'Man Fire Food' finds great barbecue

Roger Mooking hosts "Man Fire Food" Tuesdays on the Cooking Channel.

Across North America, summertime is a season for cookouts, and for many families, that includes barbecue.

Roger Mooking, host of Cooking Channel's "Man Fire Food," goes looking for lip-smacking ribs in two very different regions of the United States in an episode called "Rib-A-Licious."

First, Mooking ventures into the Deep South of Hattiesburg, Miss., for a visit to Leatha's Bar-B-Que, where third-generation pit master Brian Jackson serves up Southern-style pork ribs, continuing the legacy of his grandmother, after whom the popular restaurant is named.

"They're not doing competition barbecue, where with the ribs you want to see your teethmarks left in the rib and it's lightly sauced with a lot of texture in the meat," Mooking explained.

"These ribs at Leatha's just fall off the bone. The bone slides out clean as a whistle and the sauce honestly is one of the best I've ever had. People from all over that region — no matter their age, race or religion — come down to eat this food."

Leatha's also cooks its ribs in a vertical smoker standing about 15 feet tall, hanging the ribs near the top, over two lower trays of meat.

"As the ribs rendered and cooked, they would drip down and fall onto the other meats on the racks below it, so it was basting the meats down below," Mooking says.

The episode also includes a stop at New York's Hometown Bar-B-Que, where Brooklyn native Billy Durney gives his ribs an ethnic spin.

"(Billy) came from the personal security industry, but he just fell in love with barbecue," Mooking said. "I wouldn't say it's authentically Korean or Jamaican, but he's honoring the mishmash of cultures in his community in the barbecue they serve.

"They also have classic Texas brisket and classic Southern ribs."

Q: When did you get into cooking with fire?

A: "I've always loved fire. I was obsessed with fire as a kid. I wouldn't promote that for my own kids, of course, but I could sit for hours just looking at the fire, playing with it in the safest way possible."

Q: Do you favor cooking over fire because of the flavor?

A: "Partly, yes, but there is socially a difference when people are gathered around a fire. The conversation is different and the length of time that you sit around together is different. When you're outside cooking at a barbecue, you have to tend to the fire and the flame."

Q: What side dishes do you favor?

A: "I almost never really cook the same thing twice. One day I might cook, like, sauteed dandelion greens on a skillet over a fire.

"Another day I might just do fingerling potatoes with olive oil and a spice mix."

Q: Any favorite cookbook authors?

A: "Ted Reader, who writes many of the 'Cooking for Dummies' books, is a vault of information on barbecue. And Chef Ben Ford, the son of Harrison Ford, has a great book called 'Taming the Feast.' "