,
“Texas is the home of barbecue, football and church,” he said. “I don’t do church or football, so it had to be barbecue.”
Nowadays, Fetzer can be found smoking and grilling meats all over Wine Country, from the Huichica Music Festival at Sonoma’s Gundlach-Bundschu Winery in June to the Taste of Sonoma at Healdsburg’s MacMurray Ranch on Labor Day Weekend. He also serves up his down home fare at Off the Grid, the new food event launched last Sunday at Coddingtown Mall.
Although he draws upon his Southern roots, Fetzer often serves up barbecue with a twist, preparing his smoked meats using traditional techniques and flavors, but adding sauces and side dishes that kick it up a notch.
“There’s ho-hum barbecue and really good barbecue,” Fetzer said. “I like to incorporate unusual sauces and flavors, and I have a big herb garden and chop stuff up every day.”
In recent years, Wine Country has embraced the tantalizing smells and juicy flavors of Southern barbecue at new restaurants that include Cochon Volant in Sonoma and Kinsmoke in Healdsburg,
“Barbecue has been taking off,” Fetzer said. “It’s a comfort food, and it’s good value ... people are traveling more to barbecue regions, and there’s a growing appetite for it.”
To help readers spice up their Memorial Day barbecues, Fetzer came up with a simple but satisfying menu of all-American fare, including spice-rubbed baby back ribs and marinated chicken, cowboy beans and a kale slaw dressed with a zippy vinaigrette.
“The barbecue spread should have hot and cold dishes, fats and acids,” he said. “The slaw helps cut through the fat of the ribs and the chicken.”
Your guests’ eyes will light up at the sight of the tender, baby back ribs coated with a savory spice rub.
“You can use a gas grill or charcoal,” Fetzer said. “You just need to cook the ribs low and slow on indirect heat.”
Fetzer suggested marinating the chicken thighs or breasts in a savory combination of lemon, olive oil, onions, chile powder and fresh herbs.
“People tend to lose sight of the importance of marinating meat,” said Fetzer, who uses a brush made of fresh herbs to keep the chicken moist while cooking. “The oil penetrates the chicken and breaks down the seasoning. It’s the vehicle to let the flavor get into the meat.”
Instead of a ho-hum potato salad, why not serve some hearty Cowboy Beans, made from a combination of heirloom beans grown by Rancho Gordo of Napa?
“The Rancho Gordo beans are beautiful,” he said. “And when they’re cooked properly, they’re creamy.”
For the Cowboy Beans, Fetzer slowly simmers a couple different varieties of beans — such as the Midnight Black Bean and Eye of the Goat from Rancho Gordo — with a combination of diced poblano chiles, tomatoes, onions, garlic, chile powder and paprika.