I attended a tasting event this past Wednesday at Classé Catering in Albany. I was part of a contigent of food bloggers who were invited to sample the wares of Classé’s newest venture, Big KaHoona BBQ. They brought us in to taste their menu items in advance of their launch party on June 16 (yikes, tomorrow!) at the Pruyn House in Latham. I was in great company that day – Daniel B. from the FUSSYlittleBLOG, Rachel from The Crispy Cook, and Jessica from 518BitesandSights (they all posted reviews on their blogs, too). Plus Daniel brought the adorable Little Miss Fussy along – she’s just so darn cute, and really not that fussy, actually.

Classe’s chef Jeremy Kane was our guide through a menu of traditional bbq items that they’ll be offering to catering clients who are looking for something casual yet upscale, but perhaps not as upscale as their regular white-glove catering services. I am certainly no barbecue expert, nor do I even pretend to be.  I was glad to be seated across from The Profussor, so I could ask him what was what. I offer my humble review of Big KaHoona BBQ (caption text taken from menu provided by Classé):

"CERTIFIED ANGUS BEEF BRISKET, Seasoned with our signature rub and slow smoked for 12 hours"

BRISKET: Nicely trimmed of fat, and was moist and tender. Not quite tender enough to cut with a fork (should it be? I don’t know), but not at all tough. It was smoked for 7 hours, which gave it a rich and…well, smoky flavor that I really enjoyed.  The lengthy 24-hour brine gave the meat a terrific juiciness.  What I learned: not everyone loves their brisket trimmed as much as this one was. Some prefer a thick layer of fat, melting into and flavoring the meat. Not me. I’m always on a diet, so the less fat the better in my opinion.

PULLED PORK: seasoned with our signature rub, smoked for 24 hours and tossed with a chipotle bbq sauce and served on a warm buttermilk biscuit. COLESLAW: hand shredded and tossed with caraway, vinegar and sugar

PULLED PORK and COLESLAW: Two barbecue items that can be my absolute favorite things. This coleslaw was definitely done well – not overly dressed in mayonnaise, with a nice tang from the cider vinegar. I thought the addition of a sprinkle of caraway seeds was brilliant – absolutely the right flavor.  The pulled pork was very good, but very unlike other pulled pork sandwiches I’ve had around here. Much of the time, the pork is swimming in a gloopy, cloyingly sweet barbecue sauce, and served on a squishy soggy bun. Not this one. The meat was dressed lightly in a sharp, tangy vinegar-based sauce (Carolina style) that was not sweet.  The drawback to this particular dish was the biscuit it was served on. The biscuit itself was tasty, but a bit too crumbly to stand up as a sandwich container.

BABY BACK RIBS: Brined for 24 hours, dry rubbed for 12 hours, smoked for eight hours and finished with Big KaHoona’s house-made barbecue sauce

BABY BACK RIBS: I must be honest, I did not even know what I was looking for here. I’m not really a fan of ribs, so mine is a very amateur impression. The crust on the ribs was crisp and sweet, with a hearty helping of smoke. The ribs were not fall-off-the-bone tender, but according to my sources (Daniel), they shouldn’t be. So, a point here. If you like ribs, you will probably enjoy these.

MAC AND CHEESE: Elbow noodles tossed with an extra sharp Vermont cheddar cheese sauce, “burnt ends”, Dijon laced buttery bread crumbs and baked until golden brown

MAC AND CHEESE: This offering was inspired by Chef Kane’s grandmother’s recipe.  I love me some mac and cheese. And there was much about this version to love: it was filled with traditional and comforting elbow macaroni, topped with crispy buttered breadcrumbs, and studded throughout with smoky burnt ends of brisket. The thing that was missing was cheese – there just wasn’t enough.  They didn’t miss the mark by a lot, but the addition of a few more handfuls of Vermont cheddar would have sent this dish over the top.

COLLARD GREENS Stewed with ham hocks, onion and vinegar

COLLARD GREENS: I tried collard greens for the first time a couple years ago at the legendary Hattie’s in Saratoga Springs. I was immediately entranced by their earthy green-ness, which was offset by a smoky spiciness, which I guessed was from nutmeg.  I saw Chef Jasper walking by, and asked him what he put in the collards. He said nothing. I’m pretty sure he was lying, because I have yet to find collard greens as good as Jasper’s.  Chef Kane’s are pretty good, though. They’re a bit on the crunchy side, which is great – mushy greens are awful. These were seasoned sparingly, taking most of their flavor from a ham hock and some cider vinegar. The real flavor of the greens shone through. I could eat a whole plate of these.

JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN: Marinated in island spices, grilled over charcoal and glazed with a light mango barbecue sauce

JAMAICAN JERK CHICKEN: It was good chicken, but it wasn’t jerk-y enough. The meat was cooked perfectly, with a nice juiciness.  But I was hoping for a more aggressive spice – jerk spices are best when they’re right in your face, letting you know what you’re missing because you’re here and Jamaica is all the way down there, with people having fun and drinking Red Stripe without you.  This chicken lacked that punch, and also lacked a crispy, almost-burnt skin that you come to expect from a grill.  Chef acknowledged that he was also disappointed in the soggy skin, and noted that it won’t be the case in the future.

Also on the menu:

BAKED BEANS: Just ok. Pretty standard, barbecue sauce with some bacon pieces.

SKILLET CORNBREAD: The menu promised jalapenos, but I didn’t taste any in there. Which is fine. The crumb was dense and moist, and it was not overly sweet. Delicious.

SAUCES: Four varieties – House Barbecue, Peach Jalapeno, Chipotle Mango, and Dr. Pepper Barbecue, all made in-house from scratch. The only one that I didn’t really care for was the Chipotle Mango. I thought the consistency was too thick, and there wasn’t enough chipotle flavor. The other sauces were fantastic, but the Dr. Pepper sauce really won the day. Everyone was raving. Chef Kane told us that the recipe was created by his teenage nephew, who convinced his uncle and Classé Catering to bottle it for him. They plan to start selling it soon at the Troy Farmers Market.

Chef Kane was incredibly gracious, accepting our compliments and discussing our criticisms with both professionalism and candor.  It was nice to know that he was really listening, and taking our comments seriously.  I got the sense that he really has a desire to do the very best he can to create delicious food.

I would have no problem recommending Big KaHoona BBQ to anyone looking to have a terrific barbecue, for any type of event.  Many thanks to the accomodating and helpful team at Classé Catering for opening their doors to me and my fellow bloggers!

We should do this again soon.  How’s next week?