Grill Marks

Portland’s barbecue expert shares his inside tips—and his secret sauce.

By Benjamin Tepler June 15, 2012 Published in the July 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Dina Avila

BARBECUE IS notoriously divisive—it separates North Carolinians from Missourians, Missourians from Texans… and Texans from Texans. In Oregon’s mash-up of slow-cooked theologies, nobody can quite agree. But at Podnah’s Pit, Rodney Muirhead’s approach is pure Central Texas: Lone Star minimalism practiced with religious zeal, where only oak-fired smokers will do and excess of sauce or seasoning is heresy.

Muirhead isn’t your average Texas expat. After training at the French Culinary Institute, he worked the line at Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan—a stark contrast to his grandfather “Podnah’s” down-home tutelage. With the Central Texas barbecue canon still ringing in his ears, he headed west and started selling slabs of brisket and gamey racks of lamb from a hand-built smoker at the Portland Farmers Market. He quickly gained a cult following and expanded into a slow-cooked sensation called Podnah’s Pit in 2006.

Muirhead’s standby sauce is incredibly versatile—thick and aromatic, with balanced elements of sweet and tart. And, for a city in the throes of a barbecue identity crisis, it’s adaptable. Play with heat by adding serrano or Aleppo peppers, or tweak the acid with your favorite vinegar. You might be messing with Texas, but Muirhead won’t judge. 

Image: Kate Madden

Splurge on happy, marbled cuts of meat—good steak should always look clean and dry, and have a deep red color. Muirhead’s favorite cuts are skirt steak, culotte, and short ribs.


Image: Kate Madden

1. Season your meat the night before, so the spices have time to fully absorb.

2. Pat your meat dry between two paper towels before grilling—it’s the difference between steaming and caramelizing.

3. Use wood (like oak) rather than charcoal.

Image: Kate Madden

Muirhead uses his hand to test doneness: if meat feels like the fleshy part of the palm below the thumb, it’s rare; if it feels like the area below the pinkie on the opposite side, it’s medium; if it feels like the firm muscles in the center of the palm, it’s well-done.


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