Meat. It’s a word that insires passion in many directions. Some are against it. Some can’t get enough of it. And then there are people like Chuey Martinez, for whom it’s virtually a way of life. Martinez, radio DJ and host of ESPN’s Born & Raised series, has let his love for meat take him all over the country, and en route, he’s come up with a six-part series for Travel Channel called All You Can Meat, premiering — with two back-to-back episodes — Aug. 12 at 10pm, before moving to its regular timeslot at 9pm on Aug. 19. In the series, Martinez seeks out the best, most succulent cuts of meat nationwide in an attempt to fully understand each region’s most perfect meat offerings, whether Appalachian-cured jerky, Texas pit barbecue or Southern pulled pork.
For Martinez, the zeal for well-prepared meats has roots in family and in family memories. “My great-grandfather actually had a cattle ranch in northern Mexico, in Sonora, Mexico,” he remembers. “We’d go out there for the summers, and we’d spend lots of time out there. He had green chiles, he had corn. He had, of course, his cattle. He had chickens, he had pigs, he had rabbits. And lots of rattlesnakes that he would pick up with his bare hands and chase us with.
“Being Latino, being Mexican, being Dominican, apparently it’s a part of our culture,” he explains. “Everybody in our family has their specialty. My uncle Al has his famous mustard chicken. My uncle Emilio, who is Cuban, has his specialty with ropa vieja, which is basically shredded beef with some red sauce. My grandfather would have masita de puerco — basically little chunks of pork that are cut up and fried, then you serve that with white rice and black beans, and some plantains. We have carne asada, we have chicken — it’s always been around, you know? It’s always been a big part of my family, especially when we get together and we celebrate all together. It’s a good time.”
But all of that family experience didn’t prepare Martinez for some of the incredible dedication he witnessed while on tour for All You Can Meat. Amid the pulled pork, ribs, brisket, poultry, steak and bacon — episodes are devoted to each — he saw techniques he never knew existed. “I was really pleasantly surprised, and it was amazing to experience all of these different variations of so many traditions, and so many recipes, and so many different ways of cooking meat,” he enthuses. “I had no clue.”
One of the stronger memories Martinez collected in shooting All You Can Meat was the commitment of those engaged in slow-cooking particular cuts of meat. “I knew that it took time to really prepare a good brisket or a rib,” he says, “but I encountered gentlemen and women that were cooking their briskets and ribs, and smoking them for more than 18 hours. … There was a man in Kansas — his wife was, like, ‘Yeah, he’s been babysitting this smoker the whole day.’ Wow. He’d get up at 2, 3, 4, 5 in the morning; he’d go to the backyard just to see how his briskets were doing. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it.”
But for Martinez, even that wasn’t the best memory from All You Can Meat. “When I cooked a whole hog in North Carolina,” he recalls, audibly salivating at the memory. “Having this whole hog in front of me, seeing it in the eyes, looking at me. We were going through all the different cuts of meat, like the pork shoulder and the pork chops, and where bacon comes from … Seeing that being prepared blew my mind. This thing was ginormous — it was a huge pig. And you know, we smoked it for, I want to say 19-20 hours with low, slow heat. It was amazing to watch. You’ll see it on the show.”
Photo: Travel Channel