There already is loads of science behind the art of barbecuing, a process that relies on chemical reactions to transform that pale, tough hunk of meat into a dark and quivering mass of deliciousness. But some chefs aren’t content to rely simply on heat, smoke and time when there are other, more technical ways to arrive at a similar destination.
One of those people is Jay Lee, who likes to go by the name Dr. Chef Lee owing to his PhD in food service management, which followed his culinary arts degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Lee also taught hospitality management classes for five years at Kent State, so he’s got a pretty deep well of theoretical restaurant knowledge. He’ll dig into the practical stuff when he opens Rib Sticks, a fast-casual barbecue joint that will do things unconventionally.
“It’s American barbecue, buts it’s going to be a little bit different,” Lee explains. “I love to cook barbecue in my home and when I began playing with molecular gastronomy I thought, maybe I can make the barbecue really tender. That’s the best approach so far I tried.”
Lee says his process involves an initial sous vide step, par-cooking various cuts of meat like beef short ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, spare ribs, and chicken wings in an immersion circulator before smoking them. Finally, those items are grilled to create that irresistible crust.
Of course, loads of research and analysis has been done to arrive at the optimal technique. Lee says he’s worked through experimental charts that tested various water temperatures and cook times against different types of meat and thicknesses to achieve maximum tenderness.
“It’s not just the tenderness of the meat, it’s the yield,” Lee points out. “With traditional barbecue you may end up with a maximum of 50 percent of the yield because the smoking process evaporates the moisture from the meat. But when I use sous vide, I can get from 70 to 75 percent of the yield, which means it will not shrink a lot. That goes to my profit margin.”
Lee will pair those meats with a wide range of sauces like mild, medium and spicy barbecue and ones that hit closer to home, like the Korean barbecue sauce that will go with beef short ribs. Rib Sticks will be a meat-and-two shop, where barbecue items come with a pair of seasonal sides. The menu will also include a half dozen sandwiches. A long list of craft beers already is being drafted.
The casual spot at Cedar Center (13892 Cedar Rd.), just down the block from Whole Foods, will accommodate about 30 to 40 diners, each of whom will decide if they prefer Lee’s unconventional approach to barbecue or not.
Lee hopes to open the doors before then end of September.