Kentucky BBQ: Bring Your Own Squirrels, Raccoons, Possums And Porcupines

In Kentucky, you can get a porcupine hickory-smoked for five bucks. A squirrel or a frog will set you back just $2.50. I had no idea that one could kill an animal and then bring it to a place that would smoke it for a fee until I road-tripped to Kentucky last week with my family.

I travel because I’m curious by nature and I like to know how people live in other parts of the country and the world. But America is huge and it’s easy to get lulled into the notion that you have to leave the country in order to experience another culture. Within an hour of arriving in Kentucky last week, I was reminded of how very wrong that assumption is.

Owensboro is only 360 miles due south from my home in suburban Chicago, but the people who live there inhabit a very different world than the one I live in. In Evanston, my adopted hometown, people with extensive record collections and cars made in Scandinavia pay $4 for fancy cups of coffee and $3 for croissants at the weekly farmers market and shell out big bucks for organic treats at either of two Whole Foods locations that are only a half- mile apart along Evanston’s Chicago Avenue.

In Owensboro, people who get their groceries at Wal-Mart and drive pickup trucks can hurl a dead animal onto their trucks and bring it over to the Old Hickory BBQ restaurant, where the good people who run the place have been hickory-smoking meats since 1918. I know we were in a very different place from listening to the rush hour traffic report on the radio: the only traffic tie-up involved a deer carcass.

Old Hickory BBQ was our first stop in the state after spending much of the day driving south from Chicago and it was a perfect introduction to one of America’s most distinctive, and for my taste, interesting states. Coming from Chicago, where you have to clear out your 401k to get a sandwich in some places, everything on the menu appeared to be ridiculously cheap- sandwiches were around $4 and platters including two sides were about $8. The place was moderately full but if it were transported to Chicago with the same prices, there would be a 9-hour wait to get in.

Kentucky’s BBQ specialty is mutton but I was most interested in the burgoo, a stew native to the region that is usually mutton-based. I went up to the take out counter, where many of the BBQ specialties are on display, and Jordan, one of the kitchen staffers, gave me a taste and offered to show me the restaurant smokehouse after our meal (see video below).

I loved the burgoo and everything else I tried and was elated when the bill came. $22 for our family of four, or less than we sometimes spend at McDonald’s. And as soon as I stepped into the smokehouse, I was overcome by the glorious smell of smoking meat. Jordan yanked open one of the smoke chambers and gave us a little tour of the meats people had brought in for 24 hour smoke sessions.

“Here are some pork butts,” he said. “Over there we’ve got some deer hind quarters.”

He said that he’d seen people bring in just about every type of animal you could imagine: squirrel, possum, porcupine, raccoons, frogs, and goats among others. And he confirmed my suspicion that Owensboro wasn’t much of a hotbed for vegetarians. I’m not a hunter and I tend to limit my meat intake but I would have loved to have strung up a hammock in the smokehouse and just enjoyed the seductive smell of grilled meats for hours.

The following night, while staying in a cheap motel in Beaver Dam, forty minutes southeast of Owensboro, and I got another taste of the hunting culture. The hotel’s free breakfast starts at 4:45 A.M. to accommodate the hunters, who filled the place to capacity on the first Saturday night of the deer-hunting season. It turns out that Kentucky has a huge deer population and hunters converge on the state from far and wide. We heard them chattering excitedly in the hotel corridor at 4:15 A.M.

Despite the sleep interruption, we didn’t emerge for breakfast around 9 A.M and the breakfast room was empty until a camouflaged foursome came in and began filling up on biscuits and gravy.

“Seems like you guys are the only hunters who slept in,” I said to a bleary eyed young man with a hunters knife hanging in a long sheath from his belt.

“Oh no,” he replied. “We were down here right at 4:45. We went out hunting and we’re back for our second breakfast now.”

“Did you get any deer?” I asked.

“I saw one,” he said. “But she was too young. I just couldn’t do it.”

The young man explained that deer hunters, like photographers, need to be out at dusk and dawn to stalk their prey. I asked him a whole host of dumb questions that anyone who grew up in Kentucky would already know the answer to, but then was able to show off a little of my own newfound knowledge as well.

“You know,” I said. “There’s a place in Owensboro that’ll smoke a porcupine for just five bucks.”

[Photo and video credits: Dave Seminara]

Is Eddie Huang The Next Anthony Bourdain? Watch And Find Out

If the name Eddie Huang isn’t familiar, it may soon be, if the folks at have their way. The Washington, D.C., native is a chef, former lawyer and, according to his website, a former “hustler and street wear designer” born to Taiwanese immigrants – a background that led him to become the force behind Manhattan’s popular Baohaus restaurant.

Huang’s new VICE video series, “Fresh Off the Boat,” premiered online on October 15. According to VICE’s website, the show is “Eddie Huang’s genre-bending venture into subculture through the lens of food.” That’s one way to describe it.

Huang has been positioning himself as a chef-turned-media-personality in the vein of Anthony Bourdain or David Chang for a while now. As in, he’s street smart, opinionated, and doesn’t appear to give a rat’s ass what people think of his renegade ways. Ostensibly, it’s a great fit for VICE, which is known for its edgy exposés and other content.

Here we hit the first divergence among FOTB and the canon of travel series. Regardless of how you feel about them, Bourdain and Chang are still, respectively, articulate, intelligent commentators of what’s been called “food anthropology.” Huang is obviously a savvy businessman, and thus, one must assume, not lacking in brain cells. But he isn’t as likable. Unlike Chang, a mad genius, he’s not so outrageously batshit that he’s funny. He’s not particularly charming, witty, or aesthetically appealing, and he comes off more wannabe-Bourdain and imposter street thug than informative host and armchair travel guide.

In the premiere, Huang takes viewers on a backwoods tour of the Bay Area, starting with a visit to Oakland’s East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.

We’re briefly introduced to Rats president Trevor Latham, and next thing we know Huang and Latham are armed with rifles and wandering Latham’s Livermore ranch in search of rabbits. Says, Latham, an avid hunter, “People that eat meat and aren’t willing to kill an animal are fucking pussies, and fuck them.”

Of note, the below video is fairly graphic.

For his part, Huang appears suitably humbled, although I have to wonder why a chef of his standing and ethnic and familial background (his father is also a restaurateur) doesn’t appear to have been exposed to animal slaughter before. Still, he gets bonus points for trying to disseminate what should have been the primary message.

Says Huang in the final scene, “Every time I eat meat now, I have to be conscious that…I am choosing to enable someone to kill an animal and create a market demand for slaughter. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Just be conscious of the choices you make.”

Well done. I just wish the rest of the episode carried that levity.

“Fresh Off the Boat airs Mondays; future episodes will include San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, and Taiwan.

[Photo credit: Eddie Huang, Youtube ; rabbits, Flickr user Robobobobo]

Werewolf Hunters Wanted, Experience Not Required

Chillisauce is a UK event planner that has organized corporate events, team building days, product launches, activity breaks, company parties and experiential marketing campaigns since 2001. Their adventure weekends include gorge scrambling, caving, assault courses and more. Now, Chilisauce has an overnight Werewolf Hunt scheduled that simulates a hunt for a werewolf taken from the literature of black-and-white films.

“Chillisauce pride themselves on being a fun, creative and an adventurous events agency and the overnight werewolf hunting experience embodies exactly that,” said Adrian Simpson, director at in a TravelPulse article. “This is the ultimate event for those looking for an adrenaline-fuelled experience that really does live out your werewolf attack nightmares.”

Happening in Droitwich, Worcestershire, England, and priced from 149 British pounds, a group of eight will spend the night in search of the beast.

First, the “hunters” participating will be prepared with safety training, outfitted with werewolf-repellent clothing followed by a crash course in basic military training and weapons training.

In line with established werewolf procedures, hunters will learn how to set up preventative trip wires and explosive booby traps around the camp to protect against the imminent attack.

This is no luxury weekend either. Military-style bunks will be available where group members can rest after the hunt … until the safe light of day.

See more on the Chilisauce Facebook page.

Is werewolf hunting too much of an adventure for your taste? Maybe Zombie Boot Camp might be more your style as we see in this video:

[Flickr photo by Defence Images]

Should Hunting Be Allowed In America’s National Parks?

Should hunting be allowed inside America’s national parks? That’s the question that the U.S. Senate will soon be dealing with as they debate the merits of HR 4089, better known as the Sportsman’s Heritage Act. The controversial bill was passed by the House of Representatives in April and could be coming to the floor of the Senate as well. If it does manage to become a law, HR 4089 would open most of the National Park System to hunting, trapping and recreational shooting.

Since their inception, the national parks have been designed to protect America’s heritage and natural landscapes, and those protections have always extended to the wildlife that roamed those regions as well. In the past it has taken – quite literally – an act of Congress to allow hunting within a park’s boundaries, but with this new bill hunting, trapping and sport shooting could become commonplace.

In addition to the traditional national parks that we all know and love, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, the park system is made up of a number of other entities as well. These include national monuments, memorials, military and historic parks and more. All of them could potentially fall under the jurisdiction of this new law, allowing hunting in such places as Gettysburg or Valley Forge for example.The Sportsman’s Heritage Act does have specific language written into it that provides for exemptions to the law in parks and monuments specifically. But those exemptions need to be decided on an individual basis, which can be a time consuming and costly affair. Furthermore, the wording of the bill fails to mention the other park units such as memorials, historic parks and the other places mentioned above. In other words, it would encompass each of those places unless they are specifically singled out for exemption.

The National Parks Conservation Association has worked in conjunction with the law firm of Arnold & Porter, LLP to examine the legal ramifications of the bill, and they’ve found that it could be quite costly as well. HR 4089’s approach to opening the park system up for hunting, trapping and sport shooting means that each of the units will have to do their own individual study to determine if they should allow those activities or not. Considering there are 397 units within the system, that could mean a lot of money spent on conducting that research.

The NPCA is also quick to point out that the bill would allow for the use of off-road vehicles wherever they are needed by hunters and trappers to engage in those activities. Most of the parks don’t currently allow the use of 4×4’s off of pavement, but this would open it up for their use in many other places. Considering the damage that they can do to the environment, their use seems to run counter to the idea of actually protecting these wild spaces.

As a traveler, i personally enjoy exploring the national parks because they are beautiful, serene environments. I can’t imagine visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for example, spending hours scrambling to the top of the famous Longs Peak, only to be greeted by gunshots from elk hunters. Or as a parent, can you imagine having to explain to a young park visitor why the vehicle sitting next to yours has a deer strapped across its hood? The parks are places of refuge and in my opinion they should stay that way. There are plenty of other places in the U.S. to hunt and trap, but we should keep those activities out of the parks themselves. If you agree, click here to express your concerns to your local congressman.

New BBC America cooking show combines travel and adventure

It was only a matter of time before all the eating of rats and scorpions on “Survivor” grew tiresome. Perhaps that’s why producer Kevin Greene and “Chopped” producer Chachi Senior created a new cooking series for BBC America that combines exotic locales with dodgy outdoor adventures. There’s just one little catch: there’s no kitchen.

No Kitchen Required” takes 2008 Food & Wine “Best New Chef” Michael Psilakis of New York’s FISHTAG and Kefi, private executive chef Kayne Raymond (aka the resident beefcake), and former “Chopped” champ Madison Cowan, and drops them into ten remote locations to perform some serious hunting and gathering.

After being plunked down in Dominica; Belize; New Zealand; Fiji; Thailand; Hawaii; New Mexico; Louisiana, and Florida, each chef is handed a knife (“Pack your knives and go,” is not a sentence you’ll hear uttered on this series) and a few key ingredients. They’re then left to fish, hunt, forage, and otherwise scrounge up the remaining ingredients to “create a locally-inspired meal that will be judged by the community.”

Despite the gimmicky and somewhat contrived nature of the challenges, there’s a lot to love about this show. It’s fun, innovative, and despite my raging addiction to “Top Chef,” I’m happy to see a cooking show that finally requires the use of local/seasonal ingredients (let’s hope there’s no blow-darting of endangered monkeys or serving of shark fin). Weaving the regional and cultural element into the concept is genius. Braised nutria, anyone?

The series premieres April 3rd.

[Photo credit: © Gilles Mingasson for BBC AMERICA]